#TopTipTuesday

Fuel effectively

Think about the energy requirements that you need for the day and fuel up effectively. Try consuming complex carbohydrates for sustained energy, protein for effective recovery, and plenty of fruits and vegetables for overall well-being.

Also try to avoid sugary snacks and energy drinks which will provide sugar rushes, particularly in the evening as these can prevent you from gaining a good nights sleep.

Today’s Top Tip is from Charlotte Tomlinson, SiDI Associate and Registered Provider.

#TopTipTuesday

In the mood for dancing?…

Our mood, state of mind and particularly stress levels can all contribute to susceptibility to injury by affecting our ability to concentrate on dancing with correct technique and execution.

Try to focus your attention while working, avoid unimportant distractions and take regular breaks to relax.

Today’s Top Tip is from SiDI co-founder Sonia Rafferty.

Sonia is a dance scientist, teacher, performer and choreographer, and co-author of Safe Dance Practice an Applied Dance Science Perspective, our core text.

She has been a member of the Dance Faculty at TrinityLaban  since 1990 and is now a Senior Lecturer, teaching dance technique, performance, choreography and dance health and wellbeing, so she has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to useful tips.

#TopTipTuesday

Relax and get a good nights sleep

A dance artists life can be hectic! Try to take some time out to relax and allow both mind and body some effective recovery time.

This can be done by relaxing in a warm bath, or by using simple meditation techniques such as sitting or laying down and observing the breath. Doing this in the evening can help in gaining that all important good nights sleep.

Today’s Top Tip is from Charlotte Tomlinson, Associate, SiDI provider and reviewer.

#TopTipTuesday

Teachers and choreographers warm up…..

Don’t forget to do your own warm-up and cool down before and after you lead a session to protect your own body. This is often the last thing we have time for but paying attention to your own preparation and recovery will help you to keep your body healthy, balanced and available for work!

Today’s Top Tip is from Sonia Rafferty, joint founder of SiDI and co author of Safe Dance Practice book.

#SiDI says

Wearing socks in the dance studio might not be a good idea…

The interaction of dance footwear with the floor is important: the sole of the shoe and the surface of the floor need to complement one another to avoid injury.

Similarly, working barefoot needs to have a sympathetic floor. Although many dancers love wearing socks for comfort and often think wearing them allows better technical work through the feet, it’s best not to always rely on socks. A large number of dancers regularly practicing in socks, will effectively polish the dance floor surface, resulting in slippery patches.

There is also an increased risk of tripping and slipping when wearing socks as they affect the amount of traction gained from the floor.

Ideally, the use of socks for everyday practice should be avoided, especially for inexperienced dancers and beginners.

#SiDISays

#TopTipTuesday

Start your day the right way….

Make sure you start your day hydrated by drinking a glass of water when you wake up in the morning. Being hydrated can make you feel more alert and energised and reduce potential injury risk from fatigue.

Don’t forget a good breakfast too so that both mind and body can be ready for the day ahead!

Today’s Top Tip came from our Provider, Reviewer and Associate Charlotte Tomlinson.

#SiDI Says

Remember in this cold weather the temperature in your dance studio is important so that your dancers do their best.

To make sure that dancers can work efficiently and safely, the temperature of a dance studio should be around 18° to 24° degrees Celsius.  An ideal temperature would be around 20°-21° degrees Celsius.  This will help dancers to avoid either overheating or not being able to warm-up and stay warm efficiently, both of which can contribute to ill effects and injury.

Make sure that all your dancers keep their warm up clothes on longer in this cold weather so that muscles can be fully warm.

#SiDISays

Stretching by Guest Blogger and SiDI Provider Janine Bryant

Guidelines for Stretching

– Warm up first. Never stretch a cold muscle!
– By warming up first, the delivery of oxygen and nutrients are increased thus preparing muscles for strenuous activity.
– Warming up should not be too tiring, but just enough to begin perspiring.
– Usually a light jog for 5-7 minutes is sufficient.

This tip connects the idea of aging well and dance career longevity to current studio practices. The idea that, what we do now in the dance studio directly affects how our bodies age and perform later, is one that I often talk about within the bounds of my own research on aging and range of motion (ROM).

