5 Essential Exercises for Actors and Performers

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There are three foundational movements that all actor-athletes should master. We’ll just get this out of the way now: it’s not bicep curls, ab crunches, or any other “insta-move” you might have scrolled through before seeing this article. The squat, deadlift, and press are movements needed to perform the simple tasks of sitting, bending to pick up an object, or lifting an object overhead. I’d also add in two additional movements that positionally are essential for a performer to perfect. The hollow hold and lying arch hold (“Superman hold”) are two body positions that through any circumstance can train the enhancement of our body’s durability. Without these five movements, a performer is not likely to reach their maximum potential physically and also will become more susceptible to injury.

The fundamental body positioning required in a squat contains important body awareness to have when wanting to avoid knee and back injuries. It’s also one of the primary compound movements we can practice to increase leg strength. Your legs are the base of your foundation. Any well-rounded athlete is an athlete with strong and able legs. Let’s breakdown the squat: set your feet in a shoulder-width position, keep your shoulders back with a proud chest, initiate the movement by sending your hips and butt back slightly like you would go to sit in a chair. As you descend aim to keep your torso upright by lengthening your mid-back, be sure that your knees track out over your toes preventing them from caving inward, your whole foot should remain on the ground at all times with the weight distributed in your midfoot, and finally the depth of our squat should be slightly below our hip crease. If mobility and flexibility allow, I love the single-leg squat for helping out with imbalances.

As performers, we’re often asked to pick up objects or people from the ground. Without the proper deadlift technique, we’re asking for injury. The ability to use our posterior chain properly while performing will lead to increased abilities for partner lifts and other useful abilities that can make you a reliable asset to any company. Let’s breakdown the deadlift: set your feet hip-width apart, just slightly bend your knees, hinge over at the waist with a proud chest as you push your hips and butt back. Feel your glutes and hamstrings engaging as you continue to pin your shoulders back while engaging your lumbar curve never letting it round underneath you, as you pick up the object feel your heels anchor into the floor, and finally, always keep the object close to you. Like the squat, I also like to mix in a single leg variation of the deadlift for balance and coordination. 

Our final foundational movement, the press, is another key movement that like the previous two, I often see people doing incorrectly. Let’s get right into breaking down the press: sit your feet at a hip-width stance, have the object you’re lifting close to you at clavicle level, squeeze your glutes to keep your back straight, also think to keep your ribs tucked down so that this prevents the back from wavering from a straight set up, as you press keep looking straight ahead. You should never look up while pressing. Aim to keep the trajectory of the object you’re lifting traveling in a straight line, and finally finish with the object directly overhead. Working your strength and positioning in the press will strengthen your shoulders for durability, overhead partnering lifts, tumbling capabilities, etc. Like the other two movements, doing single-sided presses can help with any compensations that we might have when pressing an object with both arms. 

As I stated in the beginning, our final two positions are the hollow and arch positions. These are two versatile positions to master that are largely found in any type of movement that we perform. The hollow position is essentially holding a banana shape position while lying on your back. We want to keep our feet pointed, pressed together, and about six inches from the floor. While our feet are up, we want to make sure our low back remains scooped into the floor preventing any space and compensation to the back. Your shoulder blades should be slightly lifted off the floor, your arms extended straight out behind you, and your biceps right next to your ears. Our arch or “Superman” position is essentially the hollow position in reverse while lying on our stomach. Your chest should be lifted up off the ground, arms extended straight out, your legs will lift off the floor, and we’re looking to activate our glutes and lumbar the entire time. At first, aim to hold each of these positions for 15–30 seconds and then build from there. 

These five exercises don’t come with any bells and whistles you might see influencers posting on social media but they do contain every single inch of fitness that a performer needs to be at their best. Take “A Chorus Line” for instance. It was a musical with some mirrors and a line on the stage. There was nothing fancy about it, but it goes down as one of the best musicals ever. So, embrace the simplicity and let’s get to work!

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

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Joe Rosko
Joe Rosko began his professional career as both a trainer and an actor in 2007. Since then, it has been his mission to build a bridge between the worlds of fitness and theater. Rosko firmly believes actors are athletes and that they should thus train like one. In the past six years, BFTS has had clients represented in over 50 Broadway shows. You can learn more about BFTS at www.builtforthestage.com.
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