Fitter & stronger dancers..Learn about your gym workout here

Have you hit the gym blindly, hoping to make yourself fitter, stronger, faster, but really, you don’t know where to start?

The gym floor is full of equipment, a diverse range of weights, bands, machines, rollers, some of which can be incredibly intimidating! So do you stick with the treadmill and watch from afar? I know the feeling! Which is why I would like to share some tips for how to select the exercises and routines that are right for you and your dance form.


Before you start….

1. Think about your dance form

What are the specific characteristics of the dance? For example:

Kathak can be described as moderate to high intensity activity, involving percussive stamping of the feet, fast and slow movement of the upper body with some floor work. Chakkars are taken either on the heel in dorsiflexion, or on the forefoot and fast spins come to a sudden stop, a stoic pose.

2. What do you want to be able to do better?

You want to perform for longer without showing your tiredness on stage?

For spins or ‘chakkars’ to look clean from start to finish

The final pose or ‘sum’ to be striking and breathtaking

Footwork to be sound clear and to look precise

To transition between fast and slow, sharp and soft, high and low with control and grace.

3. What have you noticed so far in your body?

That your knees are aching?

That you have shin splints?

That you are limping in the morning?

That you are heavy on your feet during footwork?

SADMSA solutions:

Ultimately your ‘riyaaz’ or personal dance practise is key in refining all of the above skills. However training your body in a very different way from the above will allow you to develop your skill acquisition for your dance.

I suggest that you train your body at a high intensity intervals to develop your endurance on stage. Your dance form may raise your heart rate to within the ‘moderate intensity’ zone, but in order to maintain that during the course of a performance and to hit those sudden bursts of high intensity chakkars/ tatkar, you will require additional fitness training.

Core training is a must, to facilitate footwork and chakkars. Stoic poses place a huge stress on the knees as the momentum of the chakkar continues even once you think you have stopped. Training the trunk’s rotation and anti-rotation will assist with the development of the core and control of the musculature around the knee. Training your ‘tatkar’ or footwork with an added overload (weight) will enable you to lift your weight effectively during fast footwork patterns.

At the end of your cool-down or at home, use a foam roller to help your muscles recover and to perform better the next time.

Overall fitness training

HiiT training: STUDIO

This is a session that you can find within your gym studios that will really boost your cardiovascular fitness through the use of calisthenics body resistance, loaded lifts and plyometric exercises. You will be working within your high intensity heart rate zone and utilising all muscle groups that will help support your body in dance. Prepare to really sweat! But then notice how you don’t find dance activity as exhausting.

Pyramid training involves gradually increasing the duration at which you run at a high intensity before peaking and then working back down.

  • 5 min warm-up

  • 30sec high intensity, 60sec low intensity

  • 45sec high intensity, 60sec low intensity

  • 60sec high intensity, 60sec low intensity

  • 90sec high intensity, 60sec low intensity

  • 60sec high intensity, 60sec low intensity

  • 45sec high intensity, 60sec low intensity

  • 30sec high intensity, 60sec low intensity


Running can develop your endurance in dance. It will allow you to learn control of your breath and engagement of your core musculature. It will also encourage you to use your feet in a different way. Dance is what we call an ‘intermittent activity’, meaning that the intensity varies throughout. So why not mirror that in your run? Adding interval training is a great way to push yourself to the high intensity peaks followed by short recovery periods.

  • 5 min warm-up

  • 2min moderate intensity, 2 min low intensity

  • 30sec high intensity, 30sec low intensity (repeat three times)

  • 10 sec sprint, 90sec low intensity (repeat six times)

  • 30sec high intensity, 30sec low intensity (repeat three times)

  • 2min moderate intensity, 2 min low intensity

  • 10 sec sprint, 90sec low intensity (repeat six times)

  • 5 min warm-down

Injury prevention for knees and splints: upper body training

The rotational forces created in Kathak dance are extreme, we also need to train the ability to change speed and direction of travel across the space and to keep our bodies upright under external force. Double or triple chakkars ending in a stoic poses can have a detrimental effect on the knees if the core and supporting leg muscles are not trained.

