Dancers and Plyometric Training- Part 2

Dancers and Plyometric Training- Part 2

 

Welcome back to the discussion! Let’s jump right in (haha, get it? Jump? Cause it’s a plyo article??)…

In PART 1, which you should read now if you haven’t already, Joel did a great job of detailing exactly what plyometric training is, and how it could potentially help dancers  develop jump height, and just plain dance better in general.

I agree with the things Joel was saying, but I was a little disappointed that his article didn’t answer all my questions. A foolish notion, I know, to expect to ask one question and get all the answers.

My main concern was, yes, in theory, it sounds like plyometric training, which is great for athletes who want to improve their power and jump height is a good idea. But dancers are a little different than other athletes.

And yes, dancers are indeed athletes. The definition below could be used for “dancer” to a TEE, if you added in something about artistic expression at the end.

Athlete- “Someone who engages in social comparison (competition) involving psycho-motor skill or physical prowess (or both) in an institutionalized setting, typically under public scrutiny/evaluation.” (Baechle & Earle, 2008)

So anyway, should dancers even perform plyometric training? Is it good for them? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Here are the major concerns I have:

1) Do dancers need a particular level of relative strength before beginning plyo training? For example, the NSCA  recommends (and this is probably for men, mind you) that before beginning a plyometric training program, athletes should have at least a 1.5x bodyweight squat. Considering that barely any dancers even resistance train, I don’t know of a single dancer that meets that qualification.

And also, based on that, a lot of people would be shot for the things they do in the gym.

Then I stumbled across this (go read it), from Vertical Jumping (.com) and it seems they’re of the opinion that “strength first” is a myth. Hmmm.

It is silly to think that beginner athletes without a large strength base can’t handle plyometric training. You just need to use exercises that don’t have the same degree of landing forces, or if you want to use the shock methods, you simply use a lower box height that allows the athlete to still be challenged, but also to safely perform the exercise.

And Joel said this:

I agree with you [Monika]. This recommendation [strength first] may be more applicable to athletes who don’t have experience with power training. Dancers incorporate plyometrics into their training already. I don’t think there are big injury concerns if they get started immediately (even without the strength base).

Moving along to my second concern about dancers doing extra plyo:

2) Many dancers are constantly performing through their injuries, which are rarely ever diagnosed. Most often, these injuries are only addressed when they get to the point that they can’t even dance anymore. I remember needing to take pre-show painkillers to perform. Not a fun time.

Encounters, choreographed by Arsenio Andrade- This was a performance I distinctly remember needing copious doses of ibuprofen to get on stage for…

These injuries, especially to their backs, knees, hips and ankles, could potentially be aggravated by additional plyometric training. And the fact that dancers will need to often perform through these injuries might in itself be a contraindication for doing plyo training.

If you are a dancer, and you love your art, you will do what you need to do, which probably means performing through an injury. We’ve all done it. I’m not saying this is good, but I’m saying it might be necessary at some point, and so you may not want to put any extra stress on your vulnerable joints.

For example, I am working with a couple of dancers right now who are recovering from pretty awful ankle sprains, and one who has some nasty hip and back dysfunction, which causes her pain. Would I make these guys jump up and down any more than they need to? No, probably not.

Joel sez:

Yes, these injuries are a major concern. Dancers train through them anyway, so perhaps plyometric training won’t be any more damaging than what they’re doing already. On the other hand, plyometric programs are usually (relatively) high volume, so the repetition might be really dangerous. This is why I think supervision is important.

3) Many dancers have muscles imbalances due to the nature of their art. Some can be corrected to an extent to help them perform better, and some are a necessary evil.

For example, many dancers are hamstring or lower back dominant, and don’t use their glutes. Glutes can be trained, and this training will help you  perform better and not get hurt. Dancers also tend to have incredibly tight ilipsoas and quads, which can pull on the spine, in a bad way, and cause back and hip injuries if they are not first taught how to work with these issues.

But, due to the nature of dance you WILL need to have some weird imbalances, especially if you need turnout. That’s ok. But you have to realize that because you are functionally asymetrical for your art, you are at risk of getting hurt.

Joel sez:

 Agreed, and that’s exactly why I don’t want to be more specific about recommendations 🙂

Is it smart to do power training with your hamstrings and lower back as the prime movers? Have you had a lower back or hamstring injury? You tell me…

4) The non-specific joint angle when performing plyo exercises might not be beneficial for dancers, could cause injury, and not improve performance. This concern is especially for dance styles that require the use of turnout.

Donna Krasnow (dance professor at York University, Ph. D in dance science, all around smart lady) told me some interesting things when I asked her about plyometrics last summer in THIS INTERVIEW. Here’s a quick recap of what Donna told me when I asked her if dancers should do plyometrics and Olympic lifting:

“Yes. If the dancer has a need for it.”

She explained to me that many dancers are naturally good jumpers and it would not be a productive use of their time to work on something they are already good at. Hip drive power does help with vertical jump height, which is of importance to dancers, but if they don’t need much extra help in that regard, it is not necessary.

She states that the training must be specific to dancing. For this very reason, she is not in favour of ballet dancers doing much plyometric training. Her experience is that it will not transfer over to a dance setting as one would like it to, for the feet are in a parallel position which is not very helpful for dancers who work in turn-out.

I asked about doing plyometric work in a turned out position, and we both agreed that it would probably not be safe for the knees.

Olympic lifting could however be quite beneficial for dancers needing help with their jumps.

And here’s what Joel said:

In my opinion, plyometric exercises that don’t involve turnout are preferred because with greater technique demands comes the problem of poor exercise performance due to physical limitations. If plyometrics are performed for general power, I don’t think it’s necessary to incorporate dance technique into the program as well. From my perspective, dancers (and other athletes) should emphasize technique during dance- or sport-specific training and use more basic movements during strength and conditioning. Squats, for example, might be used to develop lower body strength, but the actual movement is quite different from anything dancers actually do in class or performance.

Very interesting indeed. But again, this is more of a concern for dance styles that use turnout- like ballet, but often in modern, jazz and contemporary as well.

Ok, let’s wrap this up, because concision was never my strong suit. Yes, concision IS a word.

It is my view that plyometric training for dancers COULD be a good idea, but rather than ask how, I think we need to ask if and when to do it, and more research clearly needs to be done.

Joel’s final thoughts:

I think the individual abilities, physical limitations, fitness, and current training practices of dancers make it somewhat dangerous to try to give more detailed guidance about things like plyometrics in an overview article. I mentioned in the article that it’s important to be evaluated by someone who understands the nature of plyometric training and how to program effectively for people with different backgrounds. I really believe that, for the most part, people should avoid this type of training unless they are supervised.

My short answer to all of this is, yeah, I think dancers can benefit from plyometrics if they do basic movements with the goal of developing power. If they have physical limitations, it’s particularly important to do plyometric movements that require very little technique. Off season is probably the best time, but for dancers who perform year round, there are just too many variables involved in developing a program to make more detailed recommendations.

