A fitness-based approach to dominate the dance floor at your next party

Now, it is well known in my close circles that I can hold my own on the dance floor. I love to dance at weddings, especially when the scene is energized.  Not only do I find it extremely therapeutic, but it also burns a ton of calories – upwards of 400-600 kCals/hr!.  It doesn’t matter if you haven’t had training in dance – you just feel the flow and move with the groove.  Many times, those who truly break it down at the reception end up being quite sore musculo-skeletally the following few days.  That is, if they didn’t prepare physically leading up to the big event!  Do you want to party like it’s 1999 all the way until the bride and groom kick you out, while waking up the next day still feeling great?  From a physical readiness perspective, here’s how!

Corrective Exercises 

OK, first off, we have to make sure our body is “tuned up”.  Last thing we want is to tear an achilles while jumping to House of Pain or pull our groin while going Gangnam Style.  Here are some corrective exercises (exercises to improve/restore flexibility and mobility while improving muscle activation) to work on before you get into the next few sections.

  • Shoulder diagonals:  Reach up and out like you are sitting in the passenger seat and are grabbing the seat belt (up and out, leading with your thumb), then bring it down and click it in.  Now, reach with your opposite hand across your body to grab the seat belt, and bring it down to click it in.  2 sets of 10 each direction, each arm. Click it or ticket!
  • Single leg bridges with knee hug: Lying on your back, flex your right knee so that your  heel is on the floor directly under your knee.  Hug your left knee to your chest.  Pushing through the back half of your right shoe, push off the ground as high as you can (without letting go of you knee).  2 sets of 10 on each side.
  • Assisted leg drops (straight down and lateral): Think scissors and windshield wipers. Here’s a video showing assisted leg drops. The lateral version is the same, except you lower one leg straight out to the side until you feel your trunk start to rotate, then return back up to starting position. 2 sets of 10 straight down, 2 sets of 10 lateral. Try these while holding your legs up without the support of the wall for an added “core” workout.
  • Trunk rotations on all 4’s: On your hands and knees, reach with your right hand as far as you can across and under your body, then bring it back across and rotate upwards towards the ceiling – leading with your thumb and following with your eyes. Imagine reaching across your body for a $100 bill, grabbing it, then showing it off up in the air. Then put that $100 into the bride and groom’s card!
  • Stretches (2 times x 15″ each side): Figure 4 (lying on your back, right foot on left knee, reach “through the window” and hug your left thigh towards your chest), calf/achilles (first with your knee straight, then with your knee bent. Make sure the foot on the side you are stretching is pointed straight forward)

Strength Training 

You are going to have to be strong to handle all of those dance moves. The key here is to develop strength in your glutes, calves, rotator cuff, and quads (particularly eccentric).

  • Glutes (A.K.A. your booty): High box step ups (knee height or slightly higher, pushing through your heel) and single leg bridges (similar to the corrective exercise I mentioned above but without hugging your knee) will get you started towards taking care of this important family of muscles for dancing.
  • Eccentric (negative) quad strength: If you’re going to “drop it likes it’s hot”, you have to be able to control it. Two great exercises to work on this: a) Lateral step downs – standing on a box or step, lower yourself as far as you can (while keeping good alignment and technique), then push back up; b) Front lunge with Goblet DB – holding a dumbbell against your chest (Goblet hold), keeping good posture, step forward and drop into a lunge, then push the floor away from you to get back up to starting position.
  • Calves: Standing heel raises on a step, standing toe-ups (heel on the step – do these if you don’t want shin splints!), and squatting heel raises (same as on a step, but you perform the heel raises on the floor while in a squat position – works the deeper muscles of the lower leg).  Aim for 1-2 sets of 30 of each of these.
  • Rotator cuff: All of that fist pumping, friend carrying, high-fiving, and air guitar playing requires some great shoulder stabilization. Try these:  Inch worms (start in push up position, walk feet in underneath you while keeping your knees straight, then walk your hands forward until you are back in push up position; great for RC and core!), bent over reverse flies (light weight, high rep, and be sure to lead the motion with your shoulder blade), and dumbbell external rotations at 90/90 (elbow at shoulder height, out to side, and rotate the DB down forward, then back up to the starting position – leading the motion with your shoulder blade going down and back)

Core stability

Bottom line – you’re most likely going to be contorting your spine all sorts of ways during the course of the night. Be strong enough to handle it. Train your core muscles with a series of front and side planks, bridges, rotational, and anti-rotational exercises (keep an eye out for my upcoming blog “The 6-sided approach to core stability”).  For now, Google “bird dogs” and “med ball chops” to get some ideas.

Cardio/Muscular Endurance

You are going to need endurance if you’re going to make it through the entire song list.  Supplement your strength and core training with a good endurance program. Already a runner? Keep doing what you do, and be sure to throw in some sprint interval training. Not a runner?  Try the Couch to 5K program to get started.


Justin Timberlake. MJ. MC Hammer. Mosh pit frequenters.  What do they have in common? The ability to fire their muscles quickly and powerfully to generate wicked moves.  So, once you have a few weeks of strength training under your belt, and your core is getting nice and tight, time to throw in some plyos to get ready for a little Party Rock.

  • Jump rope: Plain and simple, using various footwork.
  • Carioca: Cross in front, then cross behind while jogging –> running. Focus on a good hip turn.
  • Quick skips: Just like a regular skip, except you focus your energy into punching the floor rather than pushing off the floor. Oh, and they are to be done quickly, as the name implies. Try 10-15 second bursts.
  • Speed skaters: Start on your left leg, and jump to your right, landing on your right leg.  Jump back to your left.  Vary this by jumping in different directions. No more than 6 jumps per leg per set, 3 or 4 sets.
  • MC Hammer quick hops: If you don’t know, you betta ask sumbody.

Fast forward – now the big day is here…

Dynamic Warm-up

Again, nobody wants to get injured here.  If you are embarrassed about doing a full dynamic warm up over in the back of the reception hall (people would think your careoka was just a dance move), then here’s what you do:

  1. Walk around, shake lots of hands, and give lots of hugs while talking to lots of people.  Get the blood flowing to the legs and hands.
  2. While sitting at the table, loosen up your ankles and knees under the table where nobody will see it.  If you have a hot date, play footsies.  Also, lots of clapping is good.
  3. When it’s time to hit the dance floor, be sure to gradually ramp up your intensity and skill level of dance moves.  Nobody breaks out “The Worm” in the first 10 minutes.  Save that for when you’re physiologically firing!


Last, but certainly not least, make sure to properly hydrate before, during, and after your dance-a-thon.  While beer, wine, and liquor do hydrate you, they also have a “dehydrative” diuretic effect (which is why the line at the bathroom grows as the night goes on).  So, make sure that if you are responsibly partaking in the consumption of adult beverages, have a full glass of water between each drink.

Now you’re ready to challenge Britney and Justin to a dance-off.  Do your thing.


Ryan Stevens, MPS, LAT, ATC, CSCS


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