Try these exercises in the gym or at home to facilitate this movement better using weight discs, dumbbells, medicine balls and resistance bands

Rotational exercises: Working with trunk rotation

Anti-rotational exercises: Not allowing rotation through movement

Offset exercises: Creating stress through imbalance.

Rotational exercises:

Russian twists

  1. Sit on the floor

  2. Hold disc weight/ medicine ball or dumbbell in front of chest

  3. Lift feet to add difficulty

  4. Maintain posture, keeping the head facing forward

  5. With control move weight from side to side encouraging trunk rotation

  6. Keep the weight close to your body

Medicine ball throws against a wall

  1. 3-5 sets, 5-10 reps per side

  2. Hold ball with two hands

  3. Rotate at hips

  4. Transfer from one leg to another and throw ball

  5. Receive the ball again and rotate back to start position to go again

Woodchop with resistance bands/ cable weights
  1. Attach the resistance band to an immovable object (squat rack) and at hip level

  2. Take giant step back to create tension

  3. Start in twisted position in direction you want to go

  4. Turn your head same direction with the movement of your hands

  5. Keep your arms straight throughout

  6. Rotate at the hip

  7. Pivot foot (not back foot)

Injury prevention for knees and splints: lower body training

Rotational lunge with sandbag

  1. Stand tall in front of mirror and hold the sandbag with both hands

  2. Go slowly at first to control the movement, ensure that the bent knee is facing the mirror

  3. Step one leg back into a drop lunge, rotate trunk and place sand bag on same side as bent leg

  4. Alternate sides

  5. Increase leverage and speed to challenge balance

One legged knee balance with BOSU ball

  1. Begin with one foot on the top of the round side of the BOSU ball, the other foot on the ground to the side, and the opposite arm at a 90-degree angle in front of the body.

  2. Explosively drive the knee of the foot on the ground up while pumping the arms. Hold this position for one or two counts and return to the starting position.

  3. Halfway through the repetitions, the other foot is switched to the top of the BOSU ball.

Side lunges with BOSU ball

  1. The BOSU Side Lunge can be performed with or without weights.

  2. Perform a side lunge onto the round side of the ball keeping the back straight and the chest up.

  3. Explode off the BOSU ball, which should result in the leg lifting to the side.

  4. Hold that position for a count before returning to the starting position.

  5. Perform an equal number of repetitions on each leg.

The Bulgarian squat with TRX

To increase hip mobility and knee stability

  1. No shoes for extra feedback through feet

  2. Place the foot in TRX to load front leg properly

  3. If holding dumbbell, place in ‘goblet hold position’, both hands in front of chest

  4. 10-15 repetitiions per side

Anti-rotational exercises

Palloff press with resistance bands

  1. Set up with a band firmly affixed to an immovable object. Stand in a line with the band apparatus and turn your body perpendicular. Center the band on your chest using both hands.

  2. LIFT: Push the band straight out in front of you, keeping your body in a straight-line with no rotation. Hold it in front for 3 seconds, then return the band in complete control to your chest.

Plank variations

Foam rollers

Think of this as self-massage; an effective way to reduce Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) by rolling out those knots in your hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes and shins. Foam rolling has also been shown to improve to enhance the recovery of muscular performance. You can also work your core this way whilst balancing yourself on the roller, or by simply rolling over it.

Please attend the SADMSA workshop this summer 2018 with Seema De Jorge-Chopra to learn more techniques and to develop your practice.

Seema De Jorge-Chopra is an MSc Dance Science graduate and Kathak dancer with expertise in injury prevention, fitness and conditioning for South Asian Dance. She shares her knowledge of movement through a blend of dance, somatics, Iyengar yoga and Strength and Conditioning with diverse populations: contemporary dancers, children/ young adults with special educational needs and adult learners.


Farmer, C., & De Jorge-Chopra, S. Pulse (2016, Winter). What has fitness got to do with South Asian Dance (135), 16–18.

Gregory E. P. Pearcey, David J. Bradbury-Squires, Jon-Erik Kawamoto, Eric J. Drinkwater, David G. Behm, and Duane C. Button (2015) Foam Rolling for Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Recovery of Dynamic Performance Measures. Journal of Athletic Training: January 2015, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 5-13.

#southasiandance #fitness #dance #strengthandconditioning

Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us