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Cross Training for Dancers

May 11, 2016

 

The demands placed on a performing artist require a large amount of strength, control, and endurance. In addition to the physical demands, there is also the artistic/aesthetic component that must be a primary focus. In traditional dance training, there is a strong emphasis on the artistic component rather than the physical conditioning. Both elements must be trained equally so that the performing artist is well-rounded and able to progress their training without injury. Remember, “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. If strength and endurance are your weakest link, it becomes very difficult to think about the artistic component while dancing because you are instead just trying to keep up.

 

Think about a sports team, such as football. They do not only prepare by playing a game of football. They also spend a large portion of their time in the weight room or running agility drills. So why does this not happen in the dance world? Somewhere along the way, traditional dance training teaches us that it is not as useful to spend valuable class time conditioning as it is to do technical training. By increasing the amount of conditioning, the result will be stronger dancers who are able to maintain their stamina so they can focus on performing effortlessly rather than becoming out of breath.

 

The other disadvantage to not being well conditioned is an increased risk of injury. As our bodies fatigue it becomes more difficult to maintain proper alignment and muscle activation. This leads to increased muscle compensation and incorrect body mechanics. Injuries caused by poor conditioning may include muscle strains, ankle sprains, shin splints, and the list goes on and on.

 

Although performing artists train multiple hours per week, the majority of that time is spent perfecting their skills and technique. This means that little time is left to work on strength and conditioning. It has been found that the cardiovascular endurance in ballet dancers is surprisingly similar to the levels found in the inactive population. There are 2 types of cardiovascular exercise: aerobic and anaerobic.

  1. Aerobic exercise is a moderate level of activity sustained over long periods of time (such as jogging, biking, etc.).

  2. Anaerobic exercise involves quick bursts of activity and rest.

Dancers more commonly utilize their anaerobic system during classes and performances. Because there is a large emphasis on perfecting technical skill, the amount of time spent doing activities that increase the heart rate is rarely sustained long enough to challenge and utilize the aerobic system. While this is effective for enhancing technical skills, it results in a disadvantage of poor cardiovascular endurance. When there is a higher demand for cardiovascular endurance than the dancer has trained for, there is a greater risk of fatigue and injury. We need to work on implementing better training programs that challenge both systems equally to help create more well-rounded dancers.

 

So how do you fix this problem? Here are a few solutions to get you started:

If you are a teacher, a good place to start is making sure that there is a portion of class time solely dedicated to conditioning. This will not only ensure that your dancers get required conditioning, but it will also help them to value it as an essential part of their training. Using conditioning as a warm up is a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Unfortunately, only incorporating conditioning in this way is not enough to make a lasting change in the dancer’s level of fitness.

Holding strength and conditioning classes regularly throughout the week is also a great way to ensure that a sufficient amount of time is dedicated to cross training. Bringing in an outside specialist like a Physical Therapist, Pilates teacher or strength and conditioning coach can be a great way to broaden a dancers knowledge of training outside of the traditional dance realm.

If you are a dancer, stay dedicated to a cross training program to help prevent injuries. It takes muscles about 4 weeks to adapt to strength changes, so don’t give up if you are not seeing results after the first 2 weeks. Stick with it and stay motivated, it will all be worth it in the end!!

 

*Please note that it is important that a health care professional set this program up for you, so it is done safely and addresses your specific areas of weakness. Feel free to contact me directly if you are interested in setting up an evaluation!

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