Ok. So. Conclusions?

I guess we can both agree that the answer will probably always be, “it depends”. Which is extremely dissatisfying. Such is life…

Personally, I always err on the side of caution (having been overtrained and injured before), and I would be very reluctant to get a dancer to do things like box/depth jumps, unless I had a really good feeling about it. I often act based on feeling. It’s usually a good system.

It is unfortunate that there’s just not a whole lot of research done on training dancers. When they first come to me, the state of most of my dancers are bordering on post-rehab, not high performance, and I don’t usually even consider plyometrics for them.

So. What do YOU think? I know Joel and I would love to hear your thoughts. With our eyes… So leave a comment below!

 

 

Dancers and Plyometric Training- Part 1

Dancers and Plyometric Training- Part 1

Today I have an awesome guest post from Joel Minden (www.joelminden.com), who is a strength and conditioning specialist, who also happens to be a ballroom dancer, and has a Ph.D in psychology. So, yeah. He’s pretty smart.

Joel and I have been talking about dance training things lately, and I asked him if he’d be so kind as to write something about plyometric training for dancers. My main question being: Should dancers even do plyometric training? I have my own opinions, and as it turned out, Joel and I ended up getting into a pretty good discussion about it.

And for those of you who don’t know what plyometric training is, don’t worry, Joel does a really awesome job of explaining it. In a nutshell, it’s form of training to get more power for things like jumps, etc. but it can also be pretty taxing on the body.

Plyometric training can help athletes get to the next level, especially if they participate in a sport that has a need for high jumps, or explosiveness (like dancing sometimes does). But is it an appropriate method of training for dancers? If so, what are some things to consider? How can it benefit dancers?

Here’s Joel’s take on plyometric training for dancers.

 

Plyometrics for Dancers

Dancing at the highest level requires excellence in numerous domains, including posture, alignment, balance, extension, agility, strength, and power. Some of these abilities are developed almost exclusively through dance-specific training; others can improve through a combination of technical training and an adjunct conditioning program.

Power is one ability that may be improved through systematic training outside the dance studio. Power can loosely be defined as a combination of strength and speed. When conditioning programs are used by dancers and other athletes, strength is typically developed through resistance training and speed is typically developed through sprinting. The limitation of both approaches for dancers is that isolated strength and speed are generally much less relevant than power to dance performance. For dancers, the development of power is particularly important for dynamic jumping both vertically and horizontally.

How is Power Developed?

Improvements in athletic power can be achieved through plyometric exercises. Example exercises include jumping drills for the lower body and explosive (e.g., clapping) push-ups for the upper body. For dancers looking to improve the height and distance of jumps or control the rate of acceleration and deceleration in jumps, the addition of plyometrics to a training program appears to be ideal.

Three Phases of Plyometric Exercises

Plyometric exercises have three phases. The first phase is eccentric. Eccentric refers to the contraction of a lengthened or stretched muscle. For example, when a dancer lands after jumping, the knees and ankles bend and the muscles of the calves and quadriceps contract while lengthening to absorb the impact of the landing and prepare for the next explosive jump.

If you didn’t rely on this eccentric muscular contraction, the joints would collapse rapidly upon landing and the subsequent jump would be much less dynamic. The eccentric contraction in this case is similar to the effect of pulling on a resistance band; the resistance felt as the band is lengthened is similar to the resistance created by the contracting muscle as it lengthens.

After the muscle and tendon stretch at the end of the eccentric phase (e.g., the end of the lowering phase of plié), the second phase of plyometrics occurs. This phase is amortization, or the transition from the eccentric phase to the next jump. The amortization phase is quite brief. If the amortization period is extended, the subsequent jump becomes less powerful. Imagine pausing for several seconds in plié before jumping; the jump that follows will not travel as much as it would if the jump occurs immediately after the muscle and tendon stretch to capacity.

The final phase of a plyometric exercise is concentric. This is where the muscle contracts as it shortens. In the explosive phase of jumping, the calf muscles and quadriceps shorten and contract as the dancer leaves the ground and travels rapidly through the air.

How Does Plyometric Training Work?

It’s believed that the greatest improvements in power from plyometric training occur when the amortization phase is emphasized. This means that the period between the eccentric and concentric

Phases should be as brief as possible. Using the depth jump as an example, after jumping from the box platform to the ground, explode up immediately after the descent (bend in knees and ankles) has been completed.

Do Dancers Benefit From Plyometrics?

Plyometrics may be avoided by some because of a belief that dance ability improves primarily as a result of dance training, and that other activities merely take time away from working toward improvements in technique.

In most sports, athletic performance is directly related to markers of fitness, such as strength, power, or endurance. In contrast, dancers’ goals are typically related to achieving aesthetic competence, and activities that appear to be unrelated may be avoided. If one accepts that aesthetic competence should be the ultimate goal for dancers, the next step is to determine the method for achieving this. It is reasonable to assume that aesthetic competence depends on fitness to some extent, but which aspects of fitness are important and how much do they contribute to dance ability?

In a study of university and professional contemporary dancers, Angioi et al. (2009) examined the relation of various dimensions of fitness to aesthetic competence. Fitness parameters included body fat %, muscular power and endurance, aerobic capacity, and joint mobility. The aesthetic competence measure was developed by directors of dance companies and the elements included controlled landing from jumps and turns, controlled lifting and lowering of limbs, controlled shifting of body weight, core strength, alignment, posture, extension of limbs, elevation and turning technique, timing and rhythm, and performance expressiveness.

Participants were 17 dancers who completed a series of physical fitness tests. None had any involvement in supplementary fitness activities for at least 3 months prior. The physical fitness indicators were body composition (body fat %), lower body muscular power (jump height), upper body muscular endurance (push-ups), central body muscular endurance (planks), joint mobility and muscular flexibility (active and passive ROM in the hip) and aerobic capacity.

Three hours later, dancers performed a 60-second sequence designed for this study. Dancers’ aesthetic competence was evaluated by directors of professional dance companies. The two significant predictors of aesthetic competence were push-ups and jumping ability (on the right and left legs). The data indicated that about 30% of the variance in aesthetic competence could be accounted for by jumping ability.

These data indicate that fitness is particularly important to movement quality in dancers. Lower body muscular power was one of two strong predictors of aesthetic competence. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that plyometrics training can benefit dancers looking to improve performance quality.

Programming Examples

Plyometric training can be quite demanding. It is not recommended to perform these exercises unless certain strength and mobility conditions can be met. An assessment by a qualified strength and conditioning professional is strongly encouraged before programming begins.

Note from Monika: Joel and I would like to emphasize that randomly adding a DIY plyometric training program to your dance training is probably not a great idea. We are just throwing hypothetical ideas around, is all.

