Although dance training on its own strengthens the body, it doesn't necessarily target every muscle needed to maintain ideal placement and minimize the risk of injury. Follow Dr. Lisa Schoene's simple but comprehensive exercise routine to improve your technique and protect yourself from bunion development and other injuries.
Time required Five minutes for each set, after you have learned the exercises.
Equipment Elastic exercise band (knotted to form a loop at the end), small towel, cushion, chair or stool.
How Sit up with your legs extended forward, one foot resting on top of the other. Wrap the band as shown, with the end hanging loose. Without flexing the toes, flex the working (top) foot slowly and smoothly upward toward the body. Do not move the other foot. Return to your starting point slowly and smoothly.
Why Dorsiflexion uses the tibialis anterior, a long muscle on the shin. Balanced strength in dorsiflexion and plantar flexion (exercise #2) gives control for jumps and pointe work, and helps maintain proper alignment of the foot and ankle.
Tip Sickling slightly (allowing ankle to roll outward) increases impace on the tibialis anterior.
("pointing" the foot)
How Sit up with your legs extended forward. Wrap the band as shown, and grasp with your hands. Without strongly pointing the toes, slowly and smoothly extend the foot into a "pointed" position. Return to your starting position slowly and smoothly.
Why Plantar flexion uses the gastrocnemius and soleus, the strongest of the uscles that work together to point the foot. Sometimes referred to simply as the calf muscle, the gastrocnemius lies on the surface of the muscles. The soleus lies beneath it. Together, these two muscles help provide strength on pointe and throughout dance technique.
Tip To increase targeting of the soleus, slightly bend the working knee. For the gastrocnemius, keep leg straight.
How Sit up with your legs extended forward and your ankles a few inches apart. Wrap the band as shown, and grasp with your hands. With the working foot slightly (not strongly) pointed, move the foot smoothly outward (to an everted position). The movement should be exactly to the side, without changing the angle of the foot, and the toes should not move. Return smoothly past the starting point to a fully inverted position.
Why Eversion of the foot uses the peroneus brevis, a long slender muscle on the outside of your calf. You need alanced strength in eversion and inversion (exercise #4) for maximum control and stability, including avoidance of sickling, winging and overpronation.
How Sit up with your legs extended forward, with the working ankle resting on top of the other ankle. Wrap the band as shown, and grasp with your hands. With the foot pointed, slowly and smoothly move the foot inward (to an inverted position). Keep the ankle extended and try not to use the toes. The movement should be exactly to the side in relationship to the ankle. Return smoothly past the starting point to a fully everted position.
Why Inversion uses the tibialis posterior, in the deeper muscle layer of the calf. With eversion, inversion strength is essential for control and stability.
How Sit with your working leg extended and the ankle flexed but relaxed (not strongly flexed). Wrap the loop of the exercise band around the big toe joint and grasp with your hands. Without "pointing" your foot, point the big toe against the resistance of the band. Then, allow the toe to return very slowly to a flexed position.
Why This exercise activates the flexor hallucis longus (FHL), a deep muscle in the calf that controls the pointing of the big toe. Strength in this muscle helps maintain stability on pointe and avoid overpronation and bunions.
How Perform exercise #7 but wrapping the band around the four little toes instead of the big toe.
Why The flexor digitorum longus (FDL) lies next to the FHL, and controls the pointing of the little toes. Strengthening this muscle helps with overall stability.
Tip Also try this exercise with each little toe individually. If you have an extra exercise band, you can cut it lengthwise for a better fit between the toes.
How Use a chair or stool with a soft cushion or pillow on top. Stand with your working foot on the cushion. Without rolling in or out, lifting your heel or changing your standing position, push down into the cushion with your big toe joint.
Why This subtle exercise helps strengthen the peroneus longus, a long muscle on the outside of the calf. This muscle is essential for controlling the first metatarsal, which leads to the big toe. A strong peroneus longus allows you to rise to relevé with good control and without sickling, and helps keep the big toe joint functioning properly in and outside of dance.
How Sitting on the floor or an exercise table, put a small towel in front of you. Place your working foot in the middle of the towel. Repeatedly grasp and release the towel with your toes, so that you gradually move it toward you.
Why These "toe crunches" strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the arch. The intrinsics work with the longer muscles of the leg to flex and point the foot and toes, and to maintain stability throughout the foot.
Tips This exercise works best on a fairly slippery floor, so that the towel can move smoothly. You can achieve similar results by picking up small objects repeatedly with your toes.
All photos by Dr. Lisa Schoene
Why does the "return" part of the exercise have to be slow and controlled?
Each exercise consists of two stages: concentric and ecentric. The concentric stage is the part we consider the main movement: the "up" of a grand battement, the sitting up part of a sit up, etc. The ecentric stage is the return to the starting positino, such as the return to fifth position after a grand battement. The targeted muscles remain contracted in both stages, shortening in the concentric stage and lengthening in the ecentric stage. According to Dr. Schoene, the ecentric phase is most important for building strength and control. "Dancers tend to be stronger than most other athletes in the ecentric stage," she says. "Your silent landing from a jump is a good example of controlled ecentric movement."
Which of the exercises are best for limiting bunions?
Exercises 5-8 target hallux valgus (bunions) most specifically. However, all the exercises work together to promote balanced strength throughout the foot and lower leg. Perform the exercises consistently as a group for the best results. With strength should come increased control and better placement. Proper placement limits overpronation, the major cause of bunions, as well as other placement problems.
What therapy is available for dancers with bunions?
"Unfortunately, you cannot reverse the bunion deformity," says Dr. Schoene, "but appropriate footwear and orthotics can help stop bunions from worsening, and you can alleviate the symptoms of the sore joint." Icing, anti-inflammatory creams or an injection with Traumeel® can reduce pain in the joint. Ultrasound PT modality can help reduce the swelling. Wear pointe shoes and street shoes that facilitate good alignment and don't rub or squeeze the joint. And don't forget orthotics for your street shoes. Orthotics are special insoles that realign the abnormally pronated arch. This helps the muscles work normally, decreasing the drift of the big toe toward the little toes.
What footwear is best for avoiding or minimizing bunions and other foot injuries?
"Street shoes are really important. When a dancer is working her feet and taking many classes per week, her feet need support and some rest!" states Dr. Schoene. Two parts of the shoe protect specifically against overpronation: arch support and a good heel counter. (The heel counter is a component that gives shape and support to the heel area of the shoe's upper.) A slight heel height is better than a completely flat shoe. "In a shoe with no heel at all, the foot is in its most stretched out, flattened and unsupported position, causing possible stress to the arch muscles and plantar fascia (the fibrous band that holds up the arch)," says Dr. Schoene. Gym or running shoes typically have the best arch support and heel counters, and are the right choice for significant amounts of walking. Dr. Schoene does not recommend flip-flops, which provide no support.
Special thanks to Dr. Lisa Schoene for her expert guidance on this article. In over 18 years of practice, Dr. Schoene has worked with numerous dancers, Olympians and other elite athletes, and consulted for dance companies including Joffrey, Hubbard Street and Inaside Chicago Dance. She is a prolific author on foot health, and a media spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association, including interviews by many national publications. She practices in the Chicago area, at Gurnee Podiatry and Sports Medicine.
This article appeared originally in Russian Pointe Newsletter, April 2009.
© Copyright Russian Pointe, Inc.
|Adding to bag...|
Login to Your AccountEasily manage your shipping addresses, order history, and wish lists.
|Forgot your password?