Running for Dancers

By Stahl, Jennifer | Pointe, February/March 2013 | Go to article overview

Running for Dancers


Stahl, Jennifer, Pointe


It boosts stamina and torches calories, but are the risks worth it?

Most people in the ballet world will tell you not to run. "It will wreck your knees." "Your thighs will get bulky." "All that impact will shorten your career."

Yet. in many ways, running would seem to be the ideal exercise for dancers. The repeated bounce strengthens your bones. The motion forces you to move in parallel, activating muscles that ballet dancers usually don't use. Thirty minutes torches about 300 calories. The sustained effort makes your lungs and heart more efficient, increasing your stamina- and since a whopping 90 percent of dance injuries result from fatigue, that isn't a perk to take lightly.

The truth is. dancers need to supplement their ballet training with aerobic activity: Studies show that technique class isn't enough to prepare dancers for performance-the physical intensity of a show has higher aerobic requirements. Running is one of the quickest ways to make up the difference. "The problem is that running is a high-impact activity and dance is already high-impact." says Nancy Kadel. MD. an orthopedic surgeon and chair of the Dance/USA Taskforce on Dancer Health. Although running is actually gentler than ballet (the force of landing from a leap is equal to about 1 2 times your body weight; when running, it's seven to eight times), running adds more strain to vulnerable joints. "That doesn't mean dancers shouldn't run." says Kadel. "but you need to be smart about how you do it."

Start Smart

The most common pitfall of running is attempting too much too soon. "Dancers are highly fit, so they're tempted push right from the beginning." says Emery Hill, an athletic trainer with Houston Ballet. You need to build up slowly to get the benefits without risking injury.

Before you begin a running regimen, prepare your body by practicing squats and lunges in parallel regularly. "Because ballet is a hyper-specific activity," Hill says, "you need to strengthen other muscles with more general motions to handle a long run." Start by briskly walking for 30 minutes two or three times a week. After a couple of weeks, walk for 1 5 minutes, run for 5, then walk the rest. Every 10 days, gradually increase your running by two minutes and decrease your walking, until you're running the entire time.

Training Schedule

Once you've gotten into a groove, aim for 30- to 45-mmute runs. More is not merrier here: Running for longer than an hour can work against you. "You don't want to fatigue the body to the point where it can't cope," says Leigh Hef lin. MSc. education and administrative coordinator for the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Medical Center's Hospital for Joint Diseases. Overtraining can stress your hips, knees and ankles. "Muscle soreness is okay," says Kadel. "but if you're having joint pain, tendon discomfort, swelling or any localized pain to the bone, stop running and see a physician."

How often you run depends on your dance schedule. Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Maria Chapman runs three to five times a week during the off-season, going for up to 50 minutes, but when her rehearsal schedule gets heavy, she does a 1 5- to 20-minute jog with speed intervals two or three times a week. "I have to tailor my running to my job." she says. "I can't be exhausted at work."

Her strategy falls right in line with most trainers' recommendations. "As you get closer to the show, run intensely but for less time, to get the body used to the high intensity of a performance." says Hill. Early in the season, you can run three times a week, but during shows cut back to once or twice a week, aiming to hit 70 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate for 1 5 to 20 minutes. (You can find simple heart-rate calculators online.) Don't stop running altogether, or you'll lose the endurance you built.

Form Issues

Pay attention to how you run. Although the motion forces most people into parallel, if your feet stubbornly turn out. …

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