Dancers in Quarantine: Hold on to Your Power
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Today's blog is written by my friend Jason Harrison, owner of Present Tense Fitness. As I work with my dancers through this crazy quarantine time, I look at what they're able to do and what holes may still exist in their training. Consistently I see jump training and strength as a big gap for my dancers, as studios and companies (appropriately) abstain from most jump combinations due to improper flooring and unsafe surroundings. At the same time, I know dancers worry about losing that strength - and miss the feeling of being, at least briefly, launched powerfully into the air, unfettered to the ground. So how can dancers stay strong and safe at the same time?
Jason's a top strength and conditioning coach and I knew he'd have some answers. Read on for his advice! -Jen
As an advocate for strength and conditioning for dancers using classic tools like barbells, kettlebells, and dumbbells, the global pandemic has forced me to evaluate the best course of action given the limited access a number of artists have to gym facilities. While there is very little good news about a global pandemic, there is reason to be hopeful from a purely fitness standpoint for dancers whose performance seasons were suddenly cut short.
First, early in the off season is the best time for dancers to rest and identify areas for recovery and balance. Allowing sore feet, ankles, hips, and shoulders to rest while focusing on healthy general movement patterns is a good idea regardless of the circumstances surrounding a dancer’s off season. I’m not an advocate for ceasing all movement, but it is a good idea to move in ways that help put your body back together after a long season.
Second, given that early in an off season is when we might begin slowly ramping up a training program, you should understand that you have time from a fitness perspective to get ready for the next opening curtain.
You should take advantage of this time, therefore, to both heal and to begin the slow on-ramp toward explosiveness, and one of the best ways you can accomplish that from home without access to gym equipment is through a smart, detailed, progressive approach to plyometric training.
Before going further, I just want to emphasize that some of the exercises below aren’t “plyometric” in the technical sense. Here we’re applying some layman’s terminology where plyometric is a substitute for “jumping and landing” training. Our simple approach is borrowed from legendary strength coach Mike Boyle.
With that out of the way, one of the most important things to understand about plyometric training is that it is as much about connective tissue preparation as anything. We’re used to thinking about building strong muscles, but we forget sometimes about building healthy connective tissue. And the important thing to remember about connective tissue is it takes longer to adapt to training than muscle, so it’s critical that we slowly progress training with this idea in mind or else we risk building injury into our training.
The progression we generally use in our facility when it comes to plyometric training is this:
1.) Jump onto a box.
2.) Jump and land on the ground.
3.) Jump and land on the ground with an additional hop.
4.) Jump and land on the ground and immediately project oneself off the ground again.
These four progressions fit neatly into a four-month off season, which is what many dancers can be facing. The reason these progressions make sense is that jumping and landing onto a box is the “easiest” of the jumps; landing on the ground adds complexity and force to the movement; adding a hop to the ground landing begins to prepare the body to land and immediately jump; and then finally jumping, landing, and immediately using that force to propel oneself into the next jump is a great final preparation for the rigors of dance.
In addition to making sure that you slowly progress these exercises in order to allow proper time for connective tissue adaptation, you also want to limit the amount of times you land, something we call “foot strikes” in strength and conditioning. Generally speaking, when we’re taking off and landing on two legs, we’ll limit the amount of foot strikes to 15, usually broken into 3 sets of 5 repetitions.
The last thing to keep in mind as you’re incorporating these plyometric movements into your home workout routine is that you should always do power movements like this first in your training, after you’ve done a proper general warmup and dynamic stretching. Never use plyometric work like this as cardiovascular training as one would see in a HIIT-style class. Remember, you’re not just training here, but you’re also building your connective tissue capacity as a means of trying to reduce the risk of injury once the season starts again.
Jason Harrison is a strength and conditioning coach and co-owner of Present Tense Fitness, a training and yoga studio in Dayton, Ohio.
Twitter: @presenttensefit Instagram: @presenttensefitness 937-396-7073