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Overtraining and Recovery

Most athletes train hard, whether your sport is dancing, running, football, or lacrosse to name a few. Many who wish to be in peak physical condition so they can stay on top of their game train 6 days a week. But does this training truly benefit you? How do we know if we’re training enough or if we’re overtraining?


There are several different markers to look at that can give you an indication of how your level of training is affecting you. The first is resting heart rate. It’s best to check you resting heart rate first thing in the morning as you rise. Many apps can help you do this and record it for your benefit. An elevated heart rate can be indicative of stress. The only problem is that we don’t know if that’s physiological stress or psychological stress. Keeping track of your resting heart rate at a regular time each day can help you determine this, as can looking at what you’ve done the day before and what stressors (exercise included) have been a part of your daily routine. If you’re tracking this, keep in mind that your resting heart rate will vary from day to day. Variation of 5% or less is normal. More than this could be due to stress.

The quality of your sleep is another marker. While we won’t spend too much time on this, as we covered it in last week’s post, we won’t overlook its importance. Tissue growth and repair occurs during stages 3 and 4 on non-REM sleep (Sleep Foundation). If your sleep quality is poor or the quantity is too short, you won’t maximize your body’s potential to repair itself after a hard workout.

Another important marker to use to assess your level of recovery is hydration. And the simplest way we know of to track hydration is through urine output (800-2000mL daily). Not only do we need to make sure we’re hydrated enough to produce enough urine throughout the day, we also need to be mindful of its concentration. This is h2osomething that can be gauged through color (see color chart here). If your urine is pale yellow or more clear, you’re well hydrated. If it’s dark, maybe even a little brownish, you’re in need of some water. Being dehydrated as little as 2% can effect your endurance and performance, and past that, cognitive functions can be impaired (Susan Barr). Please keep in mind that food intake can also affect color. So if you notice some pink in your urine, for example, it could be due to a urinary tract infection, or it could be from beets or something you ate with food dye in it. For days that you’re not working out or dancing, your intake of water should be about half of your body weight in ounces. One of the tricks I use to make sure my water intake is adequate on a regular basis is to drink a glass of water (12-16 ounces) immediately upon waking. This allows you to start your day hydrated, and is easy to incorporate into your daily routine. In summer, if you’re in a hot or humid environment, or when you’re sweating more (exercising), your intake should increase to match your output.

As dancers, we often experience muscle soreness after class or rehearsal, more so with the onset of new choreography or after being off for any length of time. Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can also occur with greater frequency with eccentric training, something dancers do regularly. Expecting some soreness once you return to class after winter break is normal. But based on article by Chueng et al, “DOMS can affect athletic performance by causing a reduction in joint range of motion, shock attenuation and peak torque. Alterations in muscle sequencing and recruitment patterns may also occur, causing unaccustomed stress to be placed on muscle ligaments and tendons. These compensatory mechanisms may increase the risk of further injury if a premature return to sport is attempted.” What does this mean for us? While some soreness for a few days after a hard class is normal, chronic pain and soreness is not. You have to know your body, and need to be aware of what’s normal for you, and what isn’t. If you’re constantly sore and aching, you may be overtraining, and may even be suffering from overtraining syndrome (OTS).

Your appetite can also give you feedback on your state of recovery, as a poor appetite and weight loss have been linked to overtraining, poor recovery, and OTS (Richard Budgett). Poor intake of food can obviously affect the body’s ability to repair itself, as this will inevitably decrease the amount of nutrients your body has for such functions. Please also keep in mind that those on a ketogenic diet may feel fatigued as the body is transitioning form burning primarily carbohydrates to primarily fat as a fuel source. Another thing to note here is to be mindful of your carbohydrate intake. Some benefit from alternating cycles of a ketogenic diet and one with a moderate carbohydrate intake. Some may also not feel well on a ketogenic diet, and may prefer a moderate to higher carbohydrate diet based on their genetic make-up, type of sport or exercise, and individual needs.

