Recovery routines have gotten much more elaborate recently: We use high-tech gadgets to reduce soreness, take fitness classes dedicated to rest, wear trackers that monitor our sleep.It isn't just a fad. Recovery is a key variable in the "performance equation," says Andrea Kozai, who studies exercise science and dance as a doctoral researcher at the University of Pittsburgh. Exercise stresses the muscles, causing small tears that only get rebuilt during rest. "You really can't get to optimal performance without both exercise and recovery," she says.
Start With Sleep
When you reach a deep stage of sleep, your body produces hormones that accelerate tissue repair. In other words, you literally build strength in your sleep. Research has also shown that sleep is a major determinant of "injury resistance," especially in young athletes, says Dr. Lyle J. Micheli, attending physician for Boston Ballet. Those who are sleep-deprived are more prone to injuries.
Eat to Replenish
Both protein and carbohydrates are essential to recovery, explains Yasi Ansari, a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified specialist in sports dietetics in California. Carbs restore your glycogen levels, which can get broken down for energy during exercise, and protein helps you rebuild your muscle tissue.
Eat something with at least a two-to-one ratio of carbs to protein 30 to 60 minutes after dancing, when your body rapidly restores its glycogen stores, says Ansari. And make fluids a priority, since hydration helps transport nutrients through the body.
"Sometimes you're training to improve your skills and fitness, and then there are periods when you are trying to peak for performance," Kozai says. The time you spend recovering and dancing should vary significantly depending on your goal. As a show approaches, gradually reduce the hours you spend dancing (but maintain the intensity), Kozai suggests. "You'll keep your skills and fitness, but won't be so tired," she says. "You'll have energy to really devote to making it the best performance."
This strategy, called tapering, lets your body recover without sacrificing technique. "Be as aggressive with scheduling your rest as you are with scheduling your training," Kozai says.
Try a Boutique Fitness Recovery Class
Are stretch and recovery classes worth it for dancers? Any type of cross-training that addresses imbalances in a safe and controlled way can help you in the dance studio, says freelance dancer and NASM-certified trainer Michaela McGowan.
"As dancers, we're not working our bodies evenly all the time," she says. While the movement offered in recovery classes may not be tailored to dancers, they can help you recalibrate your body and find a neutral zone to work from.
Invest in The Right Gear
Normatec Compression Gear
How it works: Normatec provides a pulsing massage pattern to targeted body parts that improves circulation to speed up muscle recovery and reduce soreness. Wearing the boots or sleeves is "like getting a systematic massage," Micheli says.
Though cost-prohibitive for most ($995 for the leg system), this gear is ideal when you have limited time to devote to recovery, like on a two-show day, says Kozai. Micheli says Boston Ballet's Normatec devices are often in use during busy times.
How it works: Unlike most wearable trackers that measure your activity, WHOOP tracks metrics that count toward your recovery, such as sleep quality and resting heart rate. The corresponding app places you in a recovery "zone" and makes suggestions. However, the wrist strap collects data 24/7 to provide an accurate analysis, which could interfere with costumes or partnering.
How they work: These tools are shaped like a drill, with a soft attachment that vibrates to provide percussive pressure to your muscles. Like foam rollers, massage guns break up adhesions in muscle tissue that contribute to tightness and soreness. Massage guns are great for targeting spots that you can't reach with your hands, like your back and shoulders, says McGowan.