For a full time dancer it’s often hard to know how to approach a long rest period and find the perfect balance between allowing the body to rest and recover whilst maintaining fitness and condition. If managed well a summer break can be used to rest the body and also allows an opportunity to improve on other areas. At times of the year when workload is high any auxiliary strength and conditioning has to be treated as second priority. Summer break can open up time to work on building strength, power and other aspects of fitness that improve a dancer’s aesthetics or their body’s ability to cope with classes, rehearsals or performance loads.
After an initial period of recovery or active rest it is best to begin preparing the body for what it will go through in the months ahead. Below is a guide to the main areas dancers should consider when planning a holiday maintenance regime:
DANCE The only way to really prepare yourself for your return to dance and maintain your dance fitness is to continue at least SOME dancing whilst on break. Compare your endeavours as a full time dancer to that of a runner training for a half marathon. If a runner went into an event with no training they’d hope to be able to physically complete the race but would have to deal with the high probability of a below potential performance, poor recovery and the high risk of sustaining anything from an annoying niggle to a more serious injury.
It’s crucial to recognise the effect that all the jumping, landing and leaping and general impact in that the choreography and class work has on the joints and soft tissue. Like any form of sport or activity the soft tissue has to adapt to the load over time and any sudden increases in dancing load leave the dancer at risk of developing niggles and injuries that could easily be avoided. It is easy for dancers to fall into the trap of ignoring these principles and feeling they are able to physically cope and keep up with what’s required of them when they return. In addition to the injury risk concerns from a performance point of view the only way to maintain dance specific fitness and technique is to keep up some dancing in your time away from your full time training.
ACTIVE REST: In most cases it is recommended to treat the first 1-2 weeks of an extended break as a period of ‘active rest’ in the same way that an athlete would approach the start of an ‘off-season’. When workload has been high and the body has been pushed to it’s limits it is imperative to allow some time for both soft tissue and the neurological system to recover. Active rest involves light movement or activity that places minimal stress on the joints and physiological system so that the person is able to keep moving without eliciting a level of stress that hinders the recovery process. It can be as structured as a pilates or yoga class, light cardio or gym session or can be as casual as going for a jog on the beach or playing frisbee with friends.
Active rest is advised over passive or complete rest for a number of reasons including but not limited to:
* Enhanced recovery process due to increased blood flow etc.
* Decreased muscle tightness and general stiffness
* Hormonal responses that contribute to mood regulation
* Helps maintain strength, fitness and range of motion
* Decreases likelihood of niggles or overuse injuries when dance or exercise is resumed.
AEROBIC FITNESS: The point of maintaining aerobic fitness is not only to ensure you can make it through a class or a routine. Increasing aerobic fitness also has a massive impact on your body’s ability to recover both day to day, week to week and when rehearsal or performance volumes increase. Working on this area requires a combination of aerobic cardio (i.e running, bike, rower etc) and also full body weights based training incorporating bodyweight to light weight exercises, high volume with minimal rest. These sessions could be circuit style sessions or class based and exact intensities depend on exactly which component of the cardiovascular system you are wanting to improve.
CORE STRENGTH, FLEXIBILITY: These are all areas that come naturally to a lot of dancers however even a small decline in any one of these things can increase the risk of injury or have an impact on aesthetics or control of movement. Incorporating a combination of activities such as yoga and pilates can be a good option and it is also advisable to maintain a regular routine of stretching and flexibility right through the break. Additionally methods such as foam rolling, trigger ball release and voodoo banding can be used to help maintain soft tissue and generally joint mobility.
STRENGTH & POWER: There is huge variability here depending on your style of dance, your current areas of strength and your areas in need of improvement. Areas of focus can include:
* Joint control & stability
* Lower Body Strength & Power
* Upper Body Strength and Overhead lifting abilities
* Core strength and overall control
* Force transfer
* Jumping and landing mechanics
As a full time dancer it’s wise to think of at least the second half of your break as an opportunity to build yourself to be able to comfortably handle and recover from a full dance load. This could be done with a combination of class work (perhaps including alternative styles to what you do most of your training in), work in the gym or even other outdoor activities or exercise. Everybody’s holiday maintenance plan will look a little bit different depending on individual strengths and weaknesses, predominant style, body type etc. Regardless of how you choose to approach it you should see it as an excellent opportunity for rest and rejuvenation as well as a chance to improve in areas you cannot focus on when your classes, rehearsals and performances are priority.