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Conditioning and Cross-training For Dancers

 

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Photo: jillfit.com

by Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal

Besides helping you nail more athletic choreography, cross-training can help reduce fatigue and injuries while improving the muscular shape of your body. {2} The idea of cross-training may be new to some dancers. It can be incredibly beneficial, especially during the off season. If you are a collegiate dancer, cross-training can be a very effective way to stay in shape during semester breaks and holidays.

Since we are at the beginning of what is normally the summer break for most collegiate dancers, and breaks in the performing season for company dancers, I felt it fitting to focus my article this month on various cross-training techniques that are effective in keeping dancers in shape during their breaks. In addition, we will focus on recommendations for conditioning, as dancers are quite willing to subject themselves to new or specific methods outside the studio, but often do not know what to do when.

Why isn’t dance class enough? While regular class is essential to excel in a specific dance technique, it bypasses certain muscle groups and it does not raise your heart rate sufficiently. {2}

An individualized cross-training program can help improve areas of weakness and increase fitness levels such as strength, flexibility or cardiorespiratory endurance.

The idea is to work differently than you work in your dance classes but have your cross-training activities compliment your specific style or genre of dance. Dance conditioning also needs to achieve a highly developed sense of balance, timing, rhythm, and orientation in space. {1}

Conditioning concepts include:

Principle of Specificity:

This principle states that the adaptation of the body to training depends on the type of training you undertake. Essentially, if you stretch, you are working on flexibility. If you are lifting weights, you are working on strength, and so on. {1} The Dynaband ® is a fantastic tool to apply resistance to various dance movements. Using free weights or circuit weight training, however, would not allow dancers to perform dance-specific exercises per se.

Principle of Progressive Overload:

Begin gradually and build slowly, and do what dancers do so well, listen to your body! If you do not gradually increase the stress on the musculature throughout your conditioning program, you will plateau. {1} Dancers are great adapters – we are trained to ‘get it’ (i.e. the step, the combination, etc.) quickly – time is money! Hitting that plateau may happen for dancers sooner than later during the conditioning efforts so pay attention to how your body is feeling at every session.

Change your intensity (heavier weights or more resistance), volume (increase the reps or sets) and frequency (train at regular intervals).

Principle of Periodization:

Allow for gradual progression but mix that with periods of rest so that the body can regenerate both physically and mentally from the stresses of training. {1}

Cross-Training

The key to cross-training is to know what to do and when to do it – the best time is to use it to get in shape or recover from an injury. The point of cross-training is to ENHANCE your current fitness level without adding undue stress to your body. Avoid exhausting routines, extreme positions and sweltering heat. {2}

Cross-training concepts include:

Aerobic Conditioning:

Dancers are sprinters. We produce rapid bursts of high-intensity exercise that is time-limited and is therefore anaerobic.{2} Technique classes do not generally work on aerobic fitness. Adding an aerobic activity to your training program by working on the elliptical machine, swimming, spinning on the stationary bike or power walking can increase the diameter of the less bulky type A or fast-twitch muscle fibers. This type of training gives your body a sleeker, longer look {2}.

Strength training:

Strengthening your muscles can help you move more effortlessly while increasing range of motion and speed. However, make sure you balance your strength training with flexibility as well, since every time you strengthen a muscle, you also shorten it. Great activities that offer a balance are Pilates and the Gyrotonic Expansion System. {2}

Range of Motion Training:

Dancers have been known to sit in a straddle split for an hour while watching the television only to discover a muscle fiber tear in the adductors (inner thigh muscles). {2} In addition, if you have joint laxity or are a hypermobile dancer, you do not need more stretching, you need to balance your flexibility with strength training so you can keep your fabulous range of motion without incurring injury to your joints. Balance static stretches with dynamic and ballistic stretching. {3}

Remember, though, to use cross-training and conditioning methods realistically. A heavy performance and class schedule does not necessarily warrant frequent trips to the gym or to your Pilates practitioner. However, it’s fine to combine cross-training with daily technique class if you feel up to it and your dance schedule does not exceed five hours per day. Otherwise, you may be setting yourself up for an overuse injury. {2}

Cross training and conditioning can help you in various situations both during and after the season or for an intense summer program. Many schools have begun to add cross-training to their curriculum, breeding a new generation of savvy dancers who are comfortable going to the gym or seeking out other ways to improve their overall fitness. {2}

Until next time, friends, dance healthy and strong!

Janine Bryant
Eastern University Dance
jbryant3@eastern.edu

 

1. Franklin, Eric, Conditioning for Dance: training for peak performance in all dance forms, Human Kinetics, 2004, pp. 3-11.
2. Hamilton, Linda H., PhD, The Dancer’s Way: the New York City Ballet guide to mind, body, and nutrition, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008, pp. 71-87.
3. Peterson, Judith R., Dance Medicine and Science: head to toe a dancer’s guide to health, Princeton Book Company, 2011, pp. 150-155.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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