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Intensity - Part 2

How Hard Should Your Workouts Actually Be?

Okay, so if there's no magic number of reps, sets, or weights, how do you know how to design your cross-training routine? This brings us back to intensity and the concept of intramuscular tension. To get results that will enhance your dance technique with your workout, the force generated by your muscles has to be intense enough to create micro tears in the muscle tissue itself. This is what causes the physical adaptive changes in your body, otherwise known as strength gains.

Here's where things get fun if you're a science buff like me. Besides describing how a workout feels, intensity can also be a percentage of your maximum strength, usually determined by weight load. In the workout world, intensity and volume (total amount of work done, usually determined by the number of reps x's sets) have an inverse relationship. When volume is high in any given workout, the intensity (weight load) must be lower to allow for more work to be done. When intensity is high (heavier weights are used), the volume will be lower since it requires more energy to complete each lift. (We'll get to how this relates to you as a dancer, so bear with me.)

Body builders tend to use high volume workouts to achieve their muscle mass goals. High volume, meaning lots of reps and sets, tends to create sarcoplasmic hypertrophy where the cross-sectional diameter of the muscles increase. This is a fancy way of saying they get bigger muscles as they progress their workouts. The main result of high volume workouts is size gains.

As a dancer, you obviously have very different goals. You want the benefits of added strength to enhance your technique and fortify your body against injuries...but without the bulk. Workouts low in volume but high in intensity are key here. By lifting heavier weights for less volume, you create myofibrillar hypertrophy, meaning you gain strength through increased muscle density without much change in size. This is the kind of workout that may even have the potential to make you a smaller human being as your body composition changes. Increased muscle density leads to an increased resting metabolic rate, which can lead to fat loss and an overall sleeker, more compact version of yourself (provided that you eat properly, of course). All of this while you are gaining more power in your muscles to propel and manipulate your body across the stage, and you end up as one fierce dancer. It's like upgrading to smaller, sleeker, more aerodynamic sports car with a higher horsepower engine. It gives you an awesome advantage in terms of a size to performance ratio. See why this intensity is important for you getting to your next level as a dancer? Check out these other blog posts if you are interested in reading more:

Now, here's what happens when most dancers do cross-training. Traditionally, dancers will take exercise classes or do workouts that focus more on volume instead of intensity. Furthermore, the volume and intensity often aren't high enough to create enough intramuscular tension (the key to strength gains) or benefits in stamina. So, dancers end up just spinning their wheels with their workouts - going to the gym just to say they got their cross-training in for the day, but leaving without the actual benefits that cross-training should provide. Worse yet, these workouts actually have the potential to leave them in a weakened state...wearing out their joints and depleting their precious energy stores.

Sure, with traditional cross-training you might feel exhausted and accomplished afterwards, like you got a "good" workout. But, do you really want to feel exhausted if you have a long day of rehearsals ahead of you? Do you really want to destroy yourself in the gym when you are repping difficult choreography for an upcoming performance? When you think about it that way, it doesn't make much sense, right? But, as dancers we love to kill ourselves as a way of feeling accomplished and worthy. This is where our mindsets have to change if we want to get to the next level.

This is also what sets Bulletproof Ballerina workouts apart from all the rest.

The Bad Girl Ballerina mindset focuses on quality over quantity and doesn't use self-destruction as a means of gaining self-worth. With my cross-training workouts, especially during my busy dance season, my goal is to leave the gym more energized than when I came in. I can't afford to waste any energy on something that won't leave me stronger and better off. Plus, when I'm maxed out in my rehearsals as is, my joints can't handle extra wear and tear. So, I go for near maximum intensity with extremely low volume (sometimes as few as 1 or 2 reps!). But, the few reps I do are super controlled and concentrated with a focus on putting as much quality tension in my muscles as possible.

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Please don't misunderstand me, though. I'm not telling you to go out and squat a car right this very minute. Using heavy weights and working with this kind of intensity is something you have to work up to by gradually building your intensity so your whole body adjusts in a strategic manner. Your ligaments and tendons strengthen at a much slower rate than your muscles. So, you want to allow time for your joints to adapt and become fortified against heavier loads. Even though your muscles may be strong enough to lift a weight, you may sacrifice the structural stability of your joints if your connective tissue isn't ready to take on that load. The key is to build up your intensity gradually and consistently over time.

Want to find out what all this really means and how to apply it to your cross-training routine? Contact me to see what options you have for working Bulletproof Ballerina-style.