As with resistance training, adequate rest between bouts of plyometrics training is important. To improve jumping ability, targeted plyometric exercises should be performed approximately one or two days a week. The recommended frequency of plyometric training will depend on a number of variables: performance season vs. off-season; age, fitness, and ability of the dancer; and intensity and duration of current dance training. The amount of rest between repetitions and sets will depend on the intensity of training. The total number of repetitions in each workout will typically be between 40 and 120. Plyometric workouts are typically performed for 30 minutes or less.

Both single and double leg exercises are recommended. Jumping in place, multiple jumps, bounds (e.g., explosive skipping), and box jumps are examples of exercises that can benefit dancers.

And in case any of you are wondering why the title of this article has “part 1” in it, it’s because IT’S NOT DONE YET! I had a little bit more to add to this discussion. Part 2 coming… Soon.

What do you think about dancers doing plyometric training? Add your 2 cents in the comments below. Oh wait- We don’t have pennies in Canada anymore. So I guess thoughts are free now. And that’s probably a good thing for all of us.

 

Joel Minden, Ph.D., CSCS, is a clinical psychologist, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and sports nutrition coach. In addition to teaching psychology and kinesiology at California State University, Chico, Joel provides consulting services to athletes and he is a competitive ballroom dancer. His website is www.joelminden.com

 

 

 

 

Sources:

Angioi, M., Metsios, G. S., Twitchett, E., Koutedakis, Y., & Wyon, M. (2009). Association between selected physical fitness parameters and aesthetic competence in contemporary dancers. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 13(4), 115-123.

Baechle, T., & Earle, R. (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning, Third Edition. National Strength and Conditioning Association. Human Kinetics.

The SI Joint Whisperer Tells All (Part 2)

The SI Joint Whisperer Tells All (Part 2)

Lucky you! In part 2 of this epic tale of SI joint mastery, Bizz shares with you her favourite exercises to rekindle an old friendship with your SI joint. For those of you who missed part one, she pretty much explains how most of us, especially as dancers, have jammed and stuck SI joints that can cause a multitude of pains, in the lower back, knee, etc. She explains that the root of these mysterious pains are often a jammed SI joint, something which often eludes us, and she further explains how showing it some love can go a long way.

And now onwards to part 2! Lots of great exercises in here, and be sure to check out Bizz’s website to see full video explanations of all the moves.

 

PART TWO

Rehab – How can I be BFFs with my SIJs?

Disclaimer: While I have lots of personal and professional experience helping people heal their SIJs, I am NOT, in fact, a doctor. If these exercises help you, that is wonderful, but if they do not or if your pain gets worse, PLEASE see a medical professional – ideally one who has experience working with dancers.

I’ve provided a number of options for each step because I’ve found that every SIJ joint issue has a personality of its own, and different bodies respond better to different therapies. I recommend giving all of them a try to find which ones whisper the sweet nothings that your SIJs need to hear. The best course of defence against future issues in the SIJs is to do a little work on them every day, from a minimum of 5 up to an ideal-world 20 minutes, either all at once or a few times a day, as needed. Once you become familiar with the exercises and with the difference between the way a functional and dysfunctional SIJ feels, you’ll know what your body needs and when, and you can address any weird twinges before they throw off your alignment and set off a zigzag effect throughout your body.

 

Step 1: Loosen Up

Since so much SIJ drama is caused by tension, the first order of business is loosening the f#$% up (something most over-achieving dancers prefer not to do) (note from Monika- HAHAHA! So true).

This is as much mental as it is physical – you need to get into your happy place so that you can let go of the anxiety that pain and injury cause. In extreme cases, I often recommend a glass of wine to promote relaxation (you gotta do what you gotta do!).

Bouncing: with your feet parallel and shoulder width apart, bend your knees slightly making sure they point over your second toes, and simply bounce gently up and down, letting go of tension throughout your body. You can let your head roll side to side as you bounce, and try bouncing on one leg at a time while you stack your joints over one another from your feet to your head.

 

Pelvic Tilt: laying on your back with your feet hip width apart on the floor and your knees bent, gently tilt your pelvis towards your head, rocking your tailbone up off the floor and slightly flattening the curve in your low back. This is a subtle movement that wakes up your deep muscles, so you need to keep it small. Your obliques, transverse abs and adductor magni can rock your pelvis, but only if you relax your glutes and try not to push with your legs.

 

Step 2: Align

The second most important thing you can do to improve your SIJ function is to embrace inward hip rotation.Turnout is not your enemy, but over-reliance on turnout muscles is, so do yourself a favour and learn to love parallel feet, hip width apart. In yoga, the opposite of turnout is called ‘inner spiral’. A balance of inner and outer spiral appropriate to the body’s position is the key to SIJ stability. A great way to learn to use inner spiral is to use an image I call the “pelvic smile.”

 

Pelvic Smile: When you activate your pelvic smile, you turn on your deep abdominals and activate your inner spiral while releasing your outer rotators. To do it, imagine that you are able to look at a cross-section of your body, as though you were cut in half just below your navel at the level of your ASISs (the bony points at the front of your pelvis). A top view from here would reveal the two halves of your pelvis connecting at the SIJs in something like a semi-circle.

If you make your index finger and thumb into a semi-circle on each hand and connect them at the tips of your thumbs, you can simulate this image. Without proper alignment, your hip bones can feel (and your hands will look) kind of like a ‘W’. We want to make them into a ‘U’ or smile shape. To accomplish this, there are three main actions:

First, you will imagine widening across the back of your pelvis, pulling your low belly muscles in towards your sacrum (pulling your thumbs out to make a rounder shape) Next you’ll use your deep abdominals to narrow your ASISs (hip points) towards each other in the front of your pelvis (pull your index fingertips towards the centre to make your fingers perpendicular to your thumbs). The third action deals with the body in space. When you are standing, the pelvic smile (fingers and thumbs) should be parallel with the ground, and when you lie on your back the ASISs will point up towards the ceiling. When on your stomach, the pelvic smile forms a bridge from one hip point to the other, with the sacrum at the apex. When you are moving through space, the pelvic smile should move with you, maintaining its position between your head and your feet.

Once I experienced the magic of pelvic smile, I couldn’t help but do it everywhere – in the shower, while washing dishes, grocery shopping…. it works wonder to get you in alignment, and you’ll find that after a little practice, you’ll develop a smirk on your face to go along with it, one that says “bet you can’t guess where I’m smiling right now ;)”.

Step 3: Warm Up

Developing a mental picture of your pelvis by using imagery (such as the pelvic smile) will help you to understand what does and doesn’t work for your body. If the pelvic smile doesn’t work for you, there are lots more options – ask around or check out Donna Krasnow’s dancer-saving Conditioning with Imagery.

Muscles, like people, have trust issues, and when dancers focus all their attention on the outer rotators, the inner ones will weaken and retreat, sulking in a corner and refusing to do their jobs. Being an especially touchy and stubborn kind of joint, the SIJ responds better to attempts at realignment once it’s been flattered with a little attention, so be sure to warm up before you try any of the release techniques.

