The curtain goes down on yet another year of hard work, blistered toes and pirouettes. Finally it’s time to sit back, relax, and retire your dance shoes for the summer — or is it?
Summer is the perfect time to start a whole-body conditioning routine that will actually help you to prevent injuring yourself come the fall. As with any other physically demanding sport or activity, the rate of injury among dancers is fairly high at 80-90%. Studies have shown that the majority of these injuries occur at the beginning of the season — that is, in the fall, when dancers are out of shape from two to three months of summer holidays. The strength and endurance that is lost during long breaks from training leads to early fatigue when dance classes resume.
Muscles that are fatigued are unable to provide us with the support that we need to maintain proper technique and placement, and this is the precise moment that we are the most vulnerable to injury. In addition, the new year brings another exciting round of new choreography. The intense training and high level of repetition involved in learning and mastering a new dance piece can also lead to muscle fatigue if the dancer has not maintained sufficient strength and endurance over the summer months.
While sprained ankles, pulled hamstrings and sore backs are the war wounds of an accomplished dancer, the good news is that a significant number of these injuries are preventable by following a “healthy dancer” lifestyle, especially during the summer when you’re out of the studio.
Staying active during the summer months will help you to prevent injuries in the fall!
1) Overall body conditioning for muscular strength and cardio-vascular endurance is a must. General strength training will help you to develop and maintain the control you need in order to execute proper technique. Exercises should include resistance/weight training for the upper body and legs as well as a core strength program consisting of not only abdominal crunches and cross crunches (right shoulder lifts up and towards left knee), but also side bridging and gluteal bridging.
For a more difficult variation, these bridges can also be done with the upper body resting on an exercise ball. Cardiovascular endurance training will help you to get through class without muscle fatigue. Aim to do 30 – 45 minutes of cardio workout 3 – 4 times per week, and choose lower impact activities such as cycling, swimming or elliptical to give your joints a break from the grand allegro!
2) There is no substitute for a great summer dance class. Dropping in for a few summer classes is an important part of your proactive dance injury prevention strategy. In addition to providing you with dance specific strengthening, this will also help you keep all of the steps that you’ve worked so hard to perfect in your “muscle memory” — the coordinated sequence of movement patterns stored in your central nervous system!
3) When it comes to nutrition, garbage in = garbage out, so choose wisely. With so much going on during the year, it’s easy to forget about good dietary habits. Now that summer is here, take the time to clean up your act!
Due to their high level of physical activity, dancers require a minimum of 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight per day in order to provide sufficient building blocks for muscle growth and repair. Choose from a variety of protein sources that are low in fat.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. Fuel up with complex carbohydrates such as pasta, whole grain breads/cereals and starchy vegetables. These sources will give you a much longer lasting supply of energy when compared to simple carbohydrates which are mostly sugar and are used up very quickly.
More than 70% of our body is made up of water. Adequate hydration is essential for proper muscle functioning and energy metabolism, and this is particularly important in the summer heat. Drink 2 liters of water each day. In addition, drink sufficient fluids during exercise to replace the water you are losing to sweat.
4) Use the summer break to get the care you need for existing injuries. If you were not able to take enough of a break during the year in order to let your injuries fully heal, now is the time — before the problem becomes recurrent! Follow the R.I.C.E. protocol — Rest (from the aggravating activity), Ice, Compression and Elevation.Note that while you are resting from activities that aggravate your injury, it is still important to keep up your overall strength and endurance in any way that you can so as to prevent de-conditioning. Know when to get the help that you need. Seek professional care when you are in extreme pain, or if you have pain that persists for more than 2 days.
These basic tips for being a “healthy dancer” not only apply during the summer, but are an excellent strategy for preventing injury the whole year round.
Dance safe, stay healthy and have a great summer!
Reprinted from The Healthy Dancer by Dr. Jason Twardowski. Dr. Twardowski is a classically trained dancer.
Summer registration is now open! Visit our website for a full list of summer classes available!