Cross Training for Dancers: Mastering the Basics

Let’s paint a picture… You log in to Instagram and on your “discover” page you see a snatched, muscular woman in a clean, brightly painted space performing a burpee-lunge-deadlift-handstand.

“That’s impressive”, you may say to yourself.

“I wish I could do that”.

So what happens next?

One of two things…

You’ll spend the next 45 minutes of your gym time attempting this feat of strength… only to wind up twinging your neck, hurting your back, or winded… but not really sure where you’re supposed to be ‘feeling’ it… 


You save the video to a folder full of similar impressive-but-risky moves and workouts that you may (but probably, definitely won’t) attempt at a later date.

Now picture this…

You are sitting in the audience of your favorite dance company (ya know, when theaters were open), eyes wide with appreciation for the artists on stage.

A graceful dancer in nude-colored shorts and a delicate top appears out of the wings- effortlessly transitioning to the floor, turning and stopping on a dime, extending their leg for the gods.

That same thought passes through your mind, “I wish I could do that.”

When you leave the theater, will you attempt the choreography you just witnessed in the hopes of achieving the same level of talent as that professional?

Chances are, probably not.

You recognize that the performer you saw has built a strong foundation of technique and is now able to blend artistry with movement, pulling skills from their dance toolbox. 


It may “inspire” you to get in a ballet class, though.


So tell me… 

Why is it when we see ~cool ~and complicated workouts we feel that replicating it will be the path to executing it?

More importantly, do we even stop to question what the desired result is from nailing that awesome move? 


If you’re familiar with DWL, you know that we are huge proponents of form over just about everything. The way your ballet teacher may be a stickler with how your passé is performed, the same goes for your workouts with DWL.


We promise we won’t whack you with a big wooden stick (or was that just my teacher?) but we will emphasize that you have mastered the basic moves before adding complexity.


The reason being- form is your technique.

Form is your foundation for everything, and building a house on an unstable foundation… well you get the analogy.


Just as tendus and pliés are your staples for ballet, or isolations and step ball changes for jazz, strength training has its staples as well.




…I thought you’d never ask.


Now while there are many “basic” movements we can talk about, I am highlighting 4 moves below that are essential to your success in the gym (and in the studio!) They also require little or no equipment, so you can practice them practically anywhere!


For more info on why training is essential for dancers, read this.

Essential Move #1 

Hinge: Hip hinge

A hip hinge is one of our most important and fundamental moves to master because it is the basis for many movements including RDLs, deadlifts, squats, lunges, yoga poses, picking up your pup, etc. The benefits of a mastered hip hinge help overall strength, hip stability, motor control, and connection between your core and glutes, to name just a few. 


What does this mean for you as a dancer?

More controlled adagios, higher developpés, and more refined transitions (again, just to name A FEW).


Set up: Find a comfortable stance hip width distance apart, knees relaxed.



  • Brace the abs and root feet into floor.
  • Think of hips being pulled back with a rope to initiate the hinge. 
  • Think of squeezing a piece of paper between the armpits to keep upper body active.
  • Keep a minimal bend in the knees while maximally hinging in the hips.
  • You can use a wall for immediate feedback by starting with back on wall, takings 2-3 steps forward and performing the hinge. When your butt hits the wall, stand back up.


Essential Move #2

Squat: Bodyweight Squat

You are probably familiar with squats and understand them as a basic movement in exercise and strength training. The distinction between a hinge and a squat is the knee involvement- while a hinge has minimal knee flexion, a squat asks for maximal knee and hip flexion. Squats help with overall strength, hip stability & mobility, and lower body muscle definition. Mastering the squat builds a base for other knee dominant moves like lunge variations, step-ups, and single leg squat variations. Unilateral exercises increase our balance, coordination, strength, and power potential.


This means higher jumps, cleaner turns, and being “that person” at the barre balancing long after the pianist stops playing.


Set up: To find your natural squat stance, lie on your back and bring your knees in to your chest and hip-width distance. Stand up and find this position standing. This is your starting squat stance. 



  • Root feet into floor, shorten the distance between ribs and pelvis, knees and hips break together.
  • Hips sit back, hips parallel (or lower) than your knees (without tucking).
  • Drive to come up (think about pushing floor away in a plié) and stand straight up.



Essential Move #3


I’ll bet most of us have been asked to do pushups in a dance class but were never taught how. Pushups are essential for upper body strength and core stabilization, which translates to anything from porte de bras to performing highly athletic choreography. Pushups can be regressed and progressed in countless variations, some beneficial and some mostly just to look badass. 


Set up: Feet slightly apart, hands shoulder-width apart with thumbs in line with your armpit, space between scapula to lock position 



  • Body like an arrow as you bend the elbows down and out (45 degrees with elbows).
  • Lower towards the floor, keeping body in line and chest an inch off the floor.
  • Exhale as you drive back up to starting position.


Variations: If the bodyweight pushup is not happening right now, there are many ways we can regress this move to help build up strength (wall, incline, eccentric, etc.).

Check out the pushup highlight reel on the DWL IG for more tips and tricks!


Essential Move #4

Pull: Seated Row

Back muscles are truly the backbone of our dancing… I KNOW I KNOW. 


But seriously, imagine trying to get through a class (of any genre) without your back.

That is why strength training your posterior chain (a fancy phrase for your back muscle groups) are extremely important for your dance training- these include your lats, glutes, and hamstrings just to name a few players. Seated rows are a great introduction to pulling movements. They help to improve posture, core stability, and a connection between the upper and lower halves.


Set up: You will need a band or cable machine to perform this move. Set up the band or cable so that it is directly in line with your arms. 



  • Extend your arms out like you’re reaching for a hug, arms straight.
  • Retract your shoulder blades.
  • Exhale and pull elbows back and in towards the bottom of your ribcage.
  • Extend back out and repeat.

The base for our strength training is so important because it is also the base for our dance training. Progress in the gym has shown to increase stability, strength, endurance, coordination, and flexibility (YUP) in the studio.  


It makes sense to approach your workouts just like dance classes- you can’t do the ending combo full out with feeling until you’ve gone through your basics.

So don’t attempt that move the ~fitfluencer~ posted until you’ve done (and MASTERED) your hinges, squats, pulls & pushes.


If you are tired of program hopping or trying to keep up with the workout “trends”, reach out to see if you would be a good fit for our 1:1 coaching. 


& Remember: if someone calls your training “basic”, take it as a compliment. 

Xox Coach Marissa Graham

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