Another element to OTS (and another useful marker) is being aware of your own energy and motivation levels. Sometimes, pushing through when you’re tired can lead you through a great workout to feeling refreshed afterwards. Sometimes, you can feel worse than when you started. The trick is knowing the difference between “I’m tired tired-truckand I don’t feel like it” versus “I’m tired and my body needs to rest or I might injury myself.” To differentiate between those two contexts, you must first be self-aware, and you must also be honest with yourself. There are some links between energy and motivation levels and other physiological markers that we’ve already discussed, such as HR, soreness, appetite, and sleep. Keep the big picture in mind when judging your energy and motivation, and see how what your feeling subjectively links with some of the other markers here. That may help guide you in your decision to push through or take it easy and rest.

If you feel like your body is run down and that you may be coming down with something, you may be overtraining. Of course, you may actually be getting sick, but many elite athletes can feel this way in periods of intense training. Exercise should boost your immune system. If you notice that you’re training hard and are having trouble staying healthy, it might be time for a break (Richard Budgett).


Another marker is body mass index. While this one is not my favorite, if you’re training hard with a goal in mind, it can be beneficial for you. If you’re monitoring your BMI, you’ll need to weight yourself daily (which is one reason this isn’t my favorite method), preferably around the same time every day (for instance, before breakfast). Your body will experience fluctuations daily and throughout the day in weight, but these should result in changes in BMI of less than 2%. More than that could indicate that certain things in your body are breaking down without the ability to restore itself. In other words, your body hasn’t had the resources and/or time yet to repair itself from your most recent workout or training session. Keep riding that wave by pouring another intense workout on top of that, and your body will continue to break down, leading to chronic fatigue and injury.

Our final marker of overtraining versus being recovered is your own performance. How was your class yesterday? How about your run the other day? Everyone has an off day now and again. But if you feel like you’re underperforming on a regular basis, you may be overtraining. Overtraining often results in chronic underperformance (Budgett et al). If you feel like your performance is failing or decreasing despite training and effort, it may not just be a plateau. You may be overreaching, and your body is trying to tell you it needs to stop and recover. Please heed its warnings to reduce risk of injury.

It’s worthy to note here that there are some programs and apps that can help you track these markers. HeartMath is a wonderful tool that can help you track heart rate variability, which is not only helpful for learning if you’re overtraining or recovered, but also beneficial for overall stress management. Sleep cycle is another app that can help track your sleep patterns and assess the quality of your sleep. If you want to track several of these markers in one place, I highly recommend RestWise (for 10% off, click here), which offers software utilized by many elite athletes to do just that.

Next up, we’ll dive into the specifics of the ankle joint (potential for injury and what to do to recover).  Stay tuned!









This website contains affiliate links, which means Tricia may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. You will pay the same price for all products and services, and your purchase helps support Tricia’s ongoing research and work. Thank you for your support!


7 Ways to Improve your Sleep


Hygiene- conditions or practices conducive to maintaining health and preventing disease.

Sleep hygiene- habits or practices conducive to improving sleep on a regular basis to improve your overall health.

Yes, sleep hygiene is real. Getting good sleep is integral to your health, and these days, it is too often sacrificed.  Sleep, through its various stages, allows the body to restore and repair itself.  Sacrifice that, and you’re sacrificing a lot.  Van Dongen et al found that sleeping 6 hours per night or less for 14 days resulted in cumulative cognitive impairments. Another study by Walker et al found that performance in a motor task improved after a period of sleep versus 12 hours of wakefulness (where improvements were not statistically significant). Yet, a “sleep when you’re dead” mentality pervades western culture. Perhaps it’s time to rethink this position.

The Benefits of Darkness

It’s best to sleep in a completely dark room. Before electricity and the prevalent use of artificial light, we went to sleep not long after dark and awoke with the sun. Light and darkness affect our circadian rhythms, and the release of accompanying hormones (cortisol during the day and melatonin at night). Artificial light can affect our 128bit_epay_20151102170449233hormones, as well, and often does so to our detriment. If you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, do your best to eliminate light during your sleeping hours. This even includes light emitted from a clock in your bedroom. Dim your clock to the lowest setting. Use blackout curtains. Consider using an eye mask to keep any light out. These tips are especially helpful if you’re getting up after sunrise. Keeping your sleep environment dark will assist you in achieving your best, most restful sleep. Once you’ve awakened, expose yourself to light to stimulate the release of cortisol and to help you wake up. Taking a brief walk in the morning or spending a few minutes outdoors can often help with this. If you’re waking up before sunrise, consider using a light therapy lamp, such as this one. While these are often used in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder, the light they emit stimulates cortisol production, which is integral for maintaining an appropriate and functional sleep-wake cycle.

