“Dancers are the athletes of God.” – Albert Einstein
Studies done on dancers have found that their overall fitness levels are equal to those of their sedentary peers. Since dance classes are filled with short intervals of movement followed by rest periods, they do little to train dancers aerobically. Heart rate and oxygen levels required during rehearsals and performances are higher than the levels ever achieved in dance classes. These findings indicate that the current levels of training do not adequately prepare dancers for the levels of fitness expected during a performance.
A study published in the January 2010, issue of The Journal of Dance Medicine and Science found that low levels of aerobic fitness were associated with higher numbers of injuries, and 85% of the professional ballet dancers that were studied were injured during a 12-month period.
All of these findings indicate that dancers can benefit from a periodized training approach to dance.
Periodization is a program design that has been used in sports and strength training since it was introduced in the 1960’s by Russian physiologist, Leo Matveyev. The goals of periodized training are to improve overall fitness; to gradually prepare the body; to strengthen the body and maintain muscular strength, flexibility and skill levels throughout the competitive season; and to avoid overtraining syndrome. Overtraining is when an excessive amount of training and/or frequent training sessions result in fatigue. The fatigue leads to overtraining syndrome, which is a decline in performance due to overwork. After overtraining occurs and performance levels decrease, it is harder for the body to return to the previous peak level of fitness.
Periodization divides the year or semester into three different phases, or mesocycles, that consist of the preparation phase, the building and strengthening phase and the performance phase.
The preparation phase comes at the beginning of the semester when the dancers are returning from a vacation and need to gradually ease their bodies back into class. Exercises during this period should be of a low intensity. During the building phase, dancers should work on increasing strength, developing skills and increasing intensity. At the end of this phase, the dancers should be at their peak strength and power levels. The goal of the performance phase is to maintain these peak levels of strength and power without overtaxing the muscles.
It is also important to work in breaks between each phase to allow the body to rest. These rest periods allow for cellular and neural recovery and a mental break from activity. The rest periods are imperative to avoid overtraining.
Next week’s post will explore how to put these phases to practical use in the dance studio and how to improve dancer fitness.