As in most things in life, we want a quick breakdown on what to do and what not to do for injury prevention that we can apply like a metaphorical band-aid: quick, convenient, and occasionally effective. Unfortunately for us, almost everything in life is more complex than a simple checklist of rules we can use to cover all individuals and situations. However, there are often simple, practical, and concise guidelines for injury prevention to help us structure our thinking around certain areas of life, and as we examine the ‘why’ behind the Do and Don’t lists, it will be easier to apply them in an accurate and flexible manner. Today we’re going to examine some of the well-known and studied parameters of how to prevent injury in dance.
1) Nutrition: It is important for dancers to eat enough food. Without sufficient fuel, dancers are more likely to sustain injury and recover slowly. Ensure you are getting a variety of foods that incorporate all nutrients including carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
2) Hydration: whatever you lose, replace. When your body is warm, it uses your blood vessels to take heat to the surface of your skin so it can dissipate that heat into the world around you. This allows you to exercise, increase your core temperature significantly, and tolerate a wide range of temperatures. When this system becomes compromised, you can experience dizziness, flushing, or even passing out. Practical steps: drink water before, after, and during dance. Drink to thirst throughout the day, but be sure to replace the water you lose dancing. If you are doing an intense workout, consider an athletic drink that replenishes electrolytes and carbohydrates, like Gatorade.
3) Warm up/Cool down: warm-up increases the body temperature, causes vasodilation, sweating, and blood flow to the lungs and muscles, improving oxygenation (which allows muscles to keep up with the increased oxygen demand of high activity) and decreasing the stress on the heart as it beats faster to circulate the oxygen to the muscles. Warm-up also increases the lubrication of the joints, preventing injury, and increasing neuronal firing, improving coordination and balance. Minimal warm-ups are 5-10 minutes, but effective and thorough warm-ups should be about 20 minutes and 3-4 sections: first and foremost, increasing heart rate gently. Second, joint mobility, followed by muscle lengthening, both of which can involve dynamic stretching. It is also a good time to take stock of your body, noting any problems, areas of discomfort, or postural dysfunction. The last, optional section is another gentle increase of heart rate. Any warm-up should consist of slower, easier movements that are going to be done at high intensity. For running, jogging; for dancing, doing the same movements slowly.
Cool-down is the exact same process in reverse. This helps improve cardiovascular ‘flexibility’ and control. The more you walk your heart and blood vessels through the process of dilating and constricting the more familiar your system is with each process and the better control it has over its own maintenance. This is especially important in endurance athletes like marathon runners and dancers. Cool-down follows similar principles for types of movement and duration but is more involved with static stretching (holding a stretch for > 30 seconds) and is generally less regulated than the warm-up guidelines.
4) Stretching/Flexibility Training: there are many forms of stretching and they have different profiles for pros, cons, and timing.
- Ballistic: taking your muscle to its full range and bouncing; increases coordination and control but causes muscular strain very easily.
- Dynamic: slow, controlled, full range of motion; less effective but much safer. Used effectively in warm-up after the section elevating heart rate.
- Static: holding a stretch 30 seconds up to 1-2 minutes; must be warm but effective. Used safely when muscles are warm, most effective during cool-down.
- Prolonged: holding a stretch for 20 minutes or more; weakens muscles and increases muscular strain. Avoid this form of stretching.
The benefits of stretching are short-lived in each isolated case. However, when stretching is done with consistency over a period of several weeks it increases flexibility and prevents injury.
5) Cross-training: another long-term piece of injury prevention. Dance in particular has quite a few areas for dancers to improve performance and minimize injury through cross-training:
- Aerobic training: 70-90% max HR for 20-40 minutes 3x/wk, e.g. swimming, running, aerobics, cycling, etc.
- Anaerobic and power training: 95-100% max HR for 10-50 seconds, e.g. sprints, jumps, steps, etc with a work to rest ratio of 1:3 to 1:5 where rest is low-intensity exercise.
- Strength and endurance training: weights, with heavier weight and fewer repetitions to build muscle or lighter weight and longer use to increase endurance
- Flexibility training: see above
It’s important to take appropriate rest in order for muscles to rebuild and not get over-used, run-down, and ultimately fragile.
6) Sleep (and rest): think happy cycles. Exercise helps sleep and sleep helps exercise. Variations include amount of sleep (the average adult requires 7-9 hours a night and kids and teenagers need more) as well as timing of exercise. For some, exercise can cause an increase in energy and feeling ‘wired’ which can affect sleep schedules depending on when you exercise. For others, exercise can happen any time without affecting sleep patterns.
In order to minimize injuries in dance there are a few key points that may seem tangential at best to dance. Nevertheless, these are the things that can improve dance, increase endurance, and overall prevent injuries. Starting out with simple principles of fueling yourself appropriately and maintaining fluid levels with hydration is definitely the first step. When exercising, having a warm-up and cool-down phase to help with cardiovascular function, using different forms of stretching appropriately to help build flexibility, and practicing cross-training to build a strong physiological foundation to improve dancing skills, endurance, and safety. And last, but not least: sleep and rest. Rest and sleep are vital to recovery and recovery is vital to growth and progress.
Nutrition Resource Paper 2016. Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.iadms.org/page/RPnutrition?&hhsearchterms=%22nutrition%22
Are You Warm Enough to Start Dancing? Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.iadms.org/blogpost/1177934/272128/Are-You-Warm-Enough-to-Start-Dancing?hhSearchTerms=%22warm%22&terms=
Aerobic exercise, How to warm up and cool down. Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045517
Resource Paper: Stretching for Dancers. Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.iadms.org/page/353?&hhsearchterms=%22warm%22
Resource Paper: Dance Fitness. Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.iadms.org/page/303?&hhsearchterms=%22cool+and+down%22
Does Sleep Affect Your Exercise? Accessed September 22, 2019. https://www.dukedietandfitness.org/does-sleep-affect-you
By Bethany Mueller and Alee Vladyka