IADMS 2016: A Ranty Recap

IADMS 2016: A Ranty Recap

iadmsLast weekend I was at the IADMS conference in Hong Kong to learn from and present to some of the smart people in the dance medicine and science world.

In the picture you’re looking at myself in the middle, along with Lauren Warnecke from Chicago, of Art Intercepts, and Christina D’amico, from Utica New York, of Enhance4Dance (a strength training program for dancers based out of her gym). The studios at the Hong Kong Center for Performing Arts were absolutely beautiful.

As you may have read HERE, one of my movement sessions was cancelled due to typhoon. The typhoon itself turned out to be quite underwhelming, and more annoying that terrifying (not complaining about being safe, though!).

Lauren, Christina, and I collaborated to hold a movement session on strength training applications for dancers (it’s just a shame so few dancers can actually afford to attend the conference!).

Our session should really have been titled, “Here’s how to actually perform the exercises that the research says are beneficial for dancers to do in a way that your body will thank you for”. But that doesn’t roll of the tongue as nice.

I EVEN LEARNED A THING OR TWO…

Always learning a thing or two.

As Julien Smith said, and words I live by, whether deliberately or not, “Aim to be the stupidest one in the room.” That way I’m always learning.

For me, a key take-away from IADMS this year was the realization that the need to cater to the individual needs of dancers, not to generalize that dancers, as a group, should do x, y, and z, is generally lacking recognition in research land, or is simply slow to. After all, this is only the 26th year of IADMS.

We see the big picture quite well now, but the application requires us to zoom in and focus on reaching individuals and communities.

This is already something that I think we all know intuitively, but to see some presentations addressing this made me realize that maybe it isn’t as appreciated as I thought. Too, to see some presentations NOT discuss individual variance in how we should treat and train dancers brought it’s importance even more to the forefront in my mind.

What the heck am I trying to say?

Individual dance genres have their own unique needs. Let’s be wary of saying dance is THIS or THAT. Dancers should do this and that. There is so much variation between each dance style.

Individual individuals have their needs. Based on their injury history, lifestyle, and other factors that make me and you unique from Cindy Lou.

And individual species have their needs (us humans). As a species, we all have (ideally) the same biomechanics and anatomy, regardless of what we do with it. Dancers aren’t some special species…

To the end of every research presentation supporting strength or cross training for dancers, the addendum, “if done in a way that serves each dancer’s individual needs as a member of the human race”, would have been a nice touch.

Though our mechanics and anatomy are essentially the same, I do not move like Cindy because I am not Cindy. I have different set of challenges than Cindy, and this needs to be understood and respected in a training program or treatment strategy. Cindy and I should not be treated like the same person.

Common sense, right?

And then someone said something that pissed some people off

In a generally inspiring way.

There was this one particular presentation that ended by “concluding” that strength training was not good for dancers and other athletes, and that this presenter’s particular way of training only motor control to address individual asymmetries was far superior, and conventional strength training is the cause of many injuries. Therefore, dancers should not strength train (because apparently strength and motor control are two things that can’t be trained concurrently… But that’s a rant for another day).

It was very interesting to observe my own reaction to this statement. I could feel my heart beating a little faster. I looked over to my left and saw Lauren’s eyes widen.

On one hand, my ego and my biases were outraged. What he is saying goes against what I built my career upon. This must be what it feels like to be a podiatrist on an Anatomy in Motion course realizing that he could help people get out of pain without selling orthotics.

But on the other hand, I could completely agree with him. It is true that strength training, if not done in a way that addresses an individual’s needs, and not done in a way that prioritizes quality movement over quantity movement, can be deleterious.

But so can any activity. There’s a rather large “IF” missing.

The use of one word in his conclusion changed everything: “Is”, as in, “strength training IS bad for dancers and athletes”, I think is what ruffled my feathers, and those of my fellow strength coaches in the audience. The use of absolute terms, “strength training causes injuries” pissed a lot of us off. Not only that, they are dangerous to use because not everyone has the sense to think a little deeper about the use of absolute statements and their truth.

But at the same time, his “conclusion” also challenged our thinking. What if he has a point? And I think he does. Not that strength training is bad, but what if this presentation was a wake-up call for some folks in the audience that the way that we’re training dancers to gain strength isn’t serving them?

Are we paying close enough attention to the details?

Do we have enough trainers and coaches in our field that can observe and assess movement and guide dancers safely and effectively through whatever style of cross-training and strength training they decide to do?

On both of the above counts, I don’t think we do. And I’m not saying that I am awesome, either. I’m still learning, and the more I learn the more I realize that I know very, very little about movement and strength training.

I think our favourite presenter’s core message is significant: Dancers and athletes should be treated as individuals, not as a group, and should be assessed and given exercises that are specific to their needs.

This is something that I firmly believe. No, it’s not just a belief. It is the truth as far as I can tell. And it is why I feel lately that writing this blog as a “do this exercise to get this result and be awesome” doesn’t sit right with me ethically, because what might be extraordinarily useful for one individual at one particular moment in time could be exactly what another person should not do.

And this core message- address the individual and don’t clump dancers together as one group with only one set of needs, is one reason why Lauren, Christina and I felt strongly that our movement session had value.

Here’s what we did: We simply broke down three important fundamental movements: Hip hinge (aka deadlift), squat, and push-up. We went through the technique. We troubleshooted. We demoed what to do and what not to do. We hoped it was useful… (and later we learned that it was!).

It wasn’t rocket surgery, but it was info that we hoped dancers, dance sceintists, and dance teachers could appreciate and use.

“Here are the exercises the research tells us dancers can use to their benefit, but most importantly, this is an opportunity to explore them in your body, ask questions about what you’re experiencing so that you can feel confident doing them on your own, and know how to respect your body’s limits while doing them.”

That important experiential stuff that many sciency, medical folks might not have the time for or appreciate as often as we’d like.

In fact, as I encouraged one such sciency-guy to “experience the movement in your own body” before bombarding me with questions on the supporting “evidence” for what I was presenting, he told me I was being too philosophical, too spiritual, too “yoga” (whatever that means). Well, what if what’s missing from dance medicine and science IS a little bit of philosophy, a little bit of experiencing, a little bit of spirit, and a little less intellectualizing and over-analyzing?

But THAT is the difference between strength training that hurts, and strength training that serves a useful purpose for performance.

More often than not, it’s not the what, but the how. It’s understanding the experience you’re having with it. And that is not something easily taught, or easily proven with evidence.

I don’t think we can measure someone’s experience of their understanding of their body in motion- An important skill required for dancing, strength training, yoga-ing, and thriving as a human, whatever you decide to do. And yes, it is a skill, meaning that you can learn and practice to do this better.

And it’s a shame that information can be interpreted in the way that the presenter who thought strength training was bad had done.

Let’s finish that sentence.

Strength training CAN be bad IF…

And even if it does hurt someone, is that not a learning experience? Is that not why this blog I write even exists?

Everything serves, even when it temporarily hurts…

Thank you IADMS 2016 for challenging my thinking, and for your tremendous support of the two movement sessions I actually was able to present. Until next year… Hoping for no typhoons in Houston.

 

 

What Does “Pull-Up” Really Mean, Anyway?

For the dancer and the strength training enthusiast, the term “pull-up” has entirely different definitions.

Also, “pull-up” means something vastly different  to the cross-fitter than it does to the strength training camp.

And for those who think that kipping doesn’t have to stop at pull-ups, why not “kip” everything!!?

But as much as kipping squats makes me laugh, let me get back to the point at hand.

What the hell does it mean to “pull-up” in dance class?? Has your ballet teacher ever yelled at you to “pull up”? Yeah, mine too.

Pulling up is something that I could never figure out. I knew it had something to do with engaging my core muscles, and trying to get taller, but I just couldn’t find an image that worked for me. Not until I started heavy squatting anyway… And then it became abundantly clear.

Now I always tout that deadlifts are the ultimate exercise for dancers to to teach them how to engage their glutes, and find neutral spine and a lot of other really great things. Actually I dedicated an entire post to the deadlift a while back.

However it wasn’t until recently that I realized what the squat brought to the table in terms of teaching the dancer an “old trick” in a new setting. This re-learning of dance concepts through weightlifting is something I think is essential if you have reached a plateau in your technique, and need something to bring you to the next level.

Enter, Le Squat.

Heavy squats taught me to “pull-up”

Like I said before, I knew that pulling up had something to do with my abdominals and lengthening my spine, but in a dance class, you can sneak your way through  without necessarily pulling up the whole time. Sure, you won’t do exceptionally well- You’ll probably fall off your balance more often than not, and you won’t be terribly pleased with yourself. But you’ll make it out alive. It’s not like you’ll get crushed under a heavy iron bar that weighs more than you.

When you put a loaded, heavy-ass barbell on your back, engaging your abdominals is non negotiable- If you don’t “pull-up” as you go down, you WILL get hurt.

This is one of the reasons that the squat is a great learning experience for a dancer. As you are performing the eccentric (descending) portion of the squat, you will learn very quickly, by necessity, what it means to pull up through your abdominals. You need to  “go up as you go down”- Brace the abdominals, and try to put more space between your individual vertebrae to try to resist the weight of the barbell crunching your spine. On the way up, you need to hold onto that feeling, but with even more power, because now you’re also fighting gravity. Ohhh that gravity.

Here’s a video of me squatting yesterday  (and by the way, 150lbs 4 times is a personal best for me. Just sayin’, I’m pretty pleased). If you have a keen eye, you can kind of see how as I descend before each rep, I “pull-up”, just like I would need to in ballet class if I were doing a plie, for example. A really, really heavy plie…

Also a pretty sweet song in the background. One of my favorite Chili Peppers tunes, from in my opinion, one if their better albums.

But anyway.

There ya have it. Deadlifting is awesome for dancers, but so are squats.

If you’d like to learn more about deadlifting and squat technique, and how to prepare your body for it, check out my resource, Dance Stronger.