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Muscling in: upper bodywork.

Do your arms fly out when your partner lifts you? Do your shoulders rise up to your ears? Do they ache often? These are all signs of upper body weakness. Your goal may be to appear weightless and willowy, but your body needs ballast. A strong, stable lower torso is the first essential for giving you better control of your upper body, especially your arm movements. Once you have strengthened your core, the next step is toning and strengthening your upper body. What's most effective? Cross-training.

Pilates mat work and therapy gym ball exercises help build your pelvic floor, abdominals, and deep lower back muscles which make up your core unit. Here are a few exercises to include into your routine:

* Assume the plank position: Balance in a straight line on your forearms and the balls of your feet in a push-up position. Hold for 10 seconds. This will strengthen your abdominals as well as your upper arms. Do this several times during your warmup and cool-down. Yoga downward dog push-ups, with the fingers of either hand pointing towards the other, hips up and elbows bent, are also good.

* Lie with your spine lined up head-to-tailbone on a foam roller. Hold a weighted medicine ball above your chest with your arms straight. Trace a circle on the ceiling with the ball. Repeat five to six times in either direction.

* Using a therapy gym ball, balance your legs and lower abdomen on the ball in the wheelbarrow position, while you support the rest of your torso with your upper arms. Hold for 30 seconds.

Building your core is only the first step. The next is integrating your core with controlling your limbs. Here is where resistance training on Pilates or Gyrotonics machines can come in. If you prefer, you can also use spinal articulation exercises like body rolls. Lie on your back on a Pilates mat and perform a rollover, which is similar to a yoga plow position, but not as extreme. Slowly roll your feet back towards your head and down to the floor.

Next, add on some flee weight training, which will build muscle strength, using little dumbbells and paying special attention to form. I recommend higher repetitions with lower weights to prevent bulking up and to preserve your line. Both men and women can benefit from performing back-of-shoulder and rotator cuff exercises with weights. Stand and hinge 90 degrees to a flat back position, then slightly bend knees and support your head on the barre. Holding eight-pound dumbbell weights, pull your elbows back in a rowing motion, and squeeze them together. Then try a seated row, using a Theraband around your feet, and pulling your elbows back. Also try lying on your stomach, holding three-pound weights in your hands about five inches beyond your head, then raising them towards the ceiling to strengthen your lower trapezius. Move your arms out to the side with palms facing upwards and do file exercise to the side, which will strengthen your middle trapezius.

Rotator cuff exercises should emphasize external rotation. Lie on your side with both knees bent at 90 degrees, squeeze a rolled towel under the upper arm (elbow flexed to 90 degrees) and, using a two or three-pound dumbbell, lift for 30 repetitions. Since the rotators are endurance muscles, they require more repetitions to build strength.

Many dancers make the mistake of over-strengthening their chest and pectorals, although the arms' main support comes from the back shoulder area. That's because the mirror tends to orient dancers to the front, but shoulder support and good posture stem from the back. To prevent building up heft, lift more weight when you perform rowing exercises, and then lower the poundage for the smaller muscle groups like the rotator cuff and perform repetitions instead. You also should do some form of pull-up. Sit on the floor with your back to the wall, and pull your weight up by the ballet barre. That will help you to really feel your body weight in the same way your partner does.

Keep in mind there's a natural rhythm to your arm movements. This is crucial to remember when you're partnering. Don't make the man do more than he needs to. You are a team, and that effortless look means the woman elevates herself as well. Core strength, toning, and proper dynamics will go a long way in making your lifts lofty, not flyaway.


Suzanne Martin is principal physical therapist for Smuin Ballet in San Francisco. She also has her own practice in physical therapy and Pilates.
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Title Annotation:HEALTH and Fitness
Author:Martin, Suzanne
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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