Dancing just for fun but also as a workout routine can be a great way to burn fat and tone your body. But does dancing help build muscle? We are going to explore the benefits of dancing in relation to muscle strength and gain. Get your dancing shoes ready!
Dance as a Form of Exercise
Dancing is an excellent alternative exercise for improving health and fitness. Dance training consists of technique and style and as in most sports, dancing is a demanding exercise that involves both aerobic and anaerobic processes. To perform, dancers need to develop good cardiovascular health, muscle flexibility and muscular strength/power.
Dancing can develop high levels of muscle tension improving physical endurance and posture by strengthening and stabilizing the muscles. Joint mobility and body composition are also important parts of dance fitness. Dancing is a full body workout that involves different muscle groups, and besides burning calories, it also helps improve stamina and reduce stress among other physical fitness benefits that we will discuss later.
There are several forms of exercise in dance training. Some of the more energetic are pole dancing, salsa dancing, hip hop, break dancing, ballroom dancing (in particular the Rhythm and Latin style), Irish set dance and Scottish country dancing. Other forms of dancing that also require good coordination and fluidity of movement are classic and modern ballet. Ballet may not help burn calories in the same level as other types of dance workouts, but it helps improve motor fitness: power, speed, agility, balance and coordination.
Dance training progressively involves more complex movements. This has an effect in the body but also in the mind of the dancers pushing them to develop good powers of concentration and coordination. Plus, dancing is most of the time a team activity. Dancers develop a sense of belonging and cooperation with others. This improves self-esteem and eases depression and anxiety.
Although each type of dancing has its own qualities and physical demands, the information provided in this article comes from research done mostly in classic and contemporary ballet dancers. There is little research done in the relationship between other kinds of dancing and muscle mass and strength.
Dance and Aerobic Exercise
As in most sports, dance fitness depends on the dancers’ ability to workout under aerobic and anaerobic conditions in addition to their capacity to develop muscle tension, flexibility and joint mobility.
Aerobic (cardiorespiratory) fitness sets the ability for muscular work and includes all aspects of uptake, transport and consumption of oxygen to liberate energy from muscle fuels.The goal of aerobic fitness is to get your heart rate to a maximum level, and then have the capacity to recover quickly. Cardiorespiratory demand during dance performances can be high; that’s why dancing training generally includes aerobic training similar to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to meet the strain of performance.
Aerobic exercise training is associated with improvements in your consumption of oxygen, heart health and metabolic regulation. Recent research shows that aerobic exercise also has a positive effect on muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth) when trained properly. This research concluded that aerobic exercise training has an effect on many mechanisms (including protein metabolism) that may collectively promote muscle hypertrophy.
Most dance training keeps you constantly moving for long periods of time. This elevates your heart rate and brings oxygen to your heart. With time and practice, you can be more efficient with your consumption of oxygen during vigorous dancing sessions and endure for longer periods of time.
Anaerobic Fitness and Dance
Anaerobic fitness or local muscular endurance happens in the absence of oxygen and involves two high energy sources: phosphocreatine (PCr), used for muscular contractions and lasts for just a few seconds, and glycolysis (the breakdown of glucose) to be used for energy and power. Anaerobic fitness provides high levels of power but over a short time; it’s used for fast and explosive dance movements.
Strength training is a type of anaerobic exercise; it boosts muscle development, strengthens the bones and burns calories. But unlike strength training, dancing technique doesn’t include repetitions of the same movements over and over. Yes, there are some dance steps that are anaerobic like “plies” in ballet that are similar to squats and lifting other dancers in a partner work, but they are erratic and mostly target the lower body. For example, hip hop dance or break dancing, use handstands as the base of many moves and this can tone and strengthen the upper body as well.
Muscular Strength and Dance
Muscular strength is associated with dance training. Dancers often support each other’s body weight and perform gymnastic movements. Certain forms of dance (like classic and contemporary ballet) also demand muscle strength. Dancers need muscular strength to perform movements such as lifts and floor work. Dancing mostly focuses on lower body strength allowing for explosive jumps but also for balance and posture. However, dancers seem to have lower strength than sprinters or soccer players, but better balance and body control.
There have been some studies about muscular strength in ballet dancers. Between different levels of dancers (beginners, intermediates, professionals), no significant differences in muscular strength and power of knee and ankle were found. But also when comparing professional dancers from classic and contemporary ballet, no significant differences were found in the quadriceps and hamstring peak torque. Some differences were found in muscular endurance where contemporary and folk dancers reported higher scores in comparison to ballet dancers.
Professional ballet dancers have recurrent knee injuries and studies suggest that this happens due to a low muscle strength level in the knee extensor and flexor. Researchers suggest supplementary strength training in addition to their traditional dancing training technique classes to increase strength gains and improve performance.
Muscle Mass and Dance
The results of one study indicate that dancers in general don’t see muscle hypertrophy as a fitness goal. Instead, their body composition is moderately lean and they have a high degree of flexibility. However, the study showed that they experienced a gain in strength without proportional changes in muscle size.
Dance requirements involve muscle strength and mobility; dancers will get stronger and more mobile without necessarily building muscle. In general, the technique employed consists of limiting volume (numbers of reps) and prioritizing movement and joint health (articular mobility). Dancing coaches, in their teaching approach, are closer to conditioning coaches than strength coaches, they want to develop strong dancers and athletes not lifters. That’s why, when strength training is included in the dancing training, the objective of the strength coach, working with a ballerina for example, isn’t to build a CrossFit athlete but a resilient movement artist with the best balance between strength (repetitive and explosive) and flexibility.
In general, this study states that resistance training for dancers is conducted in a way that won’t affect dancers’ aesthetic appearances. It’s thought to lead to improvements in muscle strength without interfering with key artistic and physical performance requirements in male and female dancers. The focus is on maintaining/developing strength not hypertrophy.
Dancing helps you to burn calories and to lose weight
No matter the dance classes that you are taking, whether it is hip hop, tango or zumba, you get both aerobic and anaerobic health benefits. There are an infinite number of possibilities to getting a whole body workout by dancing.
As an aerobic exercise, dance can increase your levels of HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol and not body fat) and decrease your risk of heart disease. It can also improve your lung function and lower your blood pressure. Aerobic exercises are well known for their effectiveness in weight loss and to burn fat.
According to Harvard Health Publications, you burn about 180 calories in 30 minutes of vigorous dancing if you weigh 125 pounds. And, you can burn 223 calories if you weigh 155 pounds in the same amount of time. As you can see, the number of calories burned depends on both the intensity of your dancing style and your body weight. Find a dance style that you like and is appropriate for your fitness goals.
The qualities and benefits offered by dancing training depend on the form and style of the dance, but in general, it improves physical and mental health. Dancing helps develop muscular strength, mobility, flexibility, coordination and balance.
But if you are looking to build muscle you need to add some resistance training to your dance training. Strength training, as you might know, is a kind of fitness that boosts muscle development, strengthens the bones and burns calories. By building up muscle mass, you ensure more fat-burning potential during and after working out.
Whatever your balance between dancing and lifting weights, you need to be aware that for building muscles you need to engage in healthy eating to maximize the positive benefits that dance and resistance training can offer to your muscles.
Giuliana is a yoga instructor and Crossfitter from Peru who is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with her Crossfit Coach (and husband) Tim.