Although dancers have a mountain of problems, is running away from them the best way? And this I mean in the upmost literal sense of course, is it okay for dancers to run?
Much like weight training, running was something I was constantly told is the worst possible thing any dancers should be doing. ‘It places far too much stress on your bones and muscles and can only lead to injury and stress fractures’ they told me (they being a very wide sense of teachers, fellow dancers and physiotherapists). And much like many other ballet myths floating around the tutu stank ballerina atmosphere, instead of questioning why I shouldn’t ever run, I simply didn’t. When being faced with the hard cardiovascular training choice between an elliptical and a treadmill, it was a no brainer. Clearly I should train on the low-impact aerobic exercise machine that will keep my heart rate at a steady 140 bpm, and definitely steer clear of high-impact running that raises my heart rate to the same level as when I’m actually dancing, right?
When closely analysing dance and running, wouldn’t any old fool come to the conclusion that running could be in fact the upmost ideal exercise for dancers? Running’s benefits consist of everything in which majority of dancers lack - stamina, lung capacity and muscle endurance. Studies have shown that 90 percent of all dance related injuries are caused from muscle fatigue. This I believe, is where the running myth shit (not literally) hits the fan. Because dance is already such a high-impact sport, putting your body under more pressure and stress outside of the studio shouldn’t be done, correct? But in argument of this, if dancers biggest cause of injury is muscle fatigue, shouldn’t we be increasing and training our muscle endurance and strength levels? After all, how often do dancers dance continuously for 30-40 minutes at a low intensity?
Dance mostly consists of relatively short bursts of energy, raising the heart rate up to a high level and dropping it rather quickly again. In relation to interval running training and the impact it has on your heart, dance is very much related. Because many dancers shy away from any form of high aerobic exercise, they are lacking the endurance to get through a full performance, or to even to finish dance class. This needs to be changed. Forms of aerobic exercise such as swimming or elliptical training simply do not bring the heart rate up to the same level that dance requires. I believe that dancers should be incorporating far more cardiovascular training into their weekly training schedules. Doing interval running training 1-2 times a week, can greatly increase your lung capacity, strengthens your heart and your bones and above all burn the most calories. Aren’t these all the exact things we need for dance? And if you’re running correctly, running can actually aid in injury prevention, and not be a factor in it.
The biggest reason many dancers walk in the opposite direction to running is they jump in the deep end far too quickly. Like anything running needs to be eased into. If you spontaneously decide to run like a mad man through a park on a sunny Sunday, your body will tell you to never ever run again. I recommend starting on a treadmill with a fast paced walk for 3-5 minutes, easing into a one minute run. Repeating this on your first day only twice, equalling to only 2 actual minutes of fast paced running. Building this up daily to eventually be able to complete 20 minutes of interval training, 2 minutes on 1 minutes off (with a 5 minute warm up walk and 5 minute cool down walk). If I don't run for even a few weeks I make sure to ease back into it at a very slow rate. This is the only way I found made sure I was able to still dance muscle-pain free the next day and still reap the running benefits.
I didn’t realise the benefits of interval running training until one day in class in grande allegro, a male college of mine was heavily breathing into my ear - at the rate of a 90 year old dying man - while I was eagerly ready to execute the exercise again. I no longer feared the teacher screaming, AGAIN, I prayed for it. Running strengthens the biggest muscle majority of dancers are weak in, the heart. So next time you need to run away from your problems, do it the right way, actually run.
In my second article on 'Running and Dancers' I'll share more facts, thoughts and experiences to hopefully persuade even the most apprehensive dancers to pick up their Nikes, headphones and sweat soaking towel and hit the treadmill.