Teaching Tips

Beyond Basic Planks: These 12 Variations Strengthen More Than Your Abs

Photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe. Modeled by Anna Greenberg of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

Planks are one of the most popular exercises for core strength, but they're not just about flat abs. Julie O'Connell, physical therapist and performing arts program manager at Chicago's Athletico Physical Therapy, says that dancers can use them to maximize their conditioning: Look at the corrections you're getting in class or the choreography you're learning and mirror those concepts in your strength work.


Get creative: There are several plank variations below, but the possibilities are limitless. For example, if you have to do a long arabesque balance onstage, you might hold a forearm plank with one leg in a turned-out arabesque to build strength and stamina.

Create a circuit of four variations, or if you're short on time, sprinkle them throughout your day, says O'Connell. Instead of completing a certain number of reps, work until your body is fatigued. This might mean doing controlled dégagés in a front plank, right side plank, left side plank and reverse plank for 30 seconds each. If you're not tired, increase the time to 45 seconds for each position on your next round.

How to progress: "Challenge yourself to whatever capacity you're up for, making sure that you maintain form and function," says O'Connell, who notes that the exercises can be done in parallel or turnout. Planking on your forearms gives you more stability than straight arms since your body is closer to the floor. When you're ready, progress to variations that only have two points of contact with the ground, or those that require moving a prop like a physio ball or foam roller.

Keep these form tips in mind throughout any plank circuit:

  • Don't look down or strain your neck. Keep your head in line with your body.
  • Engage your shoulder blades and avoid splaying the ribs.
  • In side planks, stack your shoulders as well as your hips.
  • In reverse planks, engage the glutes and squeeze the shoulder blades.

Three Points of Contact

● Lift and lower one leg at a time.

● Pulse the heel toward the ceiling.


● Translate elements from barre to a plank position. O'Connell recommends a series of dégagés or battements to the side and back, shown here with both legs in turnout, though it can also be done in parallel.


● Draw one leg up into retiré, return and switch legs.

● For more of an upper-body strengthener, keep the legs still as you move from a forearm plank to straight arms and back down, one arm at a time.

● Start in a reverse plank position, using your glutes to lift your body up. Test your stability with a series of front and side dégagés or battements. For another variation, slowly développé side and carry front.


Two Points of Contact

● Lengthen your opposite arm and leg off the ground.


● For more of a challenge, reach the arm and leg on the same side off the ground.

● From a side plank, dégagé or battement front, side and back, with legs in turnout or parallel.


Incorporating Props

● Start in a basic plank with your feet on a physio ball. Slowly draw the knees toward your chest, moving the ball in, then return to straight legs. To strengthen the obliques, pull the knees in on a diagonal.


● Start in a side plank with your bottom arm extended and the top leg placed on a ball slightly in front of you. With control, push down on the ball and use your leg to move the ball forwards and back to the original position.

● Place your forearms on a foam roller and push it several inches away from you, then pull it back in. Start with your knees on the floor for more stability.


Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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