How much exercise is too much?

As an athlete, our bodies are our instruments as we tune and practice adamantly to ensure progress, as well as performance. Our physical beings are very sensitive, running on a day-to-day basis in regard to how we function, or, in our case: dance. Working as a professional in this industry, schedules can include technique class, pointe class, repertory, rehearsal, modern, with additional cross-training. All a compilation of one single day.

Eat, sleep, train, repeat. When does the “grind” become too much? Is there such a thing? Yes, and it needs to be addressed before athletes do more harm than good.

Over-exercising is holding you back

Moderate exercise during the season can be very beneficial in a dancer’s performance as cross-training can increase strength, stamina, maintain a slim physique, as well as enhance mental clarity. However, in a society where the phrase “more is better” is constantly preached, many athletes fall victim to over-exercising and ultimately backhand the intention of being “healthy”.

Too much exercise can work counterintuituively with the body: weakening the immune system, adding fat onto the body, hormonal imbalance, insomnia, mood changes, as well as negatively affect performance.

“When your body exercises, cellular damage occurs,” explains Dr. David A. Greuner, cardiovascular surgeon and Surgical Director at NYC Surgical Associates. “This is because you are training to some degree past your comfort zone, which results in your body adapting to become stronger. So, for a time after exercise, you’ll typically feel sore, or fatigued. Your body then needs time to rebuild the damage to become stronger. If you cause a significant amount of stress to your body while it has not had time to repair itself, overtraining occurs.”

We cannot better our technique or dancing if we never allow our bodies to catch up to the strenuous activity our muscles are enduring. Pushing past our limits every day with no rest will only break down the muscles which will delay recovery time.

Moderation is key. Work out smart , not over-exerting yourself by performing thousands of reps, additionally exercising after a strenuous day, or ignoring your body’s signs of fatigue or need for rest.

Listen to your body

Only you know your body’s needs and limits. Which is why checking-in to your physical as well as mental self is of extreme importance, especially in the dance industry.

Signs that your body needs rest include: low concentration levels, insomnia, miniscule nagging injuries, nausea, loss of appetite, mood swings and abnormal heart rate all point towards the body breaking down.

Serious injury, heart complications, osteoporosis and illness can all result in the failure to listen to the body’s needs in regard to rest and recovery. Do not wait until it is too late.

Taking action

There are circumstances where our schedules do not allow for a rest day, which can prohibit proper recovery. However, the body can still re-nourish itself when working 7-days a week.

When faced with a schedule as such, the couple of hours post-work before the next day can make or break your recovery (literally). Some strategies include:

Passive Recovery– Ceasing all exercise and resting your body with no physical strain whatsoever. Passive recovery is great to catch up on sleep, as the body needs a minimum of 7-9 hours a night to rebuild the body and recover.

Myofascial Release– Also known as soft tissue therapy, consists of massage and foam rolling. This is usually performed immediately before and after exercise as it increases circulation throughout the body, improving range of motion. Myofascial release reduces the chance of injury as the body’s coordination is improved following foam rolling. This strategy is highly encouraged to be performed everyday as a form of recovery before, during and after exercise.

Nutritional Recovery– The foods you consume provide your body with the building blocks to recover, without proper nutrition the body is unable to rebuild itself in preparation for the next day. The body will never be able to benefit from physical activity if it is not nourished with lots of carbs and sufficient amount of calories. Calorie-deficits may work short-term for weight loss, but will only damage the body for the long-run.

Epsom Salt Recovery– A great way to ensure recovery when faced with 7-day work weeks is to take epsom salt baths before bed. This salt, also called Magnesium sulphate, has been shown to reduce swelling, relieve stress, improve circulation and improve mood. These minerals are absorbed effectively through the skin, providing relief from muscle aches, pains, or soreness.

Mental Recovery– Along with the physical condition of your body, the mental aspect of recovery is just as important and should not be overlooked. The mind is a powerful tool and can improve the recovery process. Taking time out of the day to rest the brain from choreography, notes, etc. allows the body to catch up and process the day’s work. Recovery can include meditation, yoga, listening to music, reading, journaling, knitting, etc. 

The importance of taking a break

Allowing your body to rest, or taking a day off is crucial in any training program as this is the time that the body adapts to the stress of exercise and the real training benefits take place. Recovery also allows the body to replenish energy stores that were exerted and repair damaged tissues as well as muscles. Absence of sufficient rest time will result in the continuation of muscle breakdown from intensive exercise, prohibiting performance progression and improvement.

Inevitable quest of perfection

Dancers are perfectionists- I fall victim. We become creatures of habit, training everyday to improve our craft as well as putting in extra hours on top of our strenuous schedules. There was a time that I would kill myself over “resting”. I had to be training, stretching, or working out every single day of the week, or else I viewed myself as “lazy” and “uncommitted”. However, these thoughts were the complete opposite of what my higher self truly needed to improve and grow as a dancer/athlete.

Over-exercising is a real problem, as well as danger. It is an addiction that mentally and physically drains you as well as pushes you past limits deemed healthy/safe. Injury, extreme weight-loss, illness, hormone imbalance and eating disorders are all symptoms of over-exercising.

Additional physical activity outside of training should be enjoyable and feel good, not forced. Above all, give yourself permission to take a break- working out is not an obligation, it’s a chance to try something new, socialize and have fun!

Find enjoyment in stillness. Society is ever-bustling, always on the go, placing false notions of success onto 24 hour work days as a formula for wealthy and prosperous lives. However, in reality, the most sought individuals are those who can live with time, rather than against.

You never know what you may discover about yourself once you take the time to listen, look, and take care of your being.

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