Supplementary training: the importance of rest

Supplementary training is when other forms of fitness and exercise are used alongside dance training. Examples include Yoga and Pilates, Somatic Practices, HITT (High Intensity Tactical Training), or can be other forms of sport that specifically target areas of the body that need strengthening or mobilising for an individual’s dance training or career. Supplementary training is important for building general strength and stamina which can sometimes be lacking within dance training, due to the stop-start nature of a dance class or rehearsal.

Previous injuries and illnesses should always be taken into consideration when planning what forms of supplementary training a dancer will include in their schedule. For example, if someone has suffered a lower leg injury they may avoid high impact training such as running and instead add swimming into their schedule, in addition to specifically tailored exercises given by a physiotherapist to strengthen the leg muscles.

According to the International Association of Dance Medicine & Science (IADMS), the components of fitness are: aerobic and anaerobic fitness, muscle endurance, strength, power, flexibility, neuromuscular coordination, body composition and rest. Sometimes rest can be overlooked but it is a vital part of a dancer’s training. For many committed dancers, taking time off for recovery can come with a feeling of guilt (feeling like you’re admitting defeat and punishing yourself for not being ‘strong’ enough to keep going). Admittedly sometimes it is just a matter of being tired and having to push through to be able to keep up with the demands that a dance career entails. However, a dancer must be able to know the limits of their own body and mind and know when it is necessary to rest in order to sustain a healthy mental wellbeing and avoid physical injury. The charity, Mind, uses this graph showing pressure verses performance, to demonstrate the boundaries surrounding the useful and detrimental levels of pressure:

Therefore being aware of where you are on this scale and acknowledging the demands you have through the rest of the week, is necessary for being realistic about what you can do without burning out and reaching exhaustion. Listen to your body, acknowledge what it needs in order to maintain good physical and mental wellbeing.

Getting sufficient amounts of sleep means the body will have more energy and can function properly and therefore is quicker to resist or recover from illnesses. Scientists have shown that sleep may also benefit the retention of what has been learned that day, for example a new choreography, as it is thought that the brain continues to practice through the night.[1] Sleep is also an important factor of positive mental health which subsequently benefits training in many ways, including higher levels of motivation, focus, patience, sociability and so on.

However, rest does not have to mean void of everything. In fact, professional dancers who have long breaks between tours or seasons need to keep up some level of activity during these rest periods to maintain their high fitness levels. Similarly, if a dancer is recovering from an injury they may be able to participate (physically or observing) so that there is still engagement but at a lower impact level; this is knows as active rest. A sudden change in level of activity can cause problems to occur in the body; when training is suddenly removed common outcomes include cardiac arrhythmia, circulatory problems and depressive moods due to the deficiency of endorphins. When training is resumed too rapidly after a rest period, risk of chronic overload and acute injuries is increased. Similarly, a change of diet can affect hormone balance and the composition of the blood, therefore during a rest period a dancer should not neglect a healthy diet and where possible, should maintain previous levels of nutrition and hydration.

‘Understanding the importance of rest has been a big learning curve for me. Initially, I would not permit myself to sit out of a class because I felt I would be admitting defeat. However, during a particularly full-on term, the strain I was putting upon myself was preventing an illness from clearing up and I became physically too weak to dance and took the advice of my teachers to take the entire week off from dancing. It also affected my mental wellbeing, because accepting that I hadn’t recovered quickly, over the previous weekend, was challenging. However, from this I learned about active rest, where there is still engagement on training but physical involvement or intensity is reduced. I discovered how valuable it can be to observe my classes and how my own understanding of the technique is benefited from giving feedback to my peers. Taking several Somatics classes also taught me a lot about the importance of rest and knowing my limits through the ability to listen to my body: what it needs and how it moves.

I also made sure that when I was resting and recovering from an injury, I was taking the time to improve my knowledge of my body so that I could spot any signals suggesting the injury is resurfacing in the future, and learning what my body needed to prevent further strain and damage. I could then apply this knowledge when I returned to dancing, through adapting exercises where needed and strengthening specific muscle groups to support my injury.’

Martha, One Dance UK Ambassador

Reference:

[1] Simmel, L. (2014) Dance Medicine in Practice, Oxon & USA & Canada: Routledge, p. 227-237

Wider reading:

International Association of Dance Medicine & Science www.iadms.org/page/303

National Institute of Dance Medicine and Science: www.nidms.co.uk/research

Mind Charity: www.mind.org.uk

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance: https://trinitylaban.wordpress.com/2015/11/28/the-benefits-of-supplementary-training-for-dancers/