This is less a post about prescribing the perfect amount of cardio, and more a plea for tuning in to one’s own needs.
Dancers are known perfectionists. Many of us have type-A personalities, making us exceptionally susceptible to fads in exercise, diet, and various “fixes” best served with a grain of salt.
Many of us also have extreme personalities. We hear we should do X stretch for at least 3o seconds to get more flexible, but hell, we’ll hold that stretch for 5 minutes. Minimum. Because more is better. Right?
Sometimes it’s not.
A client of mine, a lovely dancer from York U, is stuck in the “more is better mindset”.
When she came in to start training this winter, on break from dance for the holidays, she was quite over-trained. Starting to burn out mentally, getting injured, sore all over.
But she had a lot to show for her hard work. She had an excellent semester and had achieved a lot since I last saw her, and I was proud. But I was sad, too, that she was displaying all the common symptoms of someone verging on burning out. And she didn’t have a clue. I have been deep in that state, been oblivious to it, and it didn’t end pretty.
Despite feeling a little rough after a hard semester, she was pumped to train. She came prepared with some fantastic goals, too. She wanted to strengthen her hamstrings (to overcome a mild hamstring injury earlier in the semester), get her external rotators to fire better, and get a mad deadlift. She was also still attending dance classes, although I strongly believe that when you get a break from dance, you should take full advantage of it.
Anyway, yes, she had intelligent goals, but to accomplish these, I had to explain we were going to work on first things first: She needed to recuperate a bit if she wanted to get that deadlift goal. She needed to sleep more, hydrate, unload her mind, and let her dancer patterns settle down.
But all she wanted to know is “what more can I do?”, and more specifically, she told me one day, “I went to the gym yesterday between our sessions to do cardio, how much should I be doing?”.
I am so, so inspired by this lady’s drive to do everything she can to become better. And I have seen so many dancers with this same drive. But sometimes it is borderline blind desperation, and in that case, less is much more.
When I was in school dancing everyday, I also felt the need to do extra cardio. I understand that urge. But jogging 4 times per week didn’t improve anything. I felt sore, rundown, and hated every minute of it. Extra cardio wasn’t what I needed at that point. I needed sleep, water, and vegetables.
Imagine a nice big closet. You’ve been shoving junk into this closet for years. It’s getting quite full and you’re starting to wonder how you’ll fit all your new stuff into it. What would be most logical is to clean the closet out first, make room for the new stuff.
Closet emptying is a daunting task, yes, but it’s also a beautiful thing, not a thing to fear.
When you look through years of junk you’ve accumulated, you can learn a lot about yourself. You remember things that are important to you, and realize there are things you can let go of. And the most beautiful part is that now, with an empty closet, you get to choose what you put in.
So to my lovely lady who commendably wants to do more and more, I say, do less.
Not to say be lazy, but don’t worry about doing more cardio. You’re becoming well over-trained. You have the right spirit, but the wrong question.
Don’t cram more into the closet until it bursts. Empty it first.
How much cardio should you be doing? The amount that makes you feel good. Only you can know.
Do you genuinely enjoy doing extra cardio? Do you feel better after doing it? Or do you feel run down. Are you already sore but you feel the need to do more exercise anyway? Are you doing it because somewhere, someone you don’t remember told you you should, because someone somewhere told them the same thing?
I would love to be able to recommend a precisely calculated ratio of work to rest, and exact duration and type, for supplementary cardio, but the fact is that many dancers I train are starting with a full closet. I want to help them first to see how full it is, and help them to develop the strength to tackle the job of emptying it. Together, we’ll fill it back up with the right stuff.
Strength and recovery first. Strength makes movement easier. It will help you move more efficiently, waste less energy. Breathe better. Strength will improve your stamina without doing any “cardio”.
Are you recovering from your strength workouts? From dance classes? Work on that first.
Make sure you’re not sore all day everyday, mentally foggy, and a chronic insomniac. Then we’ll talk about perhaps doing some cardio. Deal?
(P.S. her deadlifts are going VERY well)