You will find the exercises below described in my free workout video “The Pilates Quick Fix on youtube (or visit my website to order a DVD). Here is a quick list of the most important exercises to improve your relationship with your SIJs, so if you don’t have time for the 25 minute video, you can choose the exercises you need the most.

Abs: Imprint

Multifidus: Cat/cow

Glute medius and Adductor magnus: Hip release

QL & Latissimus dorsi: Back extensions

Ilio-psoas: Hip fold

 

Step 4: Release

Retraining involves three things: releasing tense and spasmed muscles, strengthening weak ones, and then stretching and massaging to lengthen the short ones. Because SIJ dysfunction affects so many parts of the body, it would be inefficient to try and strengthen the weak muscles without first putting things back into place.

Releasing is not the same as stretching. While stretching involves pulling on the ends of a relaxed muscle to make it longer, releasing places the body in a position that brings the ends of a tense or spasmed muscle closer together so that the muscle can relax. It’s important to release before you strengthen (and before you stretch), because it will help maintain your alignment as you retrain your body.

Some people hold more tension in their piriformis, while others focus theirs in the glute medius or QL. Releases are best held for 3 minutes, but the longer you stay, the more your muscles will remember what it feels like to loosen the f$%# up.

Outward rotation (releases glute max & piriformis)

Laying on your stomach with feet hip width apart, bend the knee of the affected side so the shin is perpendicular to the floor. Take the bent knee out to the side, about 30-45 degrees from the midline of the body, and place the knee on top of a pillow or cushion. Now allow the foot of the bent leg to drop towards the straight leg, passively rotating outwards. You need to relax the entire leg on the affected side, so you’ll want to prop the foot against something so you don’t have to use your hamstrings to keep the leg bent. I like to do this in a doorframe or near a table, but a chair or stack of heavy books would also make a decent foot-stopper. Once you’re there, focus on breathing deeply and relaxing the outer rotators on each exhale. I also like to reach back and use my hand to give the butt muscles a good jiggle to make sure they’re loosening up. This one is way easier if you get a friend to help, but it can be done on your own when necessary.

 

Inward rotation (releases glute med & IT band)

 

Laying on your side (with the affected side on top), make sure your body is in one straight line from head to toes. Bring your top knee forward, at an angle of about 45 degrees to the body and place the entire shin on a pillow or bolster. Roll forward slightly so that your weight rests on the cushion (you might like to cuddle a pillow to your chest as well). Make sure the foot and shin of the bent leg are at the same height as the knee. Once again, breathe deeply and go to your happy place, and add a little jiggle if necessary.

 

Seated fourth (releases glutes, piriformis and IT band)

This one is a great quick release you can do just about anywhere, no props required. Sit in fourth position with the affected leg behind you (bend the unaffected leg in front of you as though you were going to sit cross-legged, with the unaffected leg curled around behind you near your butt). Align your upper body with the thigh bone of the back leg, and lean away from the leg and rest on your hand or elbow. While relaxing the glutes and thigh muscles of the back leg, massage the piriformis and glute med. I often twist and wiggle around some in this position to find the ideal spot for release.

 

 

Bolster release (SI and QLs, etc)

For this release you’ll need a prop that is at least 8-12” in length and not much wider than your SI dimples. A foam roller will do but you can also use a tightly-rolled yoga mat or a bolster if you want something softer. The roll will line up with your spine, and you will lay on it with the bottom at your tailbone. If your prop isn’t as long as you spine, you’ll want to cushion your head and upper body above its end. Once in position on top of your roller, bring the soles of your feet together and your knees out to the side. Place your hands on your hip bones and rock them gently side to side while thinking soft and happy thoughts about your glutes. You may feel a clunk or a shift, or you may not feel anything move, but either way this is a VERY effective release for the SI joint once the muscles surrounding it have chilled out.

 

Step 5: Strengthen

Now comes the business of strengthening those tense, weak inward rotators so that they feel equal to the outers and start doing their jobs. Don’t skimp on this part – you have probably spent more hours ignoring your inner muscles than you care to admit, and this is your chance to make it up to them. Although joints can be replaced these days, you can’t just trade in the ones you’ve got for ones that trust you more, so you and your SIJs might as well start talking about your feelings and working through your issues now.

 

Pilates is a very effective way to strengthen your deep core muscles and facilitate neuromuscular repatterning. Make sure to use your pelvic smile! Instructions for the exercises below can be found in my Quick Fix video.

Abs: Tic tocs, Ab curl

Multifidus: Back extensions

Glute medius: Clam shell

Adductor magnus: Butterfly

QL & Latissimus dorsi: Swimming, Arm & leg reach

Ilio-psoas: Hip fold (*try it with a straight leg, too)

 

Step 5.1 Re-release

In the beginning stages of retraining, old habits could pop up during strengthening and cause a spasm in the outer muscles. If this happens, don’t stress, just go back to step 4 and re-release them before you stretch.

 

Step 6: Stretch/Massage

Stretching and massaging is about balancing the resting length of your muscles. You need to lengthen your outer rotators to balance them with your inner ones so your SIJs can rest easily between the two. Because the SIJ’s range of motion is small and controlled by deep ligaments, muscles and fascia, stretches won’t be able to get at all the structures that need attention. Massage (using props for those hard to reach places) will dig down into them, basically reverse-stretching them in the way you would roll out a pie crust.

Yoga is a great way to stretch while maintaining proper alignment and activation of your postural muscles. You will find instructions for most of these poses in my Hippy Hippy Shake videos (or see YogaJournal for step-by-step basics). And don’t forget to use your pelvic smile!

Downward dog

Chair pose (with twists)

High and low lunge (with twists)

Warrior 2

Side angle

Triangle

Pigeon

Fire log

Cobra

Bound angle

As for massage, a pair of hard rubber bouncy balls are ideal for getting into the deep structures around your SIJs (tennis ball size is good, but I find tennis balls themselves to be too soft and slippery). (Note from Monika- You can get a lacrosse ball for four bucks from Canadian Tire). Place them on either side of your spine and roll up and down against a wall for a nice deep massage. You want to avoid rolling over your spine, instead focus on the muscles and tendons. Make sure you get down into the glutes, and even turn sideways to get the entire glute medius and the IT band.

I’d love to hear how these exercises work for you, and I’d be happy to answer your questions on becoming BFFs with you SIJs, so feel free to drop me a line at bizzvarty@gmail.com. And as a nerdy bonus that doubles as a workout soundtrack, check out the classic Canadian tune “Let Your Backbone Slide” in which Maestro Fresh-Wes gives a shout-out to the SIJ just before the 3 minute mark. Holla!

