This is part two of a series about Improving The Fitness Of Your Dancers which discussed the reasons artistic athletes in training benefit from a focus on fitness in their training, why and how to improve cardiovascular endurance, ideas for addressing power as a fitness component with anaerobic interval training, plyometrics, and more.
Components of Fitness
In part one, I spent a bit of time on two of the six primary elements of fitness, according to research done by the Laban Dance Fitness team*. These were Cardiorespiratory Endurance and Power.
The four remaining components a fitness program for dancers should address are Muscular Strength, Muscular Endurance, Flexibility, and Neuromuscular Relaxation.
Type of Training: Resistance training at high intensity levels.
Press ups, handstands, partnered resistance exercises, partnering with lifting some or total body weight, some forms of yoga.
Prescription: The goal is improved muscular strength. Select 8-10 exercises, repeat 1-3 sets, rest 30-90 seconds between each set. Do this 2-3 days per week. Use high resistance with fatigue occurring at 1 to 8 repetitions.
Type of Training: Continuous weight-bearing exercise and resistance training at low intensity levels
Walking, stair climbing, some lifting of body weight, static (held) exercises with some resistance, partnered assisted exercises with some resistance, pilates, yoga.
Prescription: The goal is improved muscular endurance. Select 8-10 exercises, repeat 1-3 sets with 12 or more repetitions. Rest 30 seconds between. Do this 2-3 times per week with light to moderate resistance.
Type of Training: Stretching exercises
Static stretches, PNF stretches, dynamic movement stretches, pilates, yoga.
Prescription: The goal is to improve flexibility and range of motion. Cool down is a good time for stretching. Select 10-12 static or PNF exercises. Stretch major muscle groups first, followed by smaller muscle groups.
Type of Training: Relaxation exercises requiring mild physical exertion and concentration
Progressive relaxation exercise, somatic techniques (Feldenkrais, Alexander technique, tai chi, pilates, yoga).
No recommended prescription, just a reminder that the body needs this as much as the other components to achieve improved overall fitness.
A study released in 2004 and conducted by Melinda Purnell and Debra Shirley for Sydney University’s physiotherapy program, asked how many hours a week 75 students aged 16 to 19 at dance schools, universities and colleges trained. The data was analysed for correlations with injuries and confirmed that 14 is a critical age for sustaining injuries, “because the musculoskeletal system is still developing at that time and is less resistant to repetitive load than it is when a dancer has physically matured.”
You can read more about this study here. It suggests that training more than 8-10 hours per week for 14 and 15 year olds increased the risk of developing chronic dance-related injuries. Many students train more than this. The researchers acknowledge that all students are different but recommend that “You need to be very careful when training 14-year-olds, and that the hours of training don’t suddenly increase when the student is having a growth spurt.”
This is significant I think when we talk about adding additional fitness exercises to your dancers’ training regime. It’s important to be sensitive to the needs of this age group and not overload their bodies or overwork them to the point of risking injury.
Evaluating Dancer Fitness
To determine if a fitness program you’ve added at your school is working, it is a good idea to administer periodic fitness testing. However, until recently, fitness tests were based on athletic fields outside of dance, leading some to question their validity when it comes to dancers.
The folks at Trinity Laban Dance Science department, specifically Dr. Emma Redding and Dr. Matt Wyon, have created a series of dance-specific fitness tests which have been validated through testing.
“The tests provide ‘easy-to-use’ methods of evaluating the fitness capabilities of dancers as they improve across time. The dancer’s progress is tracked through the recording of his/her heart rate as well as through the observation of his/her dancing.”
A booklet, which includes the three tests (Contemporary, Ballet, and High Intensity for high-level performers), and information about how to administer them, is available for download at the Trinity Laban Dance Science website. Also offered is The Dance Specific Fitness Test DVD, which is available for purchase when you contact the department.
You can read more about the reasons and methods for testing for high-intensity dance fitness (and more useful articles on dance instruction) in the IADMS (International Association for Dance Medicine & Science) Bulletin for Teachers – Vol 1. Number 2 for 2009: available for free here.
Additional Reading and Resources
- Fit to Dance 2 – by Helen Laws, Joanna Apps, Ian Bramley, Diane Parker, Dance UK (Organization) StaffThis UK publication is not easy to find in the States. Purchase it from RAD Enterprises. Fit to Dance? (the 1996 report of the national inquiry into dancers’ health and injury) is available in pdf form here.
- The Dancer’s Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition – by Linda Hamilton
- The Fit and Healthy Dancer – by Koutedakis and Sharp (via Amazon UK)
- Finding Balance: Fitness, Training, and Health for a Lifetime in Dance – by Gigi Berandi (2005)
- Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd Edition) – by Beachie & Earle
- Dance Kinesiology – by Sally Fitt
- Dancing Longer, Dancing Stronger: A Dancer’s Guide to Improving Technique and Preventing Injury – by Solomon & Solomon
- DanceUK.org Healthier Dancer Programme: Fitness and Strenth FAQs
Safe Dance Practice
Teachers may also be interested in the Certificate for Safe and Effective Dance Practice but even if you aren’t interested in certification, I’d like to draw attention to a reference guide which is available under Further Support for Candidates (pdf available at the bottom of this page).
* Sarah Irvine’s handout at the workshop was developed by the Laban Dance Fitness Team. Cited references include:
- Bompa, T.,O. (1999). Periodization Training: Theory and Methodology-4th
(4th ed.). Champaign, IL; Human Kinetics.
Periodization-5th Edition: Theory and Methodology of Training (5th Edition) Now Available
- Hayward. V., H. (2002). Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription (4th ed.). Champaign, IL; Human Kinetics.
Advanced Fitness Assessment and Exercise Prescription (6th Edition) Now Available
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world. Read Nichelle’s posts.