Can Athletes Dance Their Way to Agility? - Part 1

Dance Training for Agility, Speed and Power

Can athletes dance their way to agility?

Coaches and athletes are always on the lookout for drills, exercises and training methods that will give them the edge over their rivals and this sometimes leads to unusual approaches. But can dance training deliver the goods? John Shepherd investigates

Agility is an attribute that is crucial for virtually all sports performance. Runners of all speeds can also benefit from improved agility, because the ‘lighter’ the athlete is on their feet the better their ground contact, reaction and propulsion will be. Field sports players will be off the pace if they cannot turn, react, spin, step, and start and stop as effectively as possible.

Take football, which is a game characterised by numerous agility requirements, for example, turning to shoot, pass, make a header or run down an opponent. The number of jumps and turns (among other movements) a player may have to make across a typical playing and training season can run into several thousands; it’s easy to understand how improving these abilities with specific agility training could make a huge difference to playing ability and injury avoidance.

American football is a sport hardly known for its grace and poise, but many players have swapped their pads for points, to do ballet. Ballet dancers are renowned for their agility; they are able to leap, land and turn with, well… with balletic grace. This has led researchers and sports team players and coaches to experiment with ballet and other dance forms as a conditioning method. Superbowl winner and former top high-hurdler Willie Gault was one such player who believed his on-field performance and resistance to injury was enhanced by ballet. Ballet has in fact been used within American football since the 1970s.

For example, the ballet position ‘turnout’ rotates legs from the hips and helps to strengthen smaller, more injury-susceptible muscles, while using ‘changement’ and ‘tendu’ positions helps to enhance ankle and foot flexibility, which is seen to enhance agility (1). Elsewhere on the American football field, John A Bergfeld, the Cleveland Browns’ medical advisor, noted that groin injuries decreased in the season following ballet training. He believed that the training had taught the players, who had to crouch during games, an awareness of their pelvis positioning and that this had reduced injury potential by increased range of motion in their hips.