BONUS #1:

BONUS #2: 

Check out the free 30 Day Core Challenge. It’s a great way to get back in touch with the fundamentals of “core” (do you know what they are?). All you need to do is make time every day for a few minutes of practice for 30 days. Simple 🙂

 

Conditioning With Imagery: A Chat With Donna Krasnow

Conditioning With Imagery: A Chat With Donna Krasnow

One of the most important things you can do to better yourself is to talk to a lot of people that are way smarter than you. Be the stupidest one in the room every once in a while (but not all the time…).

That’s exactly what I set out to do when I contacted Donna Krasnow. We sat down in her hotel room discussed things to do with training dancers. It was great.

Donna Krasnow is a former professional dancer, full professor at
York University’s Dance Department, choreographer, and creator of C-I Training
(Conditioning With Imagery for Dancers). She is the co-author of the new book
Conditioning with Imagery for Dancers, with professional dancer Jordana Deveau. Visit her website here for more info.

Krasnow specializes in dance science research, concentrating on injury prevention, conditioning for dancers, and motor learning and motor control. Her most recent research focus has been the adolescent dancer, psychological issues surrounding injury and dance training, and motor control in elite dancers. She received her M.S. degree in Dance Science in 1994 from the University of Oregon and is a Level I Certified GYROTONIC® Trainer . Her articles have been published in Medical Problems of Performing Artists; Journal of Dance Medicine & Science; Impulse: the International Journal of Dance Science, Medicine, and EducationJournal of Dance Education; Bulletin of Osaka University of Health and Sport Sciences; Medecine des Arts; and Dance Research Journal.

If you haven’t gathered, Donna is way smarter than me, and chances are way smarter than  the majority of you reading this too.

She was in Toronto this week teaching the Conditioning With Imagery teacher training course. This course teaches other dance science enthusiasts and teachers her training method, which she has used to help countless dancers improve their technique and understanding of the moving body, as well as to prevent unnecessary injuries. Though I only had an hour to speak with her, it was enlightening, to say the least.

Here now is a summary of our chat:

What caused her to first become interested in the physiology and science of dancing?

Donna told me that her reason was actually kind of selfish- She, like many dancers, was tired of getting injured! She has a list of injuries that could go on and on, but her back was a big issue for her in the past.

Sound familiar?

This led her to start reading and learning about new methods of training the body to make it more resilient. She studied in yoga, pilates, floor-barre classes, Qi Gong and somatic practices, among other things, and eventually began to put it all together which created the foundations of what is now her Conditioning with Imagery philosophy.

So what is “Conditioning with Imagery”?

Donna explained that conditioning with imagery is a blending of science with somatics. It borrows from the best of several techniques.

She retold to me the story of being in Philadelphia for a convention and having the opportunity to experience presentations of many different training methods, one of which was by Sally Fitt (author of Dance Kinesiology) and was all about the science side of training, and another was an Alexander technique presentation, which is all about using imagery to reprogram the body.

This got her to thinking, why must the two- science and imagery- be separate? Hence the creation of conditioning with imagery

For those of you who don’t care much for the science side of dance, the rest of this article may not be for you, so skim at your leisure, as I press forward into more specific aspects of training dancers.

I asked Donna what she thought of  training hip drive and posterior chain power. Did she think it was useful, as it often is for other athletes? Olympic style lifting or plyometric training in particular.

“Yes. If the dancer has a need for it.”

She explained to me that many dancers are naturally good jumpers and it would not be a productive use of their time to work on something they are already good at. Hip drive power does help with vertical jump height, which is of importance to dancers, but if they don’t need much extra help in that regard, it is not necessary.

She states that the training must be specific to dancing. For this very reason, she is not in favour of ballet dancers doing much plyometric training. Her experience is that it will not transfer over to a dance setting as one would like it to, for the feet are in a parallel position which is not very helpful for dancers who work in turn-out.

I asked about doing plyometric work in a turned out position, and we both agreed that it would probably not be safe for the knees.

Olympic lifting could however be quite beneficial for dancers needing help with their jumps.

There is still much research to do in this area. Perhaps I’ll do some more reading of my own and see what I can find. Stay tuned for that.

Can you guess what Donna thinks about dancers developing upper body strength?

She’s all for it! Donna points out that dancers often need arm strength for lifts and to fall safely to the floor, among other choreographic elements.

However, she explained how the traditional methods of upper body training are not appropriate for dancers. That is to say, the traditional method is aimed towards male trainees who want to build muscle (hypertrophy) without any kind of functional end-goal.

Dancers do not need to hypertrophy their upper body muscles, but rather need endurance and strength. She pointed out the common misconception that women dancers shy from strength training in the fear of becoming bulky, but this is only because they look at male bodybuilders who follow a set and rep scheme with the aim of getting bigger muscles.

Donna suggests that for dancers it is optimal to use a rep range geared toward muscle endurance (12-15 reps), with a lower weight, and to do 2 sets.

The arms need strength, endurance and control. To avoid upper body training is a common mistake.

Other imbalances that are prominent in dancers, and which Donna stresses should be addressed include:

  • The spine and core
  • Lateral quads dominant over medial quads
  • Excessive foot pronation
  • Weak adductors and gluteus medius

I then selfishly asked:

What is your favourite core strengthening/motor control exercise?

Her reply: “I don’t have a single favourite!” (rats…)

She explained that she is in her third day of teaching the CI Training course (and intensive course which runs for 6 days), and she’s aleady gone through about 7 core exercises. She states there has to be versatility, because that is the nature of dance. You must have a range of movements.

Not only that, but “core training” has to be always happening. Even if it is not a “core” exercise, the core must be cued to work. A good core exercise is one that transfers over to the dance setting.

So what about Crunches? Crunches are fine if done correctly, but by themselves are not sufficient for dancers’ needs. They need a variety of exercises that deal with core support, trunk stabilization, and balance control. Perhaps not the most efficient use of your time.

We got to talking more about core conditioning, and Stuart McGill’s name came up (to whom she refers fondly as Stu. They’ve met, and I’m a little jealous). McGill is a big name in the athletic performance training, and lower back pain prevention and rehabilitation game.

I have dabbled  in implementing his method of “abdominal bracing” to prevent lower back injuries while training training my own dancers.

I asked her what she thought of the idea of abdominal bracing, and if it was effective for dancers.

In her mind, bracing the abdominals is actually counterproductive for dancers early in their training, and they should rather be instructed to lengthen. This simple use of imagining the spine elongating, and the narrowing of the waist, she states, has been much more effective in her experience.

She explains that you must look at the function of the spine for the dance population: The spine does a lot of moving through all planes, and this motion often needs to be fluid. It makes sense that bracing the abdominals without understanding how to control it segmentally would hinder a dancer’s ability to control his/her body effectively.

Donna talked about how many of the athletes McGill is training do not require the fluidity of the spine that dancers do, and so for a shot-putter, for example, bracing the spine would be highly effective.

There is a place for bracing the abdominals in dance training, however it should be learned after the dancer first understands how to control the spine’s individual segments. She refers to the work of Australian, Paul Hodges, which focuses on deep segmental stability and “hollowing” of the abdominals, rather than bracing them.

Her method is to start by training the deep muscles that control and stabilize the spine as it curves and arches, and then do more McGill type things, like planks and birddogs.

Thanks for that tip, Donna!

At the gym I work at, they have one of those full body vibration plates that supposedly give faster results by exercising on a vibrating surface. I asked Donna if she knew anything of the science behind these contraptions.

To which she replied: “I have no comment until I see the research.”

Donna is the kind of person who needs to see concrete evidence before she jumps on a bandwagon. This is a good quality to have in order to avoid a lot of the bull-shit that marketed to us these days. Remember when we thought this was a good idea?

I mentioned to Donna that I had read the abstract of a study which used the vibration plate in a training protocol for dancers and found that they were able to increase their ankle stability to a higher degree than a group of dancers who did conventional exercises, not vibrating. She replied to this that she could see how it may have some benefits in terms of proprioceptive issues, as the vibrations create a more unstable surface.

Here’s another study that found dancers could improve their vertical jump height by using the vibrating plate in their training…

Perhaps I will read more on this topic, seeing as I have access to one of these (expensive) machines. Are they worth it? Who knows. I’m still sceptical, and my opinion is that this machine was created by people who are lazy and don’t like hard work. But who knows!

Like Donna said, “I don’t know until I see the research”.

I asked Donna if she could describe a particular “a-ha!” moment on her journey to understanding movement.

She exhaled deeply and replied that there were too many to even mention. One in particular that she shared with me was the realization of the “neuromuscular”, and just how important motor control was.

It is not simply enough to strengthen the weak muscle, or stretch the tight ones. That’s only part of the picture. Donna expressed that it is equally important to make changes to habitual movement patterns. Retrain the way you move in everyday life, as well as in a dance setting.

As she put it, in class, you work hard to do good for your body for 3 hours a day. But if for the rest of the day you’re slumped over, in awkward positions, walking strangely and adopting a generally poor posture, you’re not helping yourself, and you’re undoing any of the positive work you did in class.

In recent months, I’ve discovered how much the mind needs to make changes as well as the body. Many dancers are in a less than optimal emotional and psychological state which does not allow them to perform physically at their highest potential. I asked Donna what role she thought psychology and emotional health played in dance training, and if she felt it deserved more attention.

She agreed, but said that the emotional health of a dancer must be approached indirectly. It’s in how you relate to your dancers or clients that will affect them psychologically.

Donna expressed how she felt that many dance teachers do a bad job of this. The learning environment is created through the language used by the teacher, and often this language is one that is critical, and negative. For example, she told me story of how a young girl she was coaching had quite a pronounced pelvic tilt that caused her stomach to protrude slightly. What did her previous teachers tell her? Push your stomach in! Push your bum in!

According to Donna, the language you use should not ask the dancer to hide any part of them. Don’t ask the dancer to hold in their stomach, this is counterproductive not only physically, but it will foster a negative emotional environment. Instead, she suggested the image of lengthening the body.

She also explained that many dancers have “issues of beauty”. What this means is that they are so stuck to notions that for a position, such as a perfectly turned out 5th, to be beautiful, they need to crank their bodies in unnatural ways, and this is more important than being safe and protecting their bodies. This notion needs to be retaught. As I mentioned earlier in this post,  you mustn’t be stuck to the idea that you need 180 degree turnout, most of us can never obtain this safely and it’s just not worth it.

Donna stated that many postural dysfunctions are in fact rooted in emotional trauma, and that she found many were able to change emotionally by changing the way their bodies move. This rang 100% true to me. If you want to test this theory, try walking around all week with absolutely perfect posture. Really focus on it. I challenge you to tell me you don’t feel like a  whole new person by the end of the week.

Donna also stressed the importance of the spiritual aspect of dance. Many of us have lost this. Dance began as a spiritual practice, and it should always have that same importance. Again, we have issues with beauty. Actually expressing the spirit through dance will always be more moving that a perfectly executed triple pirouette.

What Donna felt was most lacking in dancers, and what could be considered their biggest issue, is that they lack education on the things that really matter. They have tons of skill acquisition, but very little knowledge. I asked her to share what she felt were the 3 best pieces of advice she could give dancers wishing for longevity in their careers, and here  they are, just for you:

  1. Be vigilant about warm-up and conditioning.
  2. Work only with people who honour the body.
  3. Never put aesthetics and fashion above health.

Amazing.

This post is once again becoming lengthy, and so I want to wind things down by sharing with you what Donna said to be the most rewarding part of her career so far (and she’s done a lot, from choreography, to performance, to teaching, to conditioning, to research, creating her own training method, writing a book, and more…)

For her, it was not the material accomplishments that were most rewarding, but the giving and the receiving, in both directions, that has taken place throughout her career. The science aspect of things combined with the beauty of performing and choreographing was what she felt was the most fulfilling.

I will close with what I think is a recurring theme of this blog, and which Donna stresses as extremely important: The art of dance is just as important as the science.

If you want to learn more about Donna,  her teacher training course, or read her book, head to her website for more information.

I want to thank Donna graciously for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak with me. It was fantastic.

I urge you all strongly now to check out Julien Smith’s blog . Take cold showers daily, talk to strangers, do things that scare the crap out of you, and hang out with people that are way smarter than you.

Oh, and like me on facebook .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smart Mobility for Dancers- Better Ways to Stretch

Smart Mobility for Dancers- Better Ways to Stretch

“So, you’re a dancer! You must be really flexible- Do you stretch a lot?”

The amount of times I’ve heard that… Yes- I’ll admit, I am pretty darn flexible (used to be, anyway, before I injured my hamstring).

Do I stretch a lot? Well, not really.

Was I always flexible? No. Before I danced, I couldn’t do the splits. I could barely touch my toes (though now I know better than to do the standing toe-touch stretch, which you shouldn’t do either if you have a history of lower back pain).

The concept of stretching is controversial, and has many supposed, and some legitimate benefits. The kind of stretching dancers do could be considered highly dangerous for the average person. By this I mean, holding intense static stretches immediately prior to a class or performance. The following is part of the Twitter status of a prominent dance company, who will remain nameless, announcing their auditions “…Come early to stretch!” I cringed. No, people, don’t come early to stretch, lest you want to injure yourself.

By contrast, the kind of active stretching that is done intrinsically during the bulk of a dance class is highly beneficial for increasing one’s mobility and range of motion (henceforth denoted as ROM) at a particular joint. Dancers don’t stretch as much as you think they might to maintain their level of flexibility. Getting there takes years of hard work, maintaining is easy. How did we get there? Consistent, hard work in class, and always pushing to work with the maximum ROM for any given movement. A little bit of specific stretching, to the particularly tight parts, helps, especially for men.

There is a lot of information out there saying not to stretch statically before doing physical work, but to do dynamic stretching instead; and there are all kinds of programs with different philosophies for increasing one’s flexibility. My favourite is Pavel Tsatsouline’s “Forced Relaxation”- This guy is really flexible, but you can tell he’s really strong too, and his approach to increasing flexibility actually has some merit. Mostly, I just love his video series because it is one third terrifying, one third hilarious, and one third motivates me to go get super flexible.

Check out one of his videos here: Pavel Tsatsouline- Forced Relaxation

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to talk less about “stretching”, and more about increasing “mobility”. What’s the difference? Stretching primarily refers to increasing the length of a muscle, while mobility can be considered an all encompassing term, referring to the joint as a whole- Its ligaments and musculotendinous unit.

What is mobility?

Mobility refers to the total range of motion through which a particular joint is able to move, which can be expressed as a measurement in degrees. Mobility affects your ability to perform certain isolation (single joint) movements and compound movements (multi-joint).  Not to be confused with hyper-mobility, which refers to an excessive range of motion of a joint, measurable at an angle which is larger than is optimal (unless you use this ability to monetary advantage somehow, like a circus contortionist).  Hyper-mobility requires supplementary strengthening in order to control and prevent injuries as it is generally caused by extremely lax ligaments.

Stretching- How to do it right, without compromising your safety

Flexibility is a misunderstood term. According to McGill, there is no relationship between static joint flexibility and dynamic performance. We often think of increasing ROM in simplistic terms: Make muscle longer by stretching it out. There is however much more to take into consideration. Some variables you should consider:

  • The muscles surrounding the joint in question– Do they need to be stretched? If your joint is lacking mobility, it is likely that one or both muscle groups are dysfunctional. One side may be overactive, and the other, underactive. Do you really need to stretch, and thus weaken, an already underactive and weak muscle? Probably not.
  •  Passive tissue restrictions– Fascial adhesions cannot simply be stretched out, but must be manually released by someone qualified, or by yourself, with a tool such as a lacrosse ball, or other SMR tool (anything can be an SMR tool, if you’re creative). There are also training styles which can”train” the fascia to become more flexible through specific exercises.
    Ligaments often should not be stretched, as once they become lax, they will never regain their former elasticity, which could become problematic in terms of stability.
  • Pain threshold– Many of those who necessarily do need to stretch certain muscles may not have the pain threshold high enough to withstand what is necessary, and their mobility will hinder because of lack of intensity while stretching or releasing muscles. Others, with high pain thresholds, may stretch too intensely, which could result in weakness or lack of stability.
  • Neuromuscular modulation of length and tensionWe must never leave the brain out of the equation. There are reflexive structures in our muscles (spindle, golgi tendon organ) that send nerve impulses to the brain, telling it when to contract or relax a muscle in order to prevent the muscle from tearing. This is also a factor that is altered when stretching, as these receptor sites can be become more or less responsive with training. In fact, according to McGill, modifying neuromuscular processes has the largest affect on functional range of motion.

Is there a “best way to stretch”?

Stretching should be performed simultaneously with tension challenge. What does this mean? Not holding a static position, but rather actively moving through the ROM. Think “grande-battements”, using your maximum effort and leg height.

Evidence suggests that passive tissue stretches rarely contribute to increasing ROM, and rather, one should train their tolerance to stretch, allowing them to take the joint to further positions. Passive tissue stiffness and loads do not change at a specific joint angle. In other words: Muscles cannot be stretched to increase ROM, they must be “trained” to grow stronger in a larger ROM. Stretching the passive tissues also reduces stability- A joint lacking passive stiffness requires more muscular contraction to maintain stability.

A recent study suggests that  static stretching caused a deficit in strength, power output, and muscle activation at both slow and fast velocities, and thus practitioners are urged to consider a risk-to-benefit ratio when advising any stretching protocols.

Another study, done by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, found that dynamic stretching could actually increase muscular power:

“Dynamic stretching produced percentage increases in peak knee extension power at both testing velocities that were greater than changes in power after static stretching. The findings suggest that dynamic stretching may increase acute muscular power to a greater degree than static stretching. These findings may have important implications for athletes who participate in events that rely on a high level of muscular power.”

Active flexibility is more important for performance, dance performance in particular, where muscular force is produced through an often extreme range of motion.  Training the joints under tension throughout the full ROM, that mimic the specific ROM of the activity in question, are most beneficial for improving joint mobility. This is part of the reason why anyone who is smart will squat as deep as they safely can- Not only will it activate a larger muscle area leading to an increase in strength, but it can assist with increasing joint mobility, leading to better, deeper squats.

Why is mobility important?

Mobility is extremely  important for dancers, but also for athletes and people in general. I could write you a list  of the many benefits, but I think a visual is more fun and effective, so check out this diagram I made- I call It the mobility cycle, and it outlines the cyclical nature of the positive repercussions which are made possible by having optimal joint mobility:

1)      Optimal mobility allows for optimal stability, strength and neural control of a muscle-tendon unit.  When a joint has  the most mobility it can safely achieve, it’s motor unit will be able to access the maximum amount of muscle fibres. This optimal neural control allows for optimal strength, and stability. This is called…

2)      Symmetry! When mobility, stability, motor control and strength are all at peak function. This naturally creates…

3)      Muscle balance! Muscle balance is achieved when all the many muscles of a joint are equally strong and flexible. One group is not tight and overactive, and the other side is not weak and over-stretched. Muscle balance is synonymous with optimal force production at that joint, as well as…

4)      Decreased risk of injury! Obviously when muscles are balanced, bones, ligaments, and bursae, among other things that can potentially get squished together or pulled on inside the joint, will be able to move freely and safely, in a pain-free way. When one can exercise and move in a way that won’t lead to pain, one can safely achieve…

5)      Optimal range of motion! This happens not necessarily by stretching statically, but by being able to move through the maximum range of motion in a safe, active, way. How does this help the athlete?

6)      Optimal  athletic performance! All the aforementioned combined factors create the optimal athlete and performer. This can then restart the cycle, because when an athlete is always performing optimally, his/her joint mobility will be able to increase even more, or at the very least, the attained optimal mobility can be maintained. The good times just keep on rolling, so to speak.

Mobility is the gift that just keeps on giving.

 

Where people tend to lack mobility

In general, people tend to have the same requirements in terms of where they need mobility and stability the most, but just in varying degrees.  Rather, I should say people require symmetry, but to get there, some places need a little more mobility, as they tend to get a bit “stuck”. The joint by joint approach, popularized my Mike Boyle, shows where most people would benefit working on either mobility or stability :

T-Spine- Mobility
Scapulae– Stability
Shoulders– Mobility
Lumbar spine– Stability
Hips– Mobility
Knees Stability
Ankles– Mobility

Symmetry refers to optimal balance between stability, mobility, strength and motor control. By adding mobility to the places that need it, symmetry can be attained, as long as the other 3 criteria are also taken into consideration as needed.

Dancers require a tremendous amount of symmetry, as the nature of the activity requires consistent balance, awareness, and strength of the whole body.

Where does balance come from? Harmonious mobility and stability.
How is strength created?  From optimal force production- The result of balanced muscles by means of optimal mobility and stability.

So you see, mobility is necessary if you want to get strong. This means that yes, you will at times need to pay close attention to stretching, in a specific, intelligent manner, of course.

How to Gain Instant Mobility at any joint

These guidelines can apply to any given joint, and require a competent assessment of the current condition of the joint through motion analysis:

1)      Strengthen the weak/elongated muscles of the joint.

2)      Release (SMR, ART, FST, ect.) the tight muscles of the joint.

3)      Dynamically stretch the tight muscles.

4)      Full body integrated movement involving the joint in question.

5)      Statically stretch the tight muscles.

 

 Sample Ankle Mobility Routine

Caroline has an extreme limitation in her ankle mobility. To help her with this I’ve put together a simple routine that will take about 20 minutes to do, give or take. It should be noted that Caroline has a potential limitation in her ankle mobility, due to a bone spur in one ankle, which may not be able to be improved through exercise. But it won’t hurt trying! Here’s a new saying I’m trying out- When life gives you vermin, you make vermincelli… I know, it’s not ideal. Pretty lame actually. But I’m tired of hating on lemons! Anywho…

Here is a current picture of Caroline’s ankle mobility:

 This is as far into a “demi-plie” Caroline can go before her heels come off the ground, and she loses her neutral pelvic alignment. Ideally her knees should surpass her toes, and the triangle created should have smaller angles.

 

 

 

 

 

A photo to compare to Renee-Claude, who has pretty decent ankle mobility:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have other clients (including Renee-Claude) perform the same routine outlined below, but Caroline would benefit from it the most if done regularly. Because she is so restricted, I’ve recommended that she do the release exercises every day, 3 times a day at first. For optimal results she should start by doing this routine about 3 times per week. As her mobility improves she can go down to 1 or 2 times per week. Once she has achieved her maximum potential mobility, she can do this routine as needed, when she feels a little tight.

 

 

1)      Self-release plantar fascia and release jaw fascia.

Caroline also suffers from plantar fasciitis which affects the tension in her calves. I’m not sure if this is a “chicken or the egg” situation, and which issue contributes to which more. In any case, tight plantar fascia doesn’t help with the ankle mobility. While your hands are free, this is a good time to do some self release on the jaw fascia. All the fascia in your body is connected. The fascia in your jaw is connected to the fascia in your legs and feet. Caroline (and most people) holds tension in her jaw- She actually has trigger points in her jaw. Doing this will help relieve the tension in her feet, calves and hamstrings.

 

 

2)      Self-release posterior compartment (calf muscles)

Using a hard acupressure, lacrosse ball, or foam roller. Or, if you have money, go see a skilled professional. Go slow. Stop on any particularly painful spots (trigger points) for about 10 seconds or so. Caroline says that when she does this, some trigger points send referral pain all the way up to her head. This does not surprise me as her calves are extremely tight. She has previously told me she sometimes gets tension headaches, and she holds much of her tension in her upper trapezius. I told her to spend about 5 minutes on each calf, but I’m sure she could spend about 20 minutes going through all the trigger points. She’s just that tight.

 

3)     Theraband resisted dorsiflexion

This will help to strengthen the tibialis anterior (muscle of the shin). Strengthening it will also cause it to become shorter, and will allow her to actively reach a smaller dorsiflexion angle (increased ankle ROM).

 

 

4)      Dynamic soleus/achilles tendon stretch 

Dynamically stretching through her full range of motion will help to actively lengthen the now released muscles. Muscles respond better to stretch after they have been released, as they are more relaxed, and less reflexive. Move into the deepest possible lunge before your heel comes off the ground, hold for 5 seconds, release, and repeat several times on each leg.

 

 

 

5)      Static stretch for posterior compartment

If Caroline is not planning on doing anything active, now is a good time to stretch statically. If however, she’s about to squat, or do a dance class, I would say save the static stretching until she’s done. We want to avoid weakening the muscle right before she needs to use it.

 

 

 

After these 5 steps, your ankles will feel nice and loose and you’ll have a larger ROM. You will find, for example, that perhaps your “demi-plie” feels deeper.  The affects of muscles release are only temporary, however, and for optimal results, this must be repeated at a high frequency, several times per week, for mobility to be increased and maintained.

Ankle Mobility and Stability in Dancers

Dancers can sometimes lack dorsiflexion ability due to the high frequency of time spent on their toes, in plantar-flexed position. This is similar to the concept of dancers lacking internal hip rotation ability, as I explain in this post. It is therefore beneficial for them to work on increasing the mobility in their ankles in the opposite direction they work with in class, to maintain balance at the joint.

As found in a recent study on dancer ankle mobility and stability:

“Professional dancers showed a significantly increased plantarflexion of both feet in comparison to all other groups “

By the way, plantarflexion is when you point your feet. There was however no mention of dorsiflexion ROM…

The specific work-related demands of ankle joints did not improve all components of functional ankle stability in professional dancers. Therefore, the inclusion of proprioceptive exercises in the daily training program is highly recommended, aiming to improve functional ankle stability and thus to minimize the risk of ankle injuries.”

As I have already explained, the work dancers do in class is one-directional: Working only in one direction of a range of motion can hinder overall mobility and stability of a joint, thus affecting it’s balance and strength, and overall, whole-body performance. Inclusion of exercises that work the function of the entire joint, not just the extremes of ROM required in a dance setting, is optimal for a dancer’s technical performance and injury prevention.

That’s about all I’m going to say about mobility for now. I am trying a new thing where I keep these articles less than 3000 words (this one’s getting close…). There’s something to say about brevity- In writing AND in the gym. Efficient, abbreviated training styles rouse results; efficient, abbreviated writing rouses readers.

 

References:

Crowe, A, and P Matthews. “The effects of stimulation of static and dynamic fusimotor fibres on the response to stretching of the primary endings of muscle spindles.”Journal of Physiology. (1964): 109-131

Manoel, M,  et al. “Acute Effects of Static, Dynamic, and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Muscle Power in Women.” Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. (2008)

Marek, S, et al. “Acute Effects of Static and Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power Output.” Journal of Athletic Training. (2005): 94–103.

McGill, Stuart. Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance. 4th. Orthopedic Physical Therapy Products, 2006.

Rein, S, et al. “Postural control and functional ankle stability in professional and amateur dancers..” Clinical Neurophisiology. (2011): 1602-10.

Roberston, M. “Addressing & Identifying Muscular Imbalances in the Hip & Pelvis.” Muscle Imbalances Revealed. (2010)

Somerset, D. “Training the Myofascial Lines for Back Injuries”. Muscles Imbalances Revealed. (2010).