General Principles of Conditioning for Dancers

Five General Principles of Conditioning for Dancers (by Karen Dito)

The basic principles of conditioning for a dancer are not much different than the principles of conditioning for athletes. Dancers, however, have three additional categories not used by athletes. The four principles used by dancers and other athletes alike are strength, flexibility, muscular endurance, and cardiorespiratory endurance. The additional three categories for dancers are conditioning for alignment, neuromuscular coordination, and relaxation.

Before any discussion can be started on techniques for increasing strength, flexibility, or endurance, which I will discuss in my next article, first the focus of our discussion will look at five general principles of conditioning for dancers.

1. Warm-up/Cool Down

It is always important to prepare the body for the stress you are about to place upon it with dance. Warm-ups for the different dance techniques will vary, but generally they will include stretching, slow repetitions of movements accompanied by breathing exercises, and jumps or other activity to warm the large muscle groups. In short, the warm-up should raise the body temperature and prepare the muscle groups for the activity to come. The cool down is just as important as the warm-up, though many dancers overlook this important topic. It crucial to decrease the intensity of an exercise before you stop completely, thus preventing blood from pooling in the extremities which in turn can cause a greater likelihood of muscle soreness and spasms. The cool down should also include stretching of the muscle groups used in the previous activity.

2. Use It or Lose It

Muscles begin to lose their 'memory' after 48 hours of non-use. Therefore, dancers who are going away from technique for a vacation need to consider this principle. When not dancing for a period of time, it is possible to not "lose it" all by continuing a conditioning program.

3. Progressive Overload

To increase the capacity of the human body, the stress placed on the body must continually increase. For example, for strength training, one must continually increase the resistance to the muscles. The acceptable level of conditioning must be decided upon by the individual, as you cannot just continue to overload forever.

4. Working in Mechanically Efficient Positions

Any type of conditioning can cause the dancer more problems if she is habitually misaligned. Proper alignment is essential for a successful conditioning program. Bad alignment can cause joint stress which in turn can cause arthritis, stress fractures, or chronic pain. Remember that misalignment is common when the dancer is fatigued; so make sure you do not set yourself up for these problems by planning your exercise program to be too long.

5. Sequence the Exercises Effectively

Start off gently and gradually build to more vigorous activity.

After an exercise that really stresses a muscle group, take time to undo the bad effects or note the good effects.

Before doing a major stretch, "set up" the stretch by doing a maximum contraction of the opposite muscle group (more will be discussed on this principle of reciprocal inhibition in the next article).

Use the information on possible joint actions and specific muscle actions to pinpoint the exact muscle or muscle group that needs to be strengthened or stretched.

Listen to your body.

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