How to Cross Train for Dance

As a teenager growing up dancing in the 90s and early 2000s in a small city in New Zealand, I don’t think the words ‘cross training’ ever passed my ears. Now, many years later, cross training has become an important of my regular training.

So what is cross training?

Cross training is training in other styles of movement that will assist and improve your dance. Things like yoga or pilates may spring to mind straight away, but cross training is about more than that.

Why should I cross train?

A regular dance class is a fantastic way to build your dance knowledge and prepare your body – for dance. But if we only train our bodies in one way, then we’re only working one set of muscles. Those of you who have done ballet will know that you almost never work in parallel. Ballet makes your turn out muscles strong but neglects the muscles that strengthen your turn in – and both are important.

Cross training can not only strengthen other groups of muscles, it is also a great way to build your cardiovascular fitness. Since regular dance classes do not sufficiently elevate your heart rate to increase cardiovascular stamina, cross training can help you increase your stamina so that you’ll last longer when you are dancing and have more power and energy to draw on in those big virtuoso movements. Research has shown that cross training can also reduce muscle fatigue, lowering your chance of injury. If you are on a break from dancing over the summer it can also be a great way to stay in shape while your classes are on holiday.

How do I cross train?

There are lots of different ways to cross train and you need to consider a couple of things. Firstly, what types of physical activity do you enjoy doing? And secondly, what weaknesses do you want to address?  Here are a few options that you might like to consider:

Pilates

Pilates is a great way for dancers to cross train, and one of my favourites. With its focus on core strength it is a great way to strengthen the body and increase the stability and strength of your core – something that is super important for all dancers. Many dance studios provide mat based pilates classes that are customised for dancers, but don’t be afraid to visit a regular pilates studio. Many pilates instructors have experience working with dancers and working one on one with an instructor can be a great way to get targeted feedback – it can be expensive though. For those on a tighter budget, most libraries have a range of pilates books and DVDs which can provide a great introduction.

Yoga

Yoga is another great way to condition your body. I particularly like the focus on breath, as this is such a core part of movement that is often neglected in dance teaching. Yoga not only lengthens and strengthens your muscles, but the focus on the intrinsic muscles in your feet is great for developing stability and balance when on pointe or demipointe.

Swimming

Swimming is probably one of the most effective ways to cross train. Being in the water removes the effects of gravity on your joints, lessening the impact of movement, actually it’s zero-impact. This makes it an ideal form of movement for those recovering from injury.  Not only does it use your whole body, it is also a fantastic cardio workout and great for increasing stamina.

Running

Running has long been a point of contention in the dance world. The main issue is that running turned out is extremely bad for the knees. The constant pounding on the joints can also be damaging for dancers. That said, running can still be beneficial for dancers. Dancers are typically sprinters – the types of movement they are used to are short bursts of intense anaerobic energy, so running can feel quite different. I still personally enjoy the sense of freedom I get from running, but I prefer to keep it to the warm up period of a work out – no more than 10 minutes and usually on a treadmill. If you’re keen on running, go ahead and give it a go it’s a great way to build cardiovascular fitness, just make sure those feet are pointing straight ahead!

Strength Training

Strength training is also known as weight lifting, but that doesn’t mean you should steer clear. Quite the opposite – it’s a great way to build strength. You can do this either using exercises that use your own body weight – think plank, push ups etc. or using free weights or gym machines. Lifting a heavier weight for a smaller number of repetitions will help build strength without adding muscle bulk. Plus it’s a great way to target specific muscle groups. I’ve found this particularly useful for building my upper body strength for contemporary.

Aerobics/Gymnastics

Aerobics or gymnastics are also great supplements to dance training. Aerobics will help build core strength and cardiovascular stamina, while gymnastics helps to increase flexibility and upper body and core strength.

A few important things to remember:

Listen to your body – if something doesn’t feel right, or you’re feeling more muscle fatigue than usual, stop and seek professional advice.

Wear the right gear – supportive shoes for running or going to the gym are really important as they protect your feet and reduce impact. If you are going to be doing these activities regularly it is worth shelling out the money for a good pair of running shoes.

Fuel up – increasing your physical activity will mean you burn more energy – meaning you need to give your body more fuel. Eating a good balance of food and including protein in your diet is really important as is drinking water.

What are your favourite ways to cross train?

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Competition Prep

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At school at the moment I teach/coach our Aerobics Gymnastics teams. This is my second year coaching the team and it’s been one of the highlights of my year. I pretty much get to work with the most awesome/lovely/talented/hardworking girls in the school, so what’s’ not to enjoy!

Training has been pretty intense this term with lots of early mornings and lunch times, but the girls have put in so much time and effort and their dedication has been truly awesome!

Tomorrow is their first of two big competitions – they will be competing against other middle school/intermediate teams in the Intermediate Aerobics Comp before heading to regionals next term. Hard though they’ve worked, there still a bit nervous. Today we talked about things they can do to help them get ready for their competition tomorrow, and I thought I’d share them with you. They work well for any stressful event, competition or otherwise, and have been amassed over the years from my gym competitions as a teenager, to ballet exams, to directing dance performances at school.

 

Preparing for Competitions (and other stressful events)

Sleep Well – Get a good night’s sleep the night before and go to bed on the earlier side of your usual time.

Sort Out Your Dance Bag (the night before) – it’s so much easier to stay relaxed if you are not rushing around trying to find bits and pieces at the last minute.

Pack Spares – bobby pins, tights, bun nets… they always break and it’s so easy to have a couple of spares stashed away

Pack Plenty of Food – You’re going to be active, therefore you need to eat. Planning to bring you own food is a. cheaper and b. probably a lot better for you than buying something there (if that’s even an option!)

Drink Water – drinking water is one of the best things you can do for your body especially when dancing

Stop Practicing – this is a big one, don’t spend the 24 hours before a competition practising madly, it just adds to the stress level, use this time to relax. If you still want to practice then mentally walk yourself through your dance/routine.

Don’t Overstretch – the last thing you want is to be sore on competition day. A warm up and a gentle dynamic (moving) stretch is much better then overstretching muscles risking injury.

Relax – do something you enjoy, read a book, play with a pet, anything that takes your mind of the competition and helps your brain to wind down.

Do any of you have competitions/performances/etc. coming up soon? What are your rituals pre-performance?