Exercise in relation to ballroom dancing

By Leo Weitenberg A combination of which additional physical activities is the most effective for Latin-American and Standard Ballroom dancers? How do we find the perfect way to prepare the body physically for a better dance performance? Which physical skills should we pay more attention to?

By Leo Weitenberg

A combination of which additional physical activities is the most effective for Latin-American and Standard Ballroom dancers? How do we find the perfect way to prepare the body physically for a better dance performance? Which physical skills should we pay more attention to?

I would like to answer these questions with my knowledge as a physiotherapist combined with my experiences in dancing. To answer these questions, I will have to explain something to you about the basics of movement in general, and movement related to ballroom dancing in my view.

In the field of physiotherapy, in any form of movement, we describe five basic locomotive characteristics. The order of importance in which these apply, is different for every form of movement.

The five basic locomotive characteristics, in random order, are:

–        Strength

–        Range of motion (specifically describing the range of motion of joints)

–        Stamina

–        Speed (the ability to go from A to B in a short amount of time)

–        Coordination

In my opinion, the order in which these apply is as follows:

1)     Coordination (Without being able to coordinate the path of an apple form the table to your mouth, there is no use having the strength or stamina to do so. Coordination is by far the most important aspect of almost any form of movement)

2)     Stamina (Overall-stamina)

3)     Strength (Muscle endurance, explosive muscle contraction)

4)     ROM (except for the normal ROM  you would need for everyday activities, this is not a locomotive characteristic that I view as important in ballroom dancing)

5)     Speed (In dancing, I believe it is not important whether a person can move from A to B faster than the one standing next to him or her)

After deciding the order of importance these apply, we have to determine a few other factors of movement, in order to say which types of exercise are beneficial for dancing. The first factor I would say, is which energy systems are used and in what degree are they used.

The three energy systems I will separate for this are:

1)     The ATP-CP storage/phosphate storage (active in the first 10-20 seconds of an maximum intense activity. Keeping in mind this is not a separate system. It doesn’t generate energy but depends on the production of ATP from the aerobe and anaerobe transformation of glucose and fatty acids)1

2)     The lactate system/Anaerobe glycolysis (active until 80-110 seconds of an activity with average to maximum intensity)1

3)     The aerobe system (Active during the entire activity).

In ballroom dancing, I would say the degree in which these are used are as follows (considering the intensity of the activity1 and the dance lasting between 1:30, and 2:003):

1)     Anaerobe ATP-CP:                                    10%

2)     Anaerobe Lactate system: 50-55%

3)     Aerobe system:                                         35-40%

Next, it is important to know which anatomical groups of structures are active, and in which way they are active during the movement, in order to know which are useful to train and in which way they are useful to train in exercises.

This is where we have to separate Latin-American and Standard ballroom dancing. In latin dance, the core/centre structures are the most important (from a physiological point of view) in the overall movement compared to the lower or upper extremity. In standard/modern dance, I would say the core/centre structures together with the lower extremity are the most important in the overall movement compared to the upper extremity.

There are three ways that muscles are able contract. Isometric (contraction without movement, stabilizing), Concentric (muscle contraction while shortening; initiating movement), and Excentric (muscle contraction while lengthening; resisting movement).

I have decided to structure this in the following way, in order of importance:


1)     Core/centre structures: Concentric, Isometric

2)     Upper extremity: Concentric, Excentric, & lower extremity: Concentric, Excentric


1)     Core/centre structures: Concentric, Isometric & lower extremity: Concentric, Excentric

2)     Upper extremity: Concentric, Excentric

In conclusion, looking for exercises that are most effective for ballroom dancing, and finding the physical skills we should pay more attention to, we can say the following:

In general exercise, we should focus on coordination exercises that concentrate on the muscles we use during our dancing. Coordination exercises are exercises with 13-17 repetitions based on a chain of muscles which are also activated during dancing. Coordination exercises are focused on the imitation of a movement, with the focus on the quality of that movement.1,2

Besides exercises focused on coordination, we should not forget the other factors that are important for ballroom dancers, such as:

–        Muscle stamina: exercises with 20-40 repetitions, focused on fatiguing the chain of muscles used.2

–        Explosive muscle contraction (more useful for latin dancers than for standard dancers): exercises with 5-10 repetitions, executed within 7 seconds2

–        Isokinetic muscle contraction: Exercises that focus on executing the movement of the exercise in a continues way, taking the same amount of time in the excentric phase as in the concentric phase of contraction.

–        Overall stamina; Dividable in three parts:

  • Aerobe stamina training at 65%-85% of your maximum heart rate (>20 min)1
  • Anaerobe stamina training at >85% of your maximum heart rate (interval training of 30s-2min)1
  • Sport specific stamina training: competition simulation

1J.J. de Morree, Inspanningsfysiologie, oefentherapie en training, 2006

2T. van de Goolberg, De Rehaboom, 2005

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