"Strength Training" ...What is it?


Domingo Estrada, Dancer MMDG

Pilates tends to focus on co-ordination and form, with strength and flexibility secondary (and happy) results of full body exercises. Like most top dancers, Domingo Estrada has worked on his personal fitness with a multitude of exercise techniques, including pilates. As part of the Mark Morris Dance Group's preparation for recent touring Domingo has been put in charge of strength training for the dancers and the staff.  I got a chance to talk to Domingo about his classes and training  after a few months of watching his students parade through the studio carrying dumbbells, excited and nervous, then returning sweaty and flushed, ready to go!

                                                                            Domingo Estrada graces the front of the Mark Morris Dance Center

                                                                            Domingo Estrada graces the front of the Mark Morris Dance Center

NLP: Domingo, you recently started teaching a class for your fellow Mark Morris company dancers. And others.

Domingo: Yeah!

NLP: It seems like it has inspired lots of people. Do you have a name for it?

Domingo: Strength training. But what I call my approach on my own is, sculpting 360. I make sure all the muscles are working and flexible, in use and engaged when they need to be. I do isometric training and a lot of stability work through movement. We do some weight lifting with strength training. I do a lot of resistance training. I incorporate pilates, I use breakdancing elements utilizing the floor...

NLP: I thought that was Capoeira

Domingo: I do that as well sometimes. When you dance, every ability is called upon. So I just make sure that everything is working—the muscles, the skeleton, the joints.

                    Is it pilates?  Is it Gyro?  Is it capoeira?

                    Is it pilates?  Is it Gyro?  Is it capoeira?

NLP: How long is your class?
Domingo: It’s 30-45 minutes. I start with cardio to get the body warm. You want to get the blood pumping and muscles pumping enough so where, towards the end of the workout, you have excelled a little bit.

NLP: Some of the professional dancing that you do is not just aerobic but takes a lot of strength and athleticism. Do you think any of Mark Morris ‘ dances are harder than your class?

Domingo: There are absolutely dances of Mark’s that include a lot of running around, a lot of work in partnering/lifting—Festival Dance is one that comes to mind for sure. We don’t always have those dances in our programs though, so we need to keep up our strength for when we do.

NLP: I’ve watched you work out for a long time and it doesn’t seem like you do the same workout twice. I try and do something similar with my students.

Domingo: I like to mix it up because if you do one routine over and over your body adjusts to that. You have to mix it up.

NLP: When I saw you perform recently in the NY season you had been working out a lot and teaching your class, and I noticed the clarity was there in your dancing but it didn’t seem as though there was undue tension or lack of felxibility that people might associate with weight training or pumping iron.  It was quite remarkable.

Domingo: Thank you.

NLP: And I was a little surprised because I know how much you work out, I see you every day. Is it the cross training? It’s almost beyond cross training because you use so many different elements.

Domingo: I like to stretch my limits but the more I do, the more I have to make sure I am always maintaining mobility, fluidity.

NLP: What about resting?

Domingo: I always give myself rest. Weekends I usually have 1 or 2 days of rest. But I listen to my body; if I work out heavily one day I might work out a little less the next. I try and work out 6 times a week but sometimes I give myself 3 days of rest…if I need it.

NLP: Is this the first time you’ve taught this kind of class?

                                     Ninja Modern Dancer-in-training.

                                     Ninja Modern Dancer-in-training.

Domingo: Yes but I’ve been developing this kind of workout since I was in high school.  Not everybody wanted to go the gym back then, so I didn’t always have a partner and I had to be creative in working out by myself.

I think of all the things we did when we were kids, in Physical Education, like the president’s fitness test. We just don’t do that on a daily basis. Even we as dancers don’t do all the things we used to. But I try, so if I go running I like to run on an uneven terrain so my feet and muscles and joints are being tested. I like to do the same thing with all my workouts. I’m never just running one foot in front of the other, I’m never just shuffling side to side.

NLP: And when you translate that to a class, are you thinking about the dancers in the company, or about what Mark’s piece’s need?

Domingo: Absolutely. I think about many things. Like how we can incorporate partnering skills without doing that specific partnering in class (we did start taking some partnering classes from Mark). In order for us to be able do partnering we need strength. So I make sure we work everything—I have us do crab walks and even giving piggy back rides in class. Just trying to work all of the body.

NLP: You never know what you’re going to be called on to do.

Domingo: Sometimes I plan the class based on how the week’s been going. Sometimes I don’t have a plan and I kind of go in and see what people need. Other times it’s how I feel—since I work out the most.

NLP: And what’s been the response? Physically you can probably tell by seeing performances; that the dancers’ bodies are clear but haven’t lost their personalities or character. Have people incorporated some of your workout ideas into their daily routine?

Domingo: Everybody is very enthusiastic, even though I kill them sometimes. It’s a bug, they are catching the little workout bug—they want to continue and even when we are not having the class on a regular basis they do it on their own. Which is great, that they feel the difference. There are a lot of benefits.

NLP: Are they making up their own workouts you think?
Domingo: I think they might be, yes. I’ve thrown a lot of ideas at them and make sure they’re moving properly and safely. And they go from there.

NLP: Do you believe there is benefit in tiring out muscles?

Domingo: Absolutely, you should tire out the muscle and then work from there to build… and then give yourself some rest.

             Cooling  Down

             Cooling  Down

NLP: I tell my students that form is the most important thing. When your form starts to deteriorate because the muscles are giving way, I stop them. I don’t have them do a lot of reps.

Domingo: When you get tired is when you’re going to start needing to work more intelligently with your body. You have to make sure you’re working safely and smart. Then that’s the moment you’re going to benefit from and exceed your workout, and build a better body.



More Info on Strength Training

Click on this link for a brief (but clear) introduction to the common understanding of "Strength Training".
Check this out from Dance Mag on the special strength training challenges facing dancers: Dancers and Weight Training

This could be an excellent introduction to exercise and fitness or you could invent a whole new regime like Domingo or Joseph Pilates!