So much excitement comes from having a new start in the studio. It is a time for dancers to apply all they have learned over summer intensive experiences and to set goals for where they want the new year to take them. Nothing beats that first experience of taking class, where you get to work full out and sweat doing what you love! What follows those first few class experiences isn't usually something as enjoyable. Muscle stiffness and soreness can leave us hobbling around over the next few days afraid of having to lower or lift our body into chair or even move enough to fix your hair. These are the rough times dancers often endure as their bodies try and adjust to the increased workload they take on when returning to studio schedules. Here are some tips to help you manage those new year body "feels".
Proper warm up can help your muscles be ready to take on movement. Check out the free gifts on my website for access to an entire checklist meant to help you be ready to dance. Moving through a warm up can reduce your risk for injury and improve your overall performance. Utilize time before class to prepare mentally and physically. Stay tuned for a future blog post that dives into the details of warming up for dance.
Even with a successful warm up, experiencing discomfort is normal during your return to activity phase. When we increase the amount of work any muscle is required to do, by any measure, we are going to live with a bit of discomfort. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a side effect of strengthening muscles. The key in keeping workloads safe, is knowing the difference between slight DOMS and unbearable stiffness or pain through movement and/or stretching. The later is a sign that you have put your muscle through more than it could handle. We can sometimes be led to believe that the more pain we experience the more strength we have developed, but that isn't really the case. Dancers are notorious for enduring high levels of pain and working with the mentality that "the show much go on", but no dancer enjoys experiencing this level of discomfort. We need to address that muscle stiffness and pain should not be a standard normal experience when we return to higher levels of activity.
It is likely that this type of discomfort will last you for up to a week, maybe even longer. Which really means that your body is missing out on development time as it is trying to recover. Symptoms may also include visible and palpable swelling of the muscle tissue, sensitivity to touch, and, if you are able to touch, you could feel some heat radiating from that area as well. Managing overloaded muscles through a dance class is not a fun experience as they will ache with more movement or stretching. The best thing you can do for your body if you experience overloaded muscle symptoms is to let your body rest and drink plenty of water. The key is, no dancer wants to rest when they have just returned to the studio! You can avoid the frustrations of these symptoms by moving with ease and gradually increasing your workload in your first few weeks of classes. Work in smaller reps on more days through weight training. Your body would be much happier if you hold plank for 15 seconds every day of the week over one minute one day of the week. Your body can only be successful when it is conditioned for success. Use your classes and training time beyond the studio to gradually develop your body's functions of strength, stability, flexibility, and endurance to be better prepared for dancing. So, if you have gone all summer without working on you’re a la seconde leg extensions over 90 degrees, don't reach your leg to the ceiling and grip through holding it there when you first get back into classes.
Making modifications to keep your body safe and happy should start before you return to the studio, and should not be limited to your movements alone. Remember, your body can only be successful in any activity if you prepare it for the demands of said activity. Many aspects of your body are effected by this return to activity phase, beyond your muscles, and all need attention for preparation. For example, increased movement requires more activity from your respiratory system to keep you breathing, and with increased movement comes more work form your autonomic nervous system as you sweat. Observing, understanding, and embodying movement means more work for your brain. Phew! Dance truly puts your whole body to work. You can better prepare yourself for all these demands by taking time in the weeks leading up to modify your daily habits and set a "back to activity" routine. If you know you will need to move for longer durations, start getting yourself moving gently through full bodied movements. Yoga is my favorite way to tune into my breath, work with body weight, and help build my stamina and body awareness without over doing it. You could try incorporating simply taking walks, riding your bike, swimming, or other low impact activities to help better prepare your body for the demands of dance.
With increased movement of any kind, you will want to modify your intake of water and nutrients as well. This is often an area we don't focus on enough to prevent negative symptoms from our return to activity. In the ending weeks of summer break, increase your water intake and adjust your eating habits while you increase movement to ensure you are properly fueled by the time you begin classes. What you eat turns into your body's source of energy in the next day. Protein is an important part of your diet during this phase to keep muscles healthy and able to grow stronger. Lacking in nutrients and water can increase your likely hood for injury, weaken your performance abilities, and could even lead you to feel sick when you start moving again. Take care of your body and it will perform for you.
When not working hard in class, be sure to allow time for adequate rest. Nights that you have off from the studio are perfect opportunities to love yourself. Soaking in a bath is great for your muscles, along with gentle massages from a foam roller and gentle stretching. Allow yourself to get at least eight hours of sleep during the week when you have classes. Setting up a nightly routine can help ensure that you are getting the most out of your sleep time. When you work hard in the studio, you must rest well beyond it.