Month: July 2016

How to Work Out Like A Dancer

How to Work Out Like A Dancer

I was somewhat disappointed with myself when I realised that despite the name and tagline of this blog, I have so far only published one directly dance-related post.

Although fitness is the focus at this point in my life, I am acutely aware of the fact that most, if not all, of my attitudes, opinions and behaviours, towards both fitness and life in general, have been shaped by a childhood that was dedicated to daily dance classes, exams and performances.

It can be quite difficult to explain, but I have no doubt whatsoever that anyone who has grown up within a dance environment, particularly (in my experience) in heavily structured institutional systems, such as graded ballet syllabus organisations, would understand in an instant the immeasurable influence it has on a person’s life.

Not that you have any idea of this when you’re three years old and running around in a pink leotard and soft ballet slippers.

Nowadays, I am noticing more and more how certain aspects of my day-to-day training benefit from behaviours that, thanks to dance, come very naturally to me.

I’m not saying that I’m any different to anybody else – of course I’m not – everyone has strengths and weaknesses. But in terms of your attitude and approach towards a fitness regime, there are certain things that can be learned from everyone who started out in that little pink leotard.

dancer lessons

5 Dancer Lessons for Every Fitness Freak

 

1) Spatial Awareness

Having some sense of where you are and what’s going on around you is absolutely crucial when you’re working out. It’s pretty important that you avoid hitting someone in the face with a dumbbell, or whacking someone in the crotch mid-kettlebell swing. However, as well as the standard rules of gym-etiquette, having a sense of where your own body is in space (called proprioception) is really handy.

Dancers need general spatial awareness so that they know where abouts to be positioned onstage in relation to everybody else. They also need proprioception so that they know that their body is creating the correct aesthetic, and fulfilling each movement in a safe and effective way. For movements that travel or turn, where there is not enough time to stop and focus on what your body is doing and where, it is particularly useful to have a heightened automatic sense of spatial awareness.

Equally, when you’re working out, it is really important to know where your body is and what it is doing, so  that each exercise can be performed correctly, even when there’s noone there to help you. Take the squat, for example. You need to be able to know that your knees are over your toes, not falling in, that your hips are pushed back and that your chest is up. You need to know that you’re standing in the middle of the bar and that your hands are equidistant apart, so that things don’t start going lopsided.

 

Know where you are and what you’re doing. It’s easier said than done.

 

2) Discipline

Dancers, ballet dancers in particular, are renowned for their discipline. People often ask me how I’m motivated enough to go to the gym every morning...but to be honest it’s not a special skill, nor is it particularly hard work. Partly, of course, because I enjoy it, but also because training has replaced dance classes within my weekly routine, which means that it’s ingrained in me to go. It’s not an option to skip a pre-planned session, just as it was never an option to skip a ballet class. You just do it without thinking about it, and when you’re there you do the best that you can do. Practise makes perfect.

Dancers discipline

3) Rhythm

Even this morning, as I was counting out my reps, I stumbled after the count of 8, and had to think about what came next. Not because I’m mathematically deficient, but because in dancer world, 9 doesn’t come after 8. 1 does.

Whether there is music or not, a dancer always has a rhythm and beat to the way they move – it’s what makes you able to spot them out in a street filled with people.

Although only counting to 8 isn’t necessarily the most productive way to train, I do think that having a sense of rhythm is crucial to any good work out. I’m not saying you need to bop along to music as you lift (in fact that’s probably not sensible at all) but having a rhythm to your movement really helps to keep the pace going and stops you falling behind. For me, it also helps me to find genuine enjoyment in whatever movement that I’m doing.

 

4) Technique

Technique, technique, technique. It’s what’s drilled into every dancer from the moment that they can plie. Toes pointed, legs turned out, bottoms in, stomachs in, shoulders back, long neck, soft arms….etc. etc. etc.

Every dancer knows that they won’t get anywhere if their technique isn’t spot on – and it’s the same in the gym. Whether it’s a tiny little bicep curl or a full-out sumo deadlift, every moment has to be executed with correct technique or else you’re essentially training your muscles incorrectly, which is unproductive at best, and more often dangerous.

Dancer Lessons

It’s totally worth taking the time to make sure that every movement you do is executed with spot-on technique. It’s also important to do regular accessory work to make sure that each individual muscle is strong enough to execute said technique.

Perfect technique takes a whole lot of time and patience – it is by no means a quick fix or an easy job. Nonetheless, it will, in time, improve your lifts and make them a whole lot safer. Work for it, and it’ll work for you.

 

5) Performance is Everything

I’m not going to lie, it still baffles me the amount of fuss and noise people make when they’re lifting. If you made those sorts of grunts when performing a grand jete en tournant in class then you’d get a slap on the thigh and told to start the whole routine again.

Dance is a performance, which means that you don’t just have to physically exert yourself, you also have to act like it’s the easiest, most enjoyable thing in the world. Grunts, barks and shouts strictly not allowed.

Personally I think that, in this context*, this is brilliant for your mindset. If you’re not allowed to show weakness then you have no choice but to be strong. I can’t help but think that all those men making a massive deal over their deadlifts would be so much stronger if they didn’t waste all their energy shouting about it.
* feel free to vent afterwards, of course. Whilst i genuinely believe that not showing weakness can be an asset during an exercise, it’s not good to bottle everything up 24/7.

The Resistance Band: Why It’s All You Need for the Perfect Summer Workout.

The Resistance Band: Why It’s All You Need for the Perfect Summer Workout.

Please bear with me. I’m going to be typically British for a little while, and talk about the weather.

So, unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past fortnight, you’ll know that England has been pretty damn hot lately. We’ve had glorious sunshine and record breaking temperatures- with (for once) minimal rain.

I realise that this is no big deal in most countries. In England, however, and in London in particular, when the thermometer exceeds 30 degrees celsius it generally makes front page news. Trains get cancelled, buses overheat, hoards of sweaty-shirted office workers go on strike because with only a few half-hearted fans and no adequate air con, working conditions are simply, well, unworkable.

Despite the uproar, I’ve been absolutely loving the weather. I love the heat and will worship the sunshine given even the slightest opportunity.

Unfortunately, I do find it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to go to the gym when the weather is this spectacular – who wants to be stuck inside a hot, stuffy gym when you could be heading to the closest stretch of grass to bask like a cat in the sunshine?

Thankfully, a couple of months ago, I invested in a couple of Resistance Bands, which have saved my summer body from the exhausting lethargy that comes with overwhelming heat.

Essentially just a big, glorified piece of elastic, resistance bands are a great and extremely portable piece of equipment- the ideal exercise aid for muscle strength, endurance and flexibility.

Priced between £5-£25, resistance bands are much cheaper than a gym membership and much easier to carry about than actual weights. They come in different strengths – obviously the stronger they are, the greater resistance they will give and the “harder” the exercise.

And the best thing? They can pretty much be used anywhere, meaning that you no longer need to sacrifice your tan in order to get a cheeky session done.

 

5 Summer Strength Resistance Band Exercises

 

1) Resistance Band Squats

 

Resistance Band Squats from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

What: 5 sets, 20 Reps

How: Step inside the resistance band, feet hip width apart and ensuring that the balls of your feet are holding it flat against the ground, and looping the rest of the band just above your shoulder blades (but not around the neck!). Use your hands to grip the sides of the band and keep it in place. When you squat, your body weight should rest onto the heels of the feet, pushing your hips back but keeping your chest up. Remember to keep your knees in line with your toes – don’t let them fall in or out.

Why: Leg strength, great for the glutes and core stability.

 

2) Shoulder Press

 

Resistance Band Shoulder Press from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

What: 5 sets,10 Reps

How: Stand with the feet slightly wider than hip width apart. Loop the band around one foot, standing down on it to secure it to the floor. Grab the other end of the band with the same arm as the leg that the band is looped around. Your forearm should be on the outside of the band. Use your shoulder and back muscles to straighten your arm over your head. Lower and repeat. Make sure to swap to the other side once you have completed your sets.

Why: Strong shoulders and back – really important for posture.

 

3) Resistance Band Sumo Lifts

 

Resistance Band Sumos from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

What: 5 sets, 10 reps

How: Lie the resistance band on the floor and put your feet inside, standing  as wide as is comfortable. Use your feet to hold down the band. Bend in the legs, whilst pushing the hips backwards and keeping the chest up. It’s important to keep a straight spine and avoid rounding the back. Pick up the middle of the band with both hands (close grip) and straighten the legs whilst driving the hips forward.

Why: Core stability, strong lower back, glutes and legs.

 

4) Overhead Tricep Extensions

 

Overhead Resistance Band Tricep Extensions from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

What: 5 sets, 10 reps

How: Stand with one leg forward and one leg back – not so wide as a lunge, but wide enough that you have a good, solid grounding. Loop the band around your back foot, standing on it to hold it down. Grip the opposite end with both hands, stretching out the band upwards, behind you. The elbows should be tucked in, with upper arms close to either side of the head and the forearms parallel to the floor. Keeping the shoulders and upper arms still, straighten the elbows, using the triceps to stretch the band upwards until the arms are straight. Gently lower and repeat.

Why: Lovely toned arms.

 

5) Resistance Band Seated Rows

 

Resistance Band Rows from Roslyn Rachel on Vimeo.

What: 3 sets, 20 reps

How: Cross the resistance band so that it makes a figure of 8, rather than a circle. Sit down on the floor, with your legs straight out in front of you and your back straight. Each hand should be holding one end of the resistance band (one loop of the figure of 8) and the middle of the band (the crossed section) should loop around the feet. Pull your hands back as far as you can, squeezing the shoulder blades and the lats. Relax and repeat.
Why: Great back and posture exercise.

10 Things to Stop Beating Yourself Up Over

10 Things to Stop Beating Yourself Up Over

 

  1. For not being where you want to be. Who is, really? In my mind,  if you already are exactly where you want to be with all of your aims and goals ticked of the list, then what’s the point? Make the most of having something to strive for.
  2. For not knowing where it is that you even want to be. That’s okay too. The world is pretty big and we always change our mind. Fitness people always go on about the importance of having specific goals, which is true to an extent, but it’s also okay to not know quite yet. I have difficulty deciding what to eat for lunch…let alone where I want to be in 1 or 5 or 10 years time.
  3. For feeling guilty after having a ‘cheat’ day. For goodness sake, if you’re going to having a cheat day then enjoy it while it lasts and stop complaining about it. You may not make the best decisions of your life on cheat day… but they probably won’t be the worst either.
  4. For having ‘bad’ food and not working out on a non “cheat” day. The good thing about today is that there is always tomorrow.
  5. For sleeping through your alarm. We all do it. Don’t panic about all the articles that insist that all successful and productive people wake up at the crack of dawn with a glass of lemon water and a shot of wheatgrass. Once in awhile won’t hurt you – sometimes, sleeping in is your body’s way of telling you to calm down and let it rest.
  6. For dropping one of the 10 million balls you’re juggling. Stop comparing yourself to that perfect girl (or boy) on social media who seems to balance a full time job, 20000000 followers on social media, a successful blog, home-cooked meals (exquisitely photographed), 2.5 kids, a social life, extracurricular activities and working out twice a day whilst remaining perfectly manicured and without breaking a sweat. That’s the thing about social media. It’s generally, usually, 99.9% fabrication. You never know what’s going on behind the screen so just prioritise and concentrate on you.
  7. For not being able to create perfectly symmetrical, colour coordinated food. That’s a thing nowadays.
  8. For not knowing what ‘macros’ are. They may be magical, but I lead a very healthy lifestyle despite being oblivious to their powers, and I’m happier for it.
  9. For wanting to get fit but just not knowing how. It’s a learnint curve – everyone has to start somewhere, right?
  10. For secretly hating exercise. Please, who doesn’t? Besides, Love and Hate are just two sides of the same coin, right?