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Cross-Training so You can Dance More; Not Less

With cross-training becoming more accepted these days in the dance world, it’s important to remember what you are cross-training for. There are many methods of cross-training out there from cardio, yoga, Pilates, to different forms of strength training that dancers are jumping on in an effort to improve. But, the question is - are those methods building you up; enhancing your body and your art? Or are they detracting from it? Are they just another form of self-punishment that you are adding to your routine? If you aren’t careful, these things have the potential to break your body down faster and prevent you from putting your all into your art.

The main thing to remember is that not all exercise will give you the same results. Logging in 30 minutes of strength training versus 30 minutes of running will impact your body very differently. Especially as a dancer, you have to keep in mind what your actual goals are. If you want to improve your ballet game, you don’t want to exercise in a way that is just going to burn through your energy and leave you exhausted. You want to do something that will leave you stronger in the long run.

If you find that you have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning and push down that daunting, nauseating feeling in the pit of your stomach when you think about the physical demands of your day, that’s a sign something is amiss with your routine. When you feel weighed down and worn-out in ballet class, unable to use your full facility because your body feels so “heavy” that you can barely drag it through the combinations, this is another indication that your training is out of sync with your goals. 

Just because cross-training is becoming more accepted doesn't mean you should just throw yourself into anything. Weigh the options carefully. There has to be a method behind the madness, otherwise it's just madness.

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You must continually ask yourself for what purpose are you doing cross-training? Are you working out just to work out; because your bunhead mentality tells you the more punishment you inflict on yourself, the more deserving you will be of success? Guess what - this thought doesn’t play out in reality. Sure, you have to work hard and hustle to achieve success…but, you also have to work smart. If your goal is to be the best dancer possible, you have to make sure your training constantly supports that goal. Here are a couple of lessons I’ve learned along the way with my training experience. As tough as these lessons were to learn because I had been practicing the opposite for so long, they were keys to getting to the next level with my dancing.

A Little Goes a Long Way

There's something you should realize about working out. It's a stress on the body. It's not all good, healthy, positive results. There are also damaging aspects to it. Besides the potential for acute injuries, your body is subjected to wear and tear - cartilage and joint capsules are worn down, post-workout inflammation occurs, hormonal responses such as elevated cortisol can create problems with sleep, fat gain, inhibiting the immune system, among others if kept in an elevated state for too long. It's not all fun and games. The key to exercise is doing enough to cause sufficient stress on the body to stimulate a rebuilding process (supercompensation effect) but to not go past that point where you inflict unnecessary damage on your body. It's at this point that you have to let your body start the recovery process versus continually pushing and breaking it down.

Truth be told, when it comes to cross-training, a little goes a long way. Especially as a dancer who has to use her body all the time in class and rehearsals, it can be far too easy to overdo it with workouts. Plus, as a dancer, you are so used to pushing yourself that you can very easily go overboard. If you’ve found yourself feeling sluggish and heavy in class and rehearsals for days, weeks, months at a time, you are most likely overtraining. Once you dial the training back a notch and let your body recover, your full power will return, and you'll feel lighter than ever in your dancing (provided you are doing the right kind of cross-training).

Recovery is Undervalued

In the same regard that more exercise is not always better, recovery is so under-valued in the ballet world. Most dancers are walking around in a constant state of semi-burnout. You’ve been told that you need to do more to improve - take more classes, add in Pilates, jump on the elliptical after rehearsal, ect. And, you've been pushing through the exhaustion for so long that it just feels normal to drag yourself through the gauntlet everyday. But, no one ever talks about the importance of recovery and taking care of your body. What a concept.

The traditional bunhead mindset teaches you to push through and sacrifice yourself for your art. So it leads to a question of identity if you let yourself rest. Thoughts like “you don’t want it bad enough” or “you don’t deserve to get ahead if you aren’t punishing yourself hard enough” pop into your head the minute you even think about backing off. But, ironically, these thoughts can be the very thing limiting your success.

This is where connecting with your Bad Girl Ballerina mindset can be super beneficial. Break the mold and fight against what everyone else has been telling you to do and what you think everyone wants you to do. Listen to your body. At a certain point, you have to face reality and analyze if what you are doing is actually bringing you success or taking you further from your goals. Just because tradition says to do things one way doesn't mean that is the best way for your body.

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Once you learn to value recovery, your body will reap all the benefits from your training (provided you’ve been doing the right kind of cross-training...noticing a pattern here?). You'll be amazed at how much extra energy and power you will feel in your body just from the addition of a little extra strength and self-care. It's one of those feelings that once you feel know in your bones that this is your optimal state...this is how your body was meant to perform.

It’s this delicate balance between doing too much and not enough that is the secret behind Bulletproof Ballerina workouts. The concept of training for short but intense durations with this body-sensitive style once or twice-a-week provides enough stimulus to make real improvements to your dancing, while still leaving you with enough energy to actually dance. Being that it fulfills all the cross-training requirements you need, you won't have to worry about squeezing in a bunch of extra exercise at the end of a long day of rehearsals anymore, which means you can devote more time to letting your body recover and rebuild itself for your next bout of dancing.

My point is that at the end of the day…we are dancers. The reason we want to do cross-training is not to become the best swimmer or most hardcore lifter…but to help us dance better. So, whatever method you choose, make sure it is programmed around recovery and enhancing your ballet, not detracting from it. The Bulletproof Ballerina formula finds the sweet spot between doing enough work to get stronger, but not so much as to burn you out. In essence, it is cross-training that helps you dance more; not less. What are you waiting for? Start Bulletproofing your body now.