Perhaps one of the most controversial subjects for dancers and those who train them is the subject of stretching. Which types of stretching to do and when, during an active day, is a conversation happening across the sports industry offering multiple perspectives that often conflict.
For dancers, most of us have developed as artist-athletes without adequate information on this subject. Many can recall entering the dance studio, dropping the huge bags and plopping down on the floor into the widest second position the legs could make and forcing chests down. This practice and others like it still occur in studios everywhere. However, there is a growing hunger, thankfully, for more adequate and up-to-date information being driven by new and old generations of dancers alike who are also scholars and athletes.

While increasing ROM is sometimes considered a task for younger dancers, the idea of increasing or simply maintaining ROM as a dancer ages is sometimes abandoned because the pain of stretching is too great. Further, dancers who have sustained serious injuries due to overworking and overstretching during their active careers will find it difficult to participate in a stretching program, especially if those stretching activities only include the traditional ‘hold and stretch’ movements, more aptly known as static stretching. Complicating things further is the fact that many dancers are have ‘hypermobility syndrome’, which can increase the need for strength training in addition to a stretch program to ensure adequate musculoskeletal balance. The order is tall but dancers, who are by nature high achievers, are up to the task!

All of this begs the questions: What types of stretching are there and which ones are the most effective for increasing and maintaining ROM? And, more importantly, why is stretching a cold muscle bad? These are great questions, the answer for which every dancer old and young would benefit from knowing.

First, let’s take a look at the different types of stretching:
Some of these terms are commonly confused and misused.

Static Stretching

Static stretching means a stretch is held in a challenging but comfortable position for a period of time, usually somewhere between 10 to 30 seconds. Static stretching is the most common form of stretching found in general fitness and is considered safe and effective for improving overall flexibility. However, many experts consider static stretching much less beneficial than dynamic stretching for improving range of motion for functional movement, including sports and activities for daily living.

Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching means a stretch is performed by moving through a challenging but comfortable range of motion repeatedly, usually 10 to 12 times. (for dancers, leg swings, fall and recovery activities, etc.) Although dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination than static stretching (because of the movement involved), it is gaining favor among athletes, coaches, trainers, and physical therapists because of its apparent benefits in improving functional range of motion and mobility in sports and activities for daily living.
Note that dynamic stretching should not be confused with old-fashioned ballistic stretching (remember the bouncing toe touches from PE classes?). Dynamic stretching is controlled, smooth, and deliberate, whereas ballistic stretching is uncontrolled, erratic, and jerky. Although there are unique benefits to ballistic stretches, they should be done only under the supervision of a professional because, for most people, the risks of ballistic stretching far outweigh the benefits.

Passive Stretching

Passive stretching means you’re using some sort of outside assistance to help you achieve a stretch. This assistance could be your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With passive stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the external force to hold you in place. You don’t usually have to work very hard to do a passive stretch, but there is always the risk that the external force will be stronger than you are flexible, which could cause injury.

Active Stretching

Active stretching means you’re stretching a muscle by actively contracting the muscle in opposition to the one you’re stretching. You do not use your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. With active stretching, you relax the muscle you’re trying to stretch and rely on the opposing muscle to initiate the stretch. Active stretching can be challenging because of the muscular force required to generate the stretch but is generally considered lower risk because you are controlling the stretch force with your own strength rather than an external force.

Stretching Techinque

Every stretch is static or dynamic and passive or active, as illustrated in the examples shown in table 1.1 above.
You might hear or read about other techniques and terms used in stretching (especially by coaches and athletes), such as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching. PNF techniques attempt to alter neural input thereby influencing muscle extensibility to improve flexibility. One common version, contract/relax, utilizes a 10-second contraction of the muscle followed by 10-seconds of relaxation, during which the same muscle is passively stretched. This procedure is generally executed three times and a static stretch of 30 seconds or more is added at the end. PNF techniques can be particularly useful for dancers having difficulty improving their flexitility.{2}

Most of the stretches you see and do are likely static-passive stretches. Static-passive stretches are the most common stretches and the easiest to perform. If executed with good technique, these stretches are effective in improving flexibility and range of motion.
However, most experts now agree that although static-passive stretches have many benefits, it’s best to do more dynamic-active stretches. Because dynamic-active stretches require you to use and build your own strength while moving through the stretch, they are more helpful for improving functional movements used in everyday life and in sports. In addition, because dynamic-active stretches are movement oriented, these stretches can help generate heat, which can make the muscles more pliable. Finally, evidence suggests that because dynamic-active stretches require muscle activation and contraction, the muscles being stretched are triggered to relax even more than they might during a static-passive stretch, thereby reducing the risk of injury while increasing the functional benefit.

This does not mean you should avoid or minimize static-passive stretching. Just be aware that there appear to be quite a few advantages and benefits to dynamic-active stretching and that you should include these types of stretches as often as is comfortably and conveniently possible for you. {1}

Experts are also recommending that dynamic stretches be performed BEFORE the first plie in class or prior to a performance and that static active and static passive stretching is best for recovery at the end of the dance day. Stretching cold muscles predisposes dancer-athletes to power loss and injury. Solomon et al suggest a warm up for 5 to 10 minutes before starting flexibility training. The resultant elevation in body temperature will make stretching more effective and comfortable and reduce the possibility of injury. Room temperature should be warm and focus on correct form and alignment stressed, as benefits of any exercise are greatly diminished when performed improperly as risk of injury increases. {2}

Other things to consider: Dancers who are naturally flexible should be monitored closely during stretching activities for form and hypermobility tendencies. Dancers desiring to simply maintain ROM could also benefit from bone-building resistance training alongside ROM flexibility training. Dancers in the midst of an active performance career need to time their flexibility programs wisely during their dance day with consideration for room temperature, strength preservation and injury prevention.

Until next time, friends, dance healthy, long, strong, and warm up before stretching!

Janine Bryant

1. Blahnik, J., Full Body Flexibility, Second Edition, Human Kinetics, 2011.
2. Solomon, R., Solomon, J.,Minton, S.C., Preventing Dance Injuries, Second Edition, Human Kinetics, 2005.

So What is Safe and Healthy Dance Practice?

Obviously, we at SiDI use those terms all the time, but what are we actually talking about?  Are we the health and safety police?  Do we want to spoil dancers’ fun?  Do we want to stop people taking artistic and creative risk?  Definitely not!

Lots of people think of “health and safety” as a set of policies that are put in place to protect workers – necessary but also maybe restrictive and stifling.  But healthy and safe dance practice is so much more than industry rules and regulations.  It’s the best way to reduce injury risk and to enhance performance.

There’s no getting round the fact that dancers get injured. Injury rates are high in our profession.  So what can we do to minimise the risk of becoming injured without limiting the scope of what we want to do as creative, imaginative beings?  How can we apply new knowledge to optimise performance and help dancers get the most out of their dancing?  In the 21st century, there is now the research potential and the technology to move beyond tradition and thoroughly interrogate how we dance, looking at more effective ways to approach learning and practice.

This isn’t just about making sure that we have a safe, warm space to work in with a good, supportive floor and knowing where the first aid kit and the fire exits can be found.  The principles of safe practice are more substantial than these simple fundamentals.  They deal with the interplay of environmental, physical, and psychological factors that can have an impact on how effective our dancing can be and should be applied to all dance styles, all levels of ability or participation, and all age groups.

We can benefit from the greater understanding of different dancing bodies and how the needs of dancers change with their development, level of participation and the stylistic demands of an ever-growing range of genres.

If our own postural anomalies, or changes due to the specific demands of our dance style, result in deviations from anatomically effective alignment, we need to recognise this and address any possible negative effects.

We now know more about physiologically effective ways to warm-up and cool down, when and how best to stretch to recover and improve flexibility, and how to support our bodies with proper nutrition and hydration.

By understanding how to structure dance sessions from a physiological perspective, we can enhance dancers’ learning and experience, making it not only safer but more productive.

Communicating effectively will help to nurture a positive environment so that all dancers are respected and safeguards can be put in place.

Finally, those health and safety guidelines are important to protect people, including knowing how to prepare the environment in which we dance and to mediate risk with injury documentation and insurance.

SiDI says……

The more we know about safe and healthy practice, the more we’ll know about how the body (and mind) works, understand how much to push, be aware of why and how we need to recover and ultimately promote enjoyment, satisfaction and longevity in dancing.

By considering safe and health dance practice principles, we will be able to:

  • take into account the specific needs of different groups of dancing bodies
  • include a physiologically sound warm-up and cool down in our practice
  • recognise good functional alignment appropriate to our specific dance style and be able to strive towards it without pushing beyond individual capacity
  • understand why, when and how the different types of stretching can be used productively
  • encourage fit, well-nourished and healthy bodies that are ready to dance
  • balance workload and rest in our classes, rehearsal and schedules
  • foster mutually respectful relationships between dancers and dance leaders, using clear communication to ensure instruction and feedback is framed positively and appropriately.

How can dancers gain core stability safely AND effectively?

The term “core stability” is used frequently in the media and fitness world and increasingly in dance training, but what does it actually mean for dancers and why do they need it?

The core is generally thought of as the centre of the body (the part between the sternum and the knees) and stability is about gaining control of the spine and pelvis to support torso movement and coordinate the action of the limbs. A good functional core helps to connect the upper and lower body in order to produce a refined and efficient dynamic alignment when dancing.

To engage the core effectively, dancers need to understand the relevant groups of muscles that are involved and the way they can be accessed. Sometimes instructional cues and execution are unfocused and dancers might spend a lot of time on supplemental exercises that are not as helpful in increasing their core stability as they could be. Dancers do not only need to know which muscles to locate but clear instruction on how to find them. Giving the direction simply to “use your core” in class is not very beneficial!

Rather than simply seeing the core as the front of the body (abdominals), it might be helpful to think of it as a cylinder, incorporating the back muscles and also the diaphragm at the top and the pelvic floor at the bottom. To stabilize the core requires a team of muscles, each one playing a role in organising and coordinating the body. “Global” muscles support mobility and effective orientation in the spine – these have been identified as the rectus abdominis, the lateral fibers of the external obliques, the psoas major and the erector spinae muscles. “Local” muscles, including the multifidi and the quadratus lumborum, help with inter-segmental stability because of their short length and their attachment to the vertebrae. Primarily, the transversus abdominis (TA), and the multifidi are seen as key, as they have been shown to be the first muscles to contract in order to stabilize the movement of an extremity, but through their connection to the thoracolumbar fascia, the internal obliques additionally contribute to the cylindrical support. The diaphragm and pelvic floor also play their part in spinal and pelvic stability while helping to reduce the strain on the abdominal and back muscles.

To improve the core, it is important to train all of the contributing muscles collectively – inefficient local muscles can cause compensation of the global muscles, negatively affecting overall stability.  The local muscles must be able to maintain isometric contractions continuously, working at lower grade intensities, but in a coordinated way. For the general population, there are often recommendations made for sit-ups and crunches to improve the look of the abdominals (see the “ripped” six packs advertised by fitness magazines!). However, this emphasis solely on the superficial abdominals, using repeated flexion of the spine and hip joints when performing sit-up exercises can often lead to overwork and imbalance without achieving functional efficiency. Instead, it has been suggested that a combination of endurance, strength, power and proprioception training is the most effective way to achieve the synergetic motor patterns that will benefit dancers. This can be done using dynamic exercises that challenge balance and use resistance to maintain control against the disruption of stability.

SiDI says……

  • While research suggests that core stability work is effective in enhancing general fitness and helping to prevent lower back pain, training should avoid exercises that place increased compressive loads on the lumbar spine.
  • Be aware that an emphasis solely on the superficial abdominals can negatively affect the strength and flexibility relationship between the front and back of the torso, potentially leading to muscle imbalance and back pain.
  • To work safely and effectively, dancers should avoid routinely engaging in overly strenuous abdominal workouts and instead try to identify the weaker links in their combined core musculature, both local and global, to gain better dynamic control.

 

Bibliography

Abdallah A., Beltagi A. (2014).  Effect of core stability exercises on trunk muscle balance in healthy adult individuals. World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, International Science Index 89, International Journal of Medical, Health, Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Engineering 8(5), 231-237.

Behm, D.G. & Colado Sanchez, J. C. (2013). Instability resistance training across the exercise continuum. Sports Health, Nov, 5(6): 500–503.

Kline, J.B., Krauss, J.R., Maher, S.F. & Xianggui, Q. (2013). Core strength using a combination of home exercises and a dynamic sling system for the management of low back pain in pre-professional ballet dancers: A case series. Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 17(1), 24-33.

Philips, C. (2005). Stability in dance training.  Journal of Dance Medicine and Science, 9(1), 24-28.

Quin, E., Rafferty, S. & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe dance practice: An applied dance science perspective. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Sharrock, C., Cropper, J, Mostad, J., Johnson, M. & Malone, T. (2011). A pilot study of core stability and athletic performance: Is there a relationship? International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, Jun; 6(2): 63–74.

Simmel, L.  (2014). Dance medicine in practice: Anatomy, injury prevention, training. London, England: Routledge.