Swimming for Ballerinas


Most professional ballerinas engage in some sort of exercise program to supplement their dance training. Your choice of workout requires careful consideration, because it must complement, not conflict with, your dance technique. Swimming exercises strengthen your back, legs, upper body and core in a manner that is safe and compatible with ballet.

Natalie Portman´s Workout

When actress Natalie Portman trained for her leading role in the movie "Black Swan," her ballet instructor, former New York City Ballet dancer Mary Helen Bowers, had her swim 1 mile before each two-hour ballet session.They practiced an elongated version of the crawl stroke, which involved reaching the arms ahead of the body, like a swan, Bowers told "Vogue" magazine in December 2010. The crawl, performed in a prone position, uses movements and balance mechanics similar to those of many dance movements. As one leg lifts behind your body, your opposite arm reaches above your head.

Breathing and Endurance

A ballet performance demands aerobic endurance, but dance classes do not always provide this type of training. When a dancer learns a piece of choreography, she must stop, observe her instructor´s demonstrations, then continue. This type of stop-and-start training does not prepare you for the aerobic rigors of a balletic performance. You need aerobic exercise to enhance your endurance, and to help you maintain the necessary low body weight. Swimming provides dance-appropriate, low-impact aerobic training. The coordinated breathing and movement patterns you use in the pool help you build endurance for the stage.

Aerobic Exercise

Any damage to your feet, knees or ankles potentially destroys your career as a ballerina. High-impact aerobic exercise imposes too many risks for the professional dancer, but swimming builds stamina without strain, explains Eliza Gaynor Minden, author of a 2005 book on balletic art and technique. Strokes that dynamically engage all of your body´s muscle groups, such as the butterfly and the crawl, provide the most intense aerobic workout. Buoyancy belts, used in deep-water running, let you practice an extended series of jumps without your feet touching the bottom of the pool.

Developing Turnout

A ballerina´s turnout, or external hip rotation, is essential to her professional success. Some of the most basic swimming strokes offer an optimal environment for developing your turnout. The elementary backstroke and the side stroke involve opening your hips and bending them into a "frog" position, straightening your legs so that they form a V, then contracting your inner thighs to draw your legs together. To enhance your ballet barre workout, take advantage of the water´s resistance and practice the standing turnout exercises at the edge of the pool.