Sleep in Cool Environment 

Personally, this one is a tough one for me. I’m often cold, especially in winter, but sleeping in a cool environment has been proven to be the best for sleeping (around 65°). Your core body temperature drops in the evening and overnight to its low at around 5am. If the room you’re sleeping in is too warm, it prevents your core temperature from reaching its lowest point efficiently, which may result in restlessness while sleeping. Cooler ambient temperatures have also been linked to a higher percentage of deep sleep (Kessen et al). If you’re someone who struggles with sleep, or just wants to maximize it, set your thermostat to a cooler temperature when you’re heading to bed. And if you’re like me, make sure you have a warm blanket on the bed.

Limit Blue Lighttablet

We live in an environment where we’re bombarded with artificial light. And as winter approaches, and sunset is getting earlier and earlier, we rely on artificial light more and more. In addition, we have our favorite technological toys to keep us company as we relax in the evening, from laptops to TV to tablets. The only problem with this is the blue light these screens emit, which is stimulating to our nervous systems (Dijk et al). When we’re winding down and trying to get ready for bed, the last thing we need is to stimulate our nervous system. So what can we do?

  1. Give yourself a TV, laptop, and tablet curfew. If you aim to be in bed by 10:00pm, you should stop watching TV or using your electronic devices a few hours before bed. If this sounds impossible, you do have a few alternatives (please see below).
  2. Wear amber glasses. Amber glasses filter out the blue light that simulates our brains. Wearing amber glasses 3 hours before bed improved overall sleep quality, energy, and mood in a study done by Julia Lukacs. There are a variety of styles to get (like these or these), and they’re an inexpensive solution to going about your evening normally without risking disrupting your sleep.amber-glasses
  3. Use amber lighting on your laptop, phone, or tablet. Certain apps will filter out the blue light in your electronic devices. I use F.lux on my laptop and I put my phone on “night shift” mode. It’s an easy way to still use technology past a certain hour without sacrificing your sleep quality.
  4. Upgrade your light bulbs. Crazy to think that technological advances have also affected our light bulbs, but it’s true. Even better, these advances are beneficial to your health. Several companies have put out their own versions of smart light bulbs, which you can adjust using an app on your smartphone or tablet. Smart bulbs such as Philips Hue, Belkin, LIFX Color 1000, and GE allow you to have bright, clean light during the day and more warm-toned, amber light for before bed. You can check out a review on some of these bulbs here.

Limit Caffeine


Another area to examine if you’re having trouble sleeping is your caffeine intake. Most of us know that caffeine is a stimulant, and can affect our alertness levels as well as our sleep. Many think that, since the half-life of caffeine is 4-6 hours, it works its way out of your system after that time. This, however, is not the case. If you drink 200mg of caffeine at noon, 100mg will still be in your system after 5pm. In addition to this, your genes can affect how you metabolize caffeine. Some people are hypersensitive and some are hyposensitive, but most fall somewhere in the middle. Most can have caffeine in the morning and not have it affect their sleep, as long as they stop drinking coffee (or other caffeinated beverages) earlier in the day (Drake et al). To find out whether you’re hypersensitive or hyposensitive, you usually have to stop drinking caffeine for 30 days before reintroducing it (and then, seeing how you react once you do), or you can get your genetic makeup from sites like 23andMe or Smart DNA. If you’re having sleep disturbances, and are a regular caffeine drinker, it may be best to take a caffeine break for 30 days, as described above, so that you can truly know hot it affects you. Please keep in mind that caffeine sensitivity (how you really react to it) and caffeine tolerance (how much you now need before it affects you) are two different things. Many people think that caffeine barely affects them because they have a high tolerance; however their sensitivity may just be covered up by their tolerance. For more information on how your body metabolizes caffeine, please visit Caffeine Informer or Chris Kresser.

