My relationship with dance has been a roller coaster. There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of it, a time when I hated it, and a time when I missed it. Until I was about 18 years old, dance was my exit. It provided me with challenging, yet rewarding goal-oriented work.
As I pursued a professional track, I recognized the importance of adding strength training to my already demanding schedule. After a few Google searches and some advice from teachers, I built a workout regimen to strengthen my infrastructure. But thanks to my Type A personality, I took this harmless advice to the umpteenth degree. What started as a few minutes of theraband work turned into a time-consuming routine with little room for error. The guilt of missing a day was overwhelming. In fact, it was mentally easier for me to push through this demanding workout schedule than to deal with the anxiety of NOT completing it.
Oh, and alongside this, I was CONSUMED with food rules. Cross-training routines went from enhancing my dance technique to being a form of punishment for eating. I had to “burn off” everything and “earn” less-healthy foods. My brain and body were fried. I resented ballet, I resented dance, and I could not reignite the passion I once had for the art.
My disordered eating was coupled with my growing addiction to exercise.
Dancers have exercise built into their lifestyles. Whether it’s classes, rehearsals, or cross-training, getting enough physical activity during the course of a day is rarely our issue. What’s more of an issue, however, is knowing how much is too much. Here are a few signs… do any hit home for you?
Signs A Dancer Is Over-Exercising
- You’re chronically tired.
- You’re always getting sick.
- Your muscle soreness just doesn’t seem to quit.
- You’re irritable and anxious.
- You feel resentment towards the very movement that once made you happy.
- For females, you haven’t gotten your period in a while.
Truth is, it’s hard to associate signs like fatigue and muscle soreness with problematic over-exercising. Performance seasons are always demanding. Hours of classes and rehearsals are coupled with late-night shows. Who wouldn’t feel fatigued??
But while the impact of a missing menstrual cycle is nothing to take lightly, I want dancers to first focus on the possibility of resentment.
To turn against your passion in the name of over-exercising and under-eating. Is it really worth it?
I vote no. Don’t sacrifice your love for dance. Ask yourself: can I keep up with this cross-training schedule without getting burnt out? Is missing a day of exercise making me feel anxious?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then consider the following tips for building a cross-training routine that promotes performance and not burnout.
A calorie deficit, whether intentional (you’re not eating enough to support the amount you’re burning off) or unintentional (you’re not eating enough because of a busy schedule) risks your metabolism and sacrifices your bone health. Eating enough to support your body’s metabolic AND physical needs is not just key to your dance career, it’s also essential for your health.
Remember: Performance is Not Just Physical
Your food choices support your strength and endurance. As dancers, we should reflect on our training. Feel grateful for the strength that makes our legs strong for jumps and arms fluid for port de bras.
With that said, food also plays a critical role in your mental and emotional well-being. Eating too little during the day makes you feel irritable, drained, and tired. If you’re avoiding your favorite foods, you’ll feel unsatisfied and likely to fall into behaviors like grazing and overeating. Skip the restrictive mindset. Instead of rules, make food choices that support your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Read this article to learn more about how to do this.
When I was dancing full time, there were days when I just didn’t want to be there. What was even worse was the idea of pushing myself through another cross-training regimen. When I ignored my body’s signals for needing a rest, I began to loathe dance and exercise. It wasn’t until I took a break when I began to feel my best physically and artistically. But first, you might need to re-learn the signals when your body needs rest. Fun fact: this is similar to when we’re re-learning our hunger and fullness cues. Next time you’re having a day when your intuition is asking for rest, what clues is it giving you? Any particular pain or fatigue? Or is it just an overall feeling of “sorry, not today”? Take note of those signals- jot them down. This will help you to become even more attuned at times when you need rest.
Turn To Dance Fitness Pros
Google doesn’t know your body. You’re the expert. But learning appropriate exercises to support your strength and endurance is super important to avoiding injury and overuse. Professional educators are available to enhance you’re training in a way that’s sustainable. My favorites? Katie Boren Fitness, Erika Bloom Pilates, and Maya Bryant provide awesome resources for dancers.
Got more tips to prevent over-exercising? Comment below and do me a favor: Pin this post to your Pinterest board!