Legs dancers on pointe

How ballet builds your muscle co-ordination

If you want to build muscle you probably envisage hours spent in a gym in a singlet shouting some sort of inane logo like, “The only time is now!”, or “Egrets never prosper”. Chances are that you probably aren’t thinking about donning the leotard, or baggy shorts that go with the aforementioned singlet, and doing a few ballet classes. According to new research though, while ballet might not give you enormous pecs, it does build your muscle co-ordination in a very beneficial way.

This all shows that ballet training enhances how your nervous system controls your muscular system and you gain the benefit every day as you walk around.

To understand the new study we need for a moment to consider how the nervous system controls your movements. It does not control muscles individually but instead initiates movement in groups of muscles that are called “motor modules”. Different motor modules are combined to achieve a wide variety of movement. These researchers wanted to see whether ballet training changes how motor modules are recruited when moving in everyday life.

To do this the researchers compared the movements of ballet dancers with ten or more years of training to people with no dance or gymnastics training. Walking gait and activity of muscles in the legs and torso were tracked as the subjects walked across the floor, across a wide beam, and across a narrow beam.

The gait patterns were similar when they walked across the floor or the broad beam but when they walked across the narrow beam the ballet dancers showed much better balance and could walk farther along the beam. The researchers say that the ballet dancers recruited more motor modules and used them more effectively and efficiently. Although there was no significant difference in outcome the ballet dancers also used more motor modules when doing an everyday thing like walking across the floor.

This all shows that ballet training enhances how your nervous system controls your muscular system and you gain the benefit every day as you walk around. So the point seems to be that we would all benefit from a pirouette or tutu.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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