Get out in the Sun

woman-in-sunExposure to natural sunlight during the day has a huge effect on our circadian rhythms. It stimulates the production of cortisol in the morning, which is a trigger for our body to be awake and alert. Once the sun goes down, our melatonin increases, which helps us prepare for bedtime. As mentioned earlier, we spend more time indoors now more than ever, and are often exposed to artificial light, which can alter our hormones and impact our sleep negatively. While we’re not likely to escape artificial light anytime soon, we can make an effort to expose ourselves to direct sunlight daily (depending on your location, weather, and the time of year). For those of you who live somewhere where this is possible, make a point to be out in the sun for at least 10-30 minutes a day, preferably sometime during the morning hours (Dumont et al). This can help keep your circadian rhythms in check if done regularly.

Bedtime Snacks

Not surprisingly, your diet can also affect your sleep. Some say you should stop eating 3-4 hours before bed. Some studies show that eating certain foods during your last meal before bed can affect your sleep. So what’s the answer to, “Should I eat before bed, and if so, what should I be eating?” Well, it depends. If you have reflux issues, than making sure your food has time to digest before lying down for the night is beneficial (thus, giving yourself 3-4 hours of digestion time after your last meal and before bed). If you’re hypoglycemic, having a snack before bed may be best to keep blood sugar levels more regulated throughout the night. Some studies show that having carbohydrates (healthy carbohydrates, not processed junk food) before bed improve sleep onset time (Afaghi et al). However, if you’re diabetic, this would not be the best option for you. Other studies show that foods that increase tryptophan production (meat/protein, some dairy products, chocolate, eggs, some nuts and seeds) can improve sleep (Peuhkuri et al). So while the answer is not black and white, there are certainly some guidelines to follow. And I’m fairly certain that none of the include binging on junk food a half hour before bed. In order to find what works for you, you may have to experiment a bit. Regardless of whether you’re eating right before bed, or a few hours before, keep your food choices healthy.

Turn off your WIFI

While the use of WiFi at home certainly makes things easier, it’s best to turn off your WiFi while sleeping. Studies link WiFi with sleep disturbances such as delayed onset ofphone sleeping and decreased melatonin production. WiFi can also disrupt normal cellular development in children. So if you have kids, please make sure they are not sleeping with their phone by their heads with the WiFi on. I sleep with my phone on airplane mode, and turn my WiFi on once I’m up and going in the morning. As it’s something we don’t need to have on while we’re sleeping, it’s very easy to turn it off at night, and back on the morning. Your sleep may improve, and your body will thank you for it.


Next week, we’ll dive into physical performance recovery. Stay tuned!

















This website contains affiliate links, which means Tricia may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. You will pay the same price for all products and services, and your purchase helps support Tricia’s ongoing research and work. Thank you for your support!


12 Ways to Cope with Stress

12 Ways to Cope with Stress

While we’ve been focusing on the physical aspects of being a dancer lately, today, we’ll shift gears to the mental and emotional part by focusing on ways to deal with stress, overwhelm, and burn-out.

All of us have stress, whether we’re dancers or not. Stress can be physical (i.e. a demanding work-out) or psychological and emotional (i.e. relationship difficulties, the loss of a loved one, financial difficulties, health problems, etc), and none of us can escape it. How we cope with stress and “problems” as they arrive can greatly affect our overall health. So today, we’ll devote our energy to finding ways to better manage our stress so that our bodies, minds, and spirits are a bit happier.



Most of us have heard of meditation, and may even know of the health benefits associated with it. Grossman et al conducted a meta-analysis of mindfulness based stress reductions studies, and found that mindfulness training may enhance one’s ability to cope with stress and disability in everyday life. Many think that you have to sit down and think of nothing, which is nearly impossible. This is a bit misleading though. Your head does not need to be empty to meditate, and most likely never will. This doesn’t mean you failed. Meditation is a way to see your thoughts go by, but not let them take you away. It’s a way to practice focusing on a single thing, like your breath. It does not mean you don’t have thoughts anymore. It means you can choose to pay a lot of attention to your thoughts, or to pay them no mind. It means they do not control you, but you can choose whether you follow them or not. It means to not be multi-tasking. It means to keep your focus on one thing, and one thing only, and when you realize that you strayed for a moment, to bring your attention back to that one thing. It means to be aware of your thoughts, and see if there are any repetitive patterns. It means to let your negative thoughts pass by without believing in them, and without letting them become you. That is what meditation is. It’s training for your brain. And it’s not easy. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.


There’s also more than one way to meditate. Some people like to sit erect and cross-legged on the floor to meditate. Some use a zafu to sit on. Some lie down. Some recommend even elevating your legs while lying on your back. There are even moving meditations that can be done while walking or running. There’s not really a wrong way to try to meditate. But trying is important. Give yourself permission to screw up, because it won’t be perfect. But training your brain has to start somewhere.


Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese Medicine. It involves stimulating certain points (meridian points) on the body to improve the flow of energy (qi or chi), and can be done using pressure, change in skin temperature, or insertion of a needle. While acupuncture has been around for thousands of years, science is only beginning to catch up to the wealth of benefits it offers. Hollifield et al utilized a randomized control trial, which compared the effects of acupuncture, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and no treatment in treating PTSD, and found that both acupuncture and CBT provided benefits in depression, anxiety, and other symptoms of PTSD versus no intervention. These benefits were also maintained at the 3-month follow-up after treatment was over. If stress or anxiety is something that plagues you (and you’re not a needle-phobe), you may want to consider acupuncture as a way to help reduce their symptoms and improve your quality of life.


Most of us are well aware of the benefits of yoga, as this traditionally eastern practicetree-pose has permeated western culture. Michalsen et al found that a regular yoga program of 90 minutes twice weekly (over a 3 month period) greatly reduced stress and anxiety in the small group of women they studied (one of the study’s limitations). This study not only used self-reporting, but also salivary coritsol measures (coritsol is a stress hormone), which decreased after yoga class. One thing to keep in mind here is that there are various types of yoga. Hatha yoga, which combines asana (poses), breath-work, and meditation, is the most common style of yoga found in the west. The type of yoga used in this study was a type of Hatha yoga called Iyengar. If you find that you’re already very stressed, though, rigorous exercise and the more intense types of yoga may increase cortisol levels and act as a more of a stressor on the body (another reason that exercise won’t be listed in this section on dealing with stress, despite the fact that it can reduce stress, depending on the type of exercise). In this case, yin yoga or restorative yoga may be a better fit for you.


Stress-reduction is touted as one of the main benefits of bodywork and massage. It can lead to lower hear rate, lower blood pressure, and decreased cortisol levels post-massage (Moraska et al). While most of these changes return to baseline levels the next day, this does not mean there can’t be cumulative effects. What this does indicate is that more research is needed in this area, as current research is lacking on the long-term effects of regular bodywork. That being said, physical touch is essential for humans, and can be very healing. Think of a newborn child. Without physical contact from the mother, the newborn child could die. This also holds true in the animal kingdom. In a world where we’ve gotten used to technological connection over physical contact, it would behoove us to make sure we’re getting enough physical touch from a human being, which includes bodywork and massage.


Many benefit from counseling when stressed. This can take various forms, from traditional talk therapy sessions to yoga therapy. Quick et al included counseling and talk therapy in their prevention program for stress management, citing that interventions at this level are “designed to heal”. They also included it in their program for general well-being. If this is something that speaks to you, search for a licensed and qualified therapist in your area.


You may be wondering what in the world floating has to do with stress reduction. Allow me to explain. Floating is the act of submerging oneself in a sensory-deprivation tank filled with about 1.5 feet of salt water (Epson salt). There’s enough salt in the tank so that everyone can float. The water temperature is essentially the same temperature as your skin, so the feeling of the water disappears once you lie down in the tank. There’s no light or sound in the tank (hence, sensory deprivation). All of this allows the nervous system to reset, as it’s no longer being bombarded with sensory information (among other things). The results: lower heart rate, decreased blood pressure, lower levels of cortisol, and improved overall we-being (Dierendonck et al). I have personally floated multiple times, and I feel quite relaxed and revitalized upon leaving.



walking-in-woodsWe’ve talked about the benefits of going for a walk or hiking during our exercise post. It can help reduce blood pressure, risk of cardiovascular disease, risk of certain cancers, diabetes, depression, and anxiety, in addition to helping control weight and leