Health & Body

Ask Deb: What Can I Do to Condition My Muscles When I'm at Home?

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A 25-year-old student recently asked a question that brought back a rush of memories for me. And it's also pertinent to our current COVID-19 restrictions.

Not too long ago, a 25-year old who wants to pursue a dance career said she was so busy trying to stay financially stable that she only had time to train a couple of days per week. She noticed that she was more sore and tight those days, even though she stretched often. What could she do?

It reminded me of the time after I moved to New York City to begin, hopefully, my future dance career. I didn't take but a handful of classes for eight months. It seemed like forever! I was so envious of the dancers who figured out how to pay for rent, food and classes. I despaired I would never be able to make it as a dancer. It was a huge break to get a teaching gig, but I couldn't make enough money just from teaching at that time to support myself. (I bet a lot of readers can relate to this, yes?)

Our muscles need both pumping up as well as stretching out. Many of us have jobs outside of dancing that involve a lot of sitting or standing, instead of big movement. And certainly this is true for those of us in quarantine. See if there are ways to bring more cardiovascular activities into your life without making big adjustments. Walking is good, but can you also do some jumping jacks or big spinal twists occasionally during the day? This may help decrease some of your muscle soreness.

Our bodies are designed for movement—not desk or computer work. Think of this time period as a time for cross-training. Make a practice of cardiovascular activity followed by stretching, and then perhaps some time with a foam roller or pinkie ball to end your day.

Looking back on my own career, some of my best dancing came after periods of fewer classes. One was when I was teaching and working in a physician's practice. I was taking two classes per week and rehearsing two times per week. I wasn't in class every day, but when I was, I was so present and appreciative and loving every moment that my dancing matured greatly. (I was also doing small conditioning workouts at home.)

We do ourselves a disservice by deciding that one must take a certain number of classes, seven days a week if we are serious about being a dancer. Yes, it's true that the more time we spend in our chosen career, the more we can hone our skills. That being said, I believe the way we bring ourselves to every class, or every rehearsal, has more importance than simply the amount of time we spend in the studio. In fact, overtraining and spending too much time in class without sufficient rest periods will increase the potential for injuries. We must find the happy medium.

The challenge is to flow through the times in our lives when the setup doesn't seem optimal and yet we can still accept it as being a perfect place to move forward from. This is a good reminder for all of us, especially with the recent shelter-in-place protocol we've all gone through. We can become amazing dancers and teachers because of our unique experiences and paths, not in spite of them.

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