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Improving Athletic Performance With Barre-Based, Ballet-Inspired Training

Your ongoing drive to provide the right type of training based in science, as well as improve performance, avoid injury and promote longevity, will ultimately affect your client’s quality of life in a positive way, forever. That is a lot of responsibility, but little compares to seeing a participant, client or athlete accomplish or exceed his or her goals. That is why you will often hear me say, “I love my job!” Just like you, I am constantly looking for a better (more efficient, effective, engaging, safe) way to train my class participants, clients and athletes that will yield positive results and prevent overuse injury. My solution is barre-based, ballet-inspired training.

Over 30 years ago, NFL player Lynn Swann made the news for taking ballet to improve his football performance. Now NFL players like Steve McLendon of the Pittsburg Steelers take ballet classes regularly to strengthen their joints, improve their flexibility and help them stay injury free. Other notable athletes who have taken ballet to improve their performance include boxer Muhammad Ali, NFL player Herschel Walker, NBA player Michael Beasley and countless others. Though most of us do not train professional athletes, we may have some clients like McLendon, who weigh in at 320 pounds and have specific needs for their desired performance, even if that performance is walking up a flight of stairs. Barre-based, ballet-inspired training can certainly benefit most types of clients. Their success and yours is in adding the “right” type of training for their specific needs.

I will be the first to admit that though the principles of ballet barre training can benefit every exerciser, ballet class is not for everyone. In fact, when looked at from the perspective of an adult who has never taken a ballet class, jumping right in and attempting every part of a class might be downright dangerous, and most certainly embarrassing. However, introducing barre-based, ballet-inspired training is not intimidating when you consider it from the perspective of your clients’ needs. Most athletes have very strong quadriceps, hamstrings and upper bodies, but lack strength and flexibility in their hips, adductors, abductors, ankles and feet. This muscular imbalance and lack of flexibility can lead to injury. Most clients have some combination of the strengths and weaknesses listed above, coupled with weakened core muscles, a lack of cardio-respiratory endurance, or decreased upper body strength, especially female clients. These folks are in the greatest need of innovative methods of training that will improve their quality of life without causing them injury. Choosing what movements, exercises or techniques you will use based on the needs of your client will allow you to “sneak” barre-based, ballet-inspired training into your sessions in a way that is client and trainer friendly.

Consider the athlete’s weaknesses: hips, adductors, abductors, ankles and feet. The types of exercises they will benefit from the most include:

  1. Working in external rotation: plié squats, curtsey squats, curtsey lunges, leg swings, leg circles, diagonal lunges, Pilates-based floor work
  2. Increasing active flexibility: leg lifts, deadlifts
  3. Strengthening the ankles and feet: barefoot training, calf raises, working on the balls of the feet
  4. Add to the list above, the typical client’s weaknesses: core, upper body and cardio-respiratory endurance. The types of exercises they would benefit the most from include those listed above, plus:

  5. Leg intensive exercises in the parallel foot position: squats, lunges, other compound legwork
  6. Upper body work utilizing body weight: push-ups, pull-ups, anything else beginning or ending in the plank position
  7. Steady-state and interval training
  8. Balance training
  9. Agility practice

We could create an entire exercise program from these eight types of “beneficial” exercises. They will feel very little like ballet class but would allow your clients to reap all of the benefits of barre-based, ballet-inspired training sans pink tights!

About the author: Jenn Hall is a ReebokONE Expert Contributor and Education Director at Lebert Fitness, Creator LTS LeBARRE

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