Working Out With Crystaldawn Bell

April 30, 2015

The Robert Moses’ Kin dancer ramps up with high-intensity interval training.

It takes stamina to keep up with Crystaldawn Bell. As a member of San Francisco’s Robert Moses’ Kin, the 29-year-old modern dancer brings a refined athleticism to Moses’ explosive choreography, and also performs in side projects with cutting-edge local troupe Project Agora.

To develop the endurance she needs, Bell incorporates eight weeks of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into her pre-season routine. HIIT workouts entail repeated 5- to 10-minute sets of cardio, at a pace that increases minute by minute toward your maximum heart rate.

“Gradually going from a steady aerobic pace to short sprints of high-intensity cardio really increases your endurance,” explains Bell, who is also a certified fitness trainer with the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association. “It really helps when I’m in season—my muscles last longer and I don’t fatigue as quickly.” Studies show that HIIT also burns more calories per session than low- and moderate-intensity cardio, and the burn lasts for a longer time post-workout.

To gain maximum strength without overtaxing her body, Bell balances her cardio workouts with her dance schedule. “It’s a gradual buildup,” Bell says. “As I’m progressing in Robert’s rehearsals, I’m also progressing in HIIT.”

The workouts are quick—just 15 to 30 minutes—but don’t be fooled. “It’s hard,” Bell admits. “That’s why I only do it when I’m training for a show. Otherwise, I’m like, Ugh!” But Bell swears that the results are worth the effort. “As dancers, we have to know how to prolong our endurance onstage,” she says. “A lot of that is just being smart about your energy, but you can also train for it with HIIT.”

Above: Bell uses her breath to judge the intensity of her workouts. Photo by RJ Muna, Courtesy Moses.


Bell does HIIT on a treadmill, but her workout is easy to adapt to the elliptical, swimming, jumping rope or running outside. Raise or lower the intensity to suit your body, or add incline for an extra challenge.

Weeks 1–3:
Three 5-minute sets, for a total of 15 minutes per session. Each set includes 2 minutes at 5.5 mph, 1 minute at 6.5 mph, 1 minute at 7 mph, then 1 minute at 6 mph.

Weeks 4–5:
Add a fourth 5-minute set, for a total of 20 minutes.

Weeks 6–8:
Three 7-minute sets, for a total of 21 minutes. Each set includes 3 minutes at 5.5 mph, 1 minute at 6.5 mph, 1 minute at 7 mph, 1 minute 7.5 mph and 1 minute at 6 mph.

Advanced HIIT:
Bell works her way up to a killer workout of three 10-minute sets: 6 minutes at 6 mph, followed by 1 minute each at 7 mph, 8 mph and 9 mph, then 1 minute at 7 mph.

Tips from the Trainer

1. Warm up with 10 minutes
on the elliptical or bike to get your body ready for the intensity. Finish with a cool-down to ease your heart rate back to normal.

2. Follow your breath.
“If you can talk effortlessly during the first few minutes, you’re not working hard enough,” Bell explains. “In the middle minutes, it’s hard to talk. At the highest intensity, I can’t talk—all my energy is going into just staying upright!”

3. Limit HIIT to 2–3 sessions per week.
“Your body needs time to recover,” she points out, “and rest is actually when your muscles get stronger.”

Power Snack

To boost the benefits of HIIT, Bell snacks on protein after every workout—almonds, peanut butter and hard-boiled eggs are favorites. “Protein helps me to recover and build strength.”