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?

Jazz Playlist June 2014

Full confession, I love music! And I spend a lot of time finding new music and making playlists, so I thought hey, why not share them with you.

 

Today’s playlist is a real mix of new stuff I’ve recently discovered and a lot of older songs that are still going strong on my playlist!

photo

Jazz Playlist March 2014

Warm Ups:

Exotic – Priyanka Chopra (Feat. Pitbull)

On The Floor – Jennifer Lopez

Karma – Alicia Keys

Call me Maybe – Carly Rae Jepson

Go Deep – Janet Jackson

It’s Like That – Run DMC

Amalgamations/Combinations/Isolations:

Honey – Moby

Yeah! – Usher

I’m Good – Blaque

The Climb – Stan Walker

Teardrop – Massive Attack

Maneater – Nelly Furtado

Free – Rudimental (feat. Emeli Sande)

Great Performance Songs:

Americano/Dance Again – Glee

Proud – Heather Small

I Love It – IconaPop

Brave – Sara Bareilles

Man with a Hex – Atomic Fireballs

Candyman – Christina Aguilera

Stretching:

Halo – Beyonce

Viva Forever- Spice Girls

Pumped Up Kicks – Foster the People

Better in Time – Leona Lewis

Never be the Same Again – Mel C

 

I’m happy to take requests for different playlists, just leave me a comment. Now it’s your turn, what songs are loving for dance right now?

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) or Why do I hurt so much more the next day?

We all know the feeling – you feel great after a tough class just a little tired, but then you wake up the next morning stiff and sore. This is known as DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

 

DOMS is the gradually increasing feeling of muscle soreness that occurs between 24 and 48 hours after exercise, but don’t worry it’s not uncommon. As dancers we’re typically pretty fit, and flexible, so what it takes to make us sore is generally a lot more intense than your average person. That said we’ve all had the grueling class that pushes us to our limits, and it’s when we hit these limits that we typically experience DOMS. In fact for students studying at vocational (pre-professional) level, it can be a regular part of life.

 

DOMS typically occurs when muscles are worked harder than they usually are day to day, and is particularly common after a break of holiday from dance or when increasing the frequency or intensity of your dancing increases. It is part of your body’s natural response and adaptation process to working harder. The good news is that it leads to increased stamina and strength as your build up muscle.

 

It’s important to realise that gradual soreness of DOMS is different to the tiredness and fatigue that can happen during exercise or the sharp, sudden pain of a muscle strain which often causes swelling and bruising. Doctors believe that DOMS is the result of microscopic tearing of the muscle fibers. The amount of tearing and soreness you feel depends on how hard you exercise. Although any movements can lead to DOMS, eccentric muscle contractions such as push ups, plies and squats seem to cause the most soreness.

 

So, what can you do to help with DOMS?

Unfortunately, there is no one solution, however the following things may help alleviate some of the soreness:

  • Drink lots of water
  • Try yoga or gentle stretching
  • Make sure you are eating enough protein so that your body can repair muscle
  • Listen to your body – rest if that’s what your muscles are telling you
  • Elevate your legs – lying with your legs up a wall can help reduce soreness
  • Ice any parts that are particularly sore, alternating with heat
  • Wear a compression sleeve, or compression or tight clothing
  • Foam roll or use a tennis ball to gentle massage muscles and increase blood flow
  • Make sure you warm up properly before your next session

 

References:

American College of Sports Medicine. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

Dance Spirit Magazine. Your Aches and Pains Addressed: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

Sports Medicine. About.com Muscle Pain and Soreness After Exercise.

Fitness and Exercise. Webmd.com Coping with Soreness After Exercise.

Safe Stretching

This post is part two of a series on stretching. Check out the first part A Beginner’s Guide to Stretching here, if you missed it.

What is safe stretching?

  • Safe stretching is stretching in a way that is as safe as possible for you and your body.

Why is it so important?

  • It helps to reduce the chance of injury.
  • It can actually help improve your flexibility
  • It places limits to stop you from overdoing it.

How to stretch safely:

  1. Warm up properly first with 10 – 20mins of cardio. This could include briskly walking, running, skipping or other movement that get your heart beating faster. From an anatomical point of view, cardio increases your body temperature, thus warming up your muscles and making them more flexible. Cold muscles don’t like to stretch!
  2. Start gently. Don’t throw yourself into splits straight away, do some hip-opening stretches or hamstring stretches to engage the muscles first. Whatever your planning to work on in your stretching session, start slowly as your muscles are still warming up.
  3. Know your limits and don’t force it. If you are sore from a class earlier in the week, then keep that in mind and work to your limits. Similarly if you are recovering from an injury don’t push yourself too hard.
  4. Be realistic. Change (unfortunately) doesn’t happen overnight however much we want to! Progress happens day by day and I know from experience that you do yourself no favours by having unrealistic expectations.
  5. Don’t overstretch. Overstretching is when you stretch for longer or further than your body can realistically handle. This could be sitting in splits for 10+ minutes while watching TV or stretching for long periods of time more than once a day. Either way it’s not good and it dramatically increases your chance of injury. Did you know that 60% of dance injuries occur as a result of overuse (DANZ, 2006)?
  6. Monitor your energy level. If you are already exhausted your more likely to injure yourself. 90% of dance injuries occur when a dancer is fatigued (DANZ, 2006). If you’re shattered after a tough class or a long day, skip the stretching and relax. You’ll be doing your body a favour.
  7. Stretching shouldn’t be painful. A stretch? Yes. Not comfortable? Definitely. Sore Afterwards? Possibly. Actually painful? No! Pain means you’re pushing yourself too hard and increasing the risk of injury. If you do injure yourself apply the dancer’s first aid strategy PRICED immediately.
  8. Feed yourself. So important. Using your muscles takes energy from your body and muscles and you need to replace it help them stay strong, so make sure you eat something within 40 minutes of stretching. It doesn’t have to be much, but something with protein and carbohydrates is perfect.

Happy stretching!

Students who have Injuries – the Role of the Teacher

Lately I’ve come across a fair bit of discussion in the online dance world – mostly via twitter, about the role of a dance teacher in dealing with students who have injuries, and it’s got me thinking.

As Lauren Warnecke writes in her Dance Advantage article on the topic, the diagnosis of injuries and treatment is definitely not up to me as a teacher. Grier Cooper adds that there are many places to go to when looking at treatment options. All of this is of course completely true, but it leaves us asking the question, well, what is our role as teachers when dealing with injured students?

As a dance teacher in a middle school I see my dance students often – usually several times a week, more if those students are in my class or syndicate, and I’m often present when the are taking part in other physical activity and education during the course of the day, so I have a pretty good idea of the physical demands my dancers face and in a busy middle school like ours, they’re not small. I also teach an age where students face the some of the biggest physical changes as they encounter adolescence. They’re also desperate to try new things and test out their limits (particularly their flexibility). Put all these things together and you’ve definitely upped the risk of injury.

 

So what can I do? Well, for me it’s twofold – prevention and awareness.

 

Prevention

In the dance classroom, I aim to do all that I can to prevent injuries by taking time to warm up with 5 -10 minutes of aerobic activity and 5 minutes of dynamic moving stretches – usually focused on waking up the muscles in the legs, hips and shoulders. We also talk a lot about why we warm up and the effect this on the body, so that my students understand the benefits. I try to keep the warm ups fairly easy and straight forward, starting with large gross movements and then moving to more intricate movements as they get warmer. I usually follow a fairly systematic pattern, and repeat this with the occasional change for a month or two. The benefit of this is that my students have learnt the pattern, and are now running the warm ups themselves, building not only their leadership skills but also their ownership of the warm up process. They can also take this warm up and easily warm themselves up when at performance venues when I’m not able to take them through it as a group.

The second thing that comes under prevention is reminding my students, and discussing with them why it is important to eat after physical activity to replace energy used and help maintain a healthy body – especially important when they all seem to being going through growth spurts.

 

Awareness

Awareness for me is really important and it goes both ways. I need to be aware of safe dance practice as a teacher, but also away of the physical changes my students are experiencing and the temporary limitations this can have on their bodies – there’s not much I can do about it, but I need to be aware.

Likewise I encourage my students to let me know if they have injuries, but my response is usually the same – do what you can even if it’s only watching or doing the arms ( I actually had a student audition for a hip hop crew sitting in a chair as she was on crutches – successfully too I might add). I encourage my students to take responsibility for managing their own injuries as this helps to build their self-awareness.

The second part of awareness is encouraging a dialogue where my students can talk about how their bodies are feeling. Often it is just the usual feeling a bit stiff  or tired that comes up, but sometimes my students will talk about feeling a sore muscle or ache or pain for a several days or even a couple of weeks. At this point I usually ask the question – ‘have you talked to your parent about this?’. To give them the credit they deserve, my students are great at doing this, but sometimes they haven’t and it’s then that I will gently suggest that they might like to talk to their parent about seeing a doctor or physio about it.

It’s not my place to tell them what’s wrong, or tell them what to do. But as a teacher it is my job to guide them to the necessary resources they need to solve problems, and sometimes they just need to have their awareness raised – to realise that there are easy things they can do – like seeing a qualified professional –  to help them feel better.

 

Are there specific things that you do to support students with injuries or help them build awareness?