You know that taking good care of your body is key to dancing your best. However, there's a lot of questionable health info out there, and certain behaviors that might benefit other people can backfire for dancers. Is it time to update your routine? We asked the experts.
Using Fitness Trackers
Apps that track your calories and exercise can lead to an unhealthy relationship with your body, says Monika Saigal, a registered dietitian who specializes in nutrition for dancers and in the prevention and management of eating disorders. These tools may actually underestimate your energy needs and cause you to ignore important internal cues.
The fix: Listen to your body, and see an expert when needed. A registered dietitian can help you learn intuitive eating strategies, and give you meal plans for when a busy schedule interferes with your natural rhythms.
Always Pushing Your Shoulders Down
Yes, you've heard "shoulders down!" time and again. "Pulling your shoulder blades back and down when lifting your arms overhead has long been an aesthetic preference," says Paul Ochoa, physical therapist and owner of F Squared Physical Therapy in New York City. The problem? Many dancers carry this posture over to their cross-training, which could lead to shoulder issues down the line.
Ochoa points out that "when your shoulders are in full flexion, your arms completely overhead, it's perfectly normal for your entire shoulder girdle to rise up into a small shoulder shrug and to have some shoulder blade protraction." Using weights or another form of resistance, such as lifting a partner, requires a different approach than just lifting your arm overhead without that weight.
The fix: Know your context. In class, you can work on maintaining an elongated neck. When you're cross-training, lifting other dancers or doing inversions, says Ochoa, let the shoulders move through their full range of motion.
Doing Body-weight Exercises to Exhaustion
Many dancers fear "bulking up" and assume they should stick to body-weight exercises, says Ochoa. But high repetitions using just your body weight or very light weights may not yield the strength results many dancers are looking for.
The fix: When you're looking to get stronger, train with resistance that will challenge the large muscle groups in your legs, chest, back and shoulders. And don't worry about bulking up. "Nothing that makes up 10 percent of your training is going to drastically change how you look," says Ochoa. "But it will enhance your dancing."
When determining "how heavy" or "how hard" an exercise should be, it's important to take into account your past experience with resistance training and your reaction to the first several sessions, so you can incorporate the right amount of recovery time. Ochoa also recommends that you familiarize yourself with a "rate of perceived exertion" scale, which ranges from none at all to maximum effort.
With beginners, Ochoa generally starts with a rep count of 10 to 12 and an exertion rate about equal to a conversational run. After weeks of consistent training, he will slowly transition dancers to different, more complex movements and more challenging resistance.
Switching to Almond, Coconut or Oat Milk
Dairy gets a bad rap, but it provides vital nutrients, including protein, vitamin D and calcium. "A major downside of most plant milks is their lack of protein," says Saigal. Some unfortified plant-based milks also lack calcium and vitamin D.
The fix: If you need to switch due to a dietary restriction, find a substitute with levels of protein, calcium and vitamin D at least equivalent to dairy milk. "Soy milk and pea-protein–based milks are usually good choices," says Saigal.