Should Dancers Run? The Surprising Health Benefits of Running, Explained

I don’t know about you, but running was almost as discouraged in my dance studio as lifting weights was.

I was told that running would lead to overuse injuries and joint problems.

But would you believe me if I told you that this simply wasn’t true? And what’s more, the health benefits of running are important for dancers as they train their bodies for the stage, studio, and beyond!

It’s true that running isn’t the only type of supplementary training we should be focusing on as dancers, but it’s incredible how helpful adding even a small amount of running into your training can be. Think about it, the repetitive bouncing action strengthens your bones.

Running in parallel helps to balance out dancers’ muscle use.

The sustained effort increases your stamina by making your lungs and heart function more efficiently. And on top of all of that, just thirty minutes burns about 300 calories (Stahl, Pointe Magazine)!

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Let’s break this down.

We’ve all heard about fast twitch and slow twitch muscles. Ideally a dancer wants a balance of both types of muscle fibers. However, most of dance class focuses on training our fast twitch muscles (these are built up with short bursts of intense energy – think petite allegro or across the floor.) One of the health benefits of running is that it gives our bodies an opportunity to develop our slow twitch, or endurance, muscles.

Developing this type of muscle fiber helps with muscle endurance which protects us from muscle fatigue and helps us perform our best in long performances.

Adding in as little as 30-60 minutes of running 2-3 times per week to your cross training program will build your muscular endurance and improve your body’s ability to call on both types of muscle fibers in class and performances (Dr. Kat, The Dance Docs)

 

Next let’s chat about bone density and strength.

When a dancer lands a jump their body is absorbing the force of 12-14 times their bodyweight.

I know- we are pretty amazing.

That said, having strong bones and healthy joints will help prevent injury.

Running has been scientifically proven to increase bone density and strength (Premier Orthopedic & Trauma Specialists). Increased bone density means a lower likelihood of stress fractures and other injuries that can result from overuse and muscle fatigue. 

 

Finally, let’s take a look at the cardiovascular benefits.

Much like our muscle fibers, cardiovascularly dancers are great sprinters.

However, when it comes to creating cardiovascular endurance, dance class doesn’t really help us as much as we will need for, let’s say, a two and half hour performance of “Bob Fosse’s Dancin’!”

This will require a lot of cardiovascular and muscular endurance.

According to this study done by the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, in order to improve cardiovascular capacity and endurance you have to see a rise in heart rate to between 70 and 90% of maximum and that heartrate must be maintained for 20-40 consecutive minutes (Sarah Irvine MSC, Emma Redding PHD, and Sonia Rafferty MSC with the IADMS Dance Educators’ Committee, 2011).

Now, obviously you can reach this goal on an elliptical or stationary bike but – generally speaking- it takes a bit longer and you miss out on the increased bone density – not to mention the fact that running is free. 

 

So, if there are so many health benefits of running for dancers, why has it been discouraged for so long?

The main reason is because we tend to try for too much too soon. As dancers, we are already incredibly fit, so it’s easy to push ourselves too far too fast. But just like dancing, running has its own form and technique and taking your time to train your muscles correctly will protect you from injury in the long run – pun intended!

The most important part of any type of cross training is to ensure that you are utilizing good form.

Just like using incorrect form in dance can lead to injury, the same is true for running. 

The first tip is to start slow- like, really slow.

If you are new to running you can even start by speed walking on an incline, then speed up to a jog as you build cardiovascular endurance.

While you are working more slowly, this leads to tip number 2.

Pay attention to your form.

Make sure your knees are tracking over your toes and not collapsing to one side or the other.

Ensure that your feet are working in parallel (Dr. Kat, The Dance Docs).

And now, tip number 3.

Pay attention to where you are pushing off of.

Lots of dancers have tight calves, causing us to push off of the balls of our feet.

While this is okay for sprinters, for our purposes you’ll want to try and “strike” or push off from the rear to mid-foot so that you’re rolling through the entire foot.

This will prevent any sort of agrivation of the Achilles and give your calves a much needed break (Stahl, Pointe Magazine).

Once your form is consistent, then you can start with short intervals of running and walking, extending your running interval over time until you’ve reached a point where you no longer need to take walking breaks.

 

Finally, tip number 4 when it comes to dancers and running…

You’ll want to make sure that you’re wearing the appropriate shoes.

Just like in dance the footwear you choose to run in can make a massive impact on your run.

You’ll need different shoes than your lifting flats; shoes with more a bit more cushion and you might even want to have them fitted for your specific needs.

For example, if you tend to roll inward on your feet you might opt for a shoe that can help maintain proper alignment. 

 

So, to recap, what are the health benefits of running for dancers?

  1. Improved aerobic capacity and endurance allowing for top performance in long shows.
  2. Increases bone density which helps prevent injury.
  3. And on top of all of that, it’s a free and easy way to round out your cross training program.

As long as running is approached with good form and dancers pace themselves it can be a fantastic tool for cross training.

So, what do you think? Is running important for dancers after all?

Will you try adding it in?

 

PS Check out this post from DWL with dozens of cardio workouts for dancers!

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