We’ve all heard that having a strong core is especially beneficial for dancers. But having a “strong” core means more than just six-pack abs. Rather, core strength comes from the ability of the muscles of the core to load and contract at the appropriate time, related to a person’s breathing, and allowing the limbs to create their movement. And for dancers, who need to move in infinite ways, a core that works in this efficient way is certainly beneficial.
Of course, this can’t happen overnight. It probably can’t happen with 30 straight minutes of “crunches” either. But Monika Volkmar, founder of The Dance Training Project and certified strength and conditioning specialist who works closely with dancers, believes that with just a few minutes of dedication each day, dancers can create new habits and, as a result, unlock the power of their core.
So she created the 30-Day Restore Your Core Challenge, a completely free training method in which dancers practice one exercise every day for 30 days. Sign-up requires only an email address, and each week participants are sent a new lesson and exercise to practice.
“My aim is to get dancers to care deeply about their self-practice,” Volkmar explains. “It’s not even so much about gaining ‘core strength’ but committing a few minutes or more every day to their self-care (and as a secondary result, probably gaining some core strength). This change in priorities is not easy to do, particularly without guidance, and signing up for a challenge with a bit of structure can help with accountability.”
A main focus of Volkmar’s 30-Day Challenge is re-patterning and mastering breathing patterns, as she notes that “breath control is core control, and ‘core strength’ has less to do with strength of the abs or back muscles but more to do with how we coordinate our breathing with movement”. Thus, the exercises are simple (but not easy if done correctly) and develop over the weeks, from optimizing breathing to unlocking spinal mobility to creating intra-abdominal pressure to integrating core with the upper and lower body.
Volkmar believes that this method of a short amount of self-practice daily has more advantages than a 60-minute “cram session”. “The result is we end up cramming it into our busy schedules, performing exercises half-heartedly while simultaneously checking our smartphones for notifications, watching the clock, thinking about what we have to do next, and we aren’t fully engaged with our bodies,” she says. “Three well-connected reps of an exercise are more beneficial than 30 disconnected, sloppy, mindless reps.”
And busy dancers often have limited time and money, so the 30-Day Challenge allows for accessible, deep self-care that is not overwhelming, especially if dancers aren’t used to supplemental training.
“In the 30-Day Challenge, we treat ‘core training’ more as a skill to be learned than as a ‘strength training’ practice,” Volkmar says. “The daily practice is not a ‘workout’; it’s a skills development session. Keeping it short, deep, frequent and for 30 days straight helps our brains and bodies to adapt more so than one workout per week without over-taxing our systems and inhibiting recovery.”
Volkmar sees her 30-Day Challenge as a journey, a self-exploration of the core. By the end of the 30 days, dancers may still be trying to figure out the basics – such as how to properly exhale – and feel slightly frustrated. But Volkmar says that frustration is part of the process of changing one’s ways, and that progress will occur at different rates, but what’s most important is patience and consistent practice.
“It is my hope that the 30 days is just the beginning of what will become a greater desire to understand their bodies and what ‘core’ really encompasses, the creation of a new habit to practice movement daily, and a shift in values toward prioritizing cross-training to an equal degree that they value their dance training,” she adds.
Once dancers complete the 30-Day Restore Your Core Challenge, they can check out Volkmar’s Dance Stronger, a multi-media resource for dancers who want to further learn how to enhance their movement quality and develop strength to support their dancing.
To join the free 30-Day Restore Your Core Challenge, enter your name and email address here.
By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Monika Volkmar. Photo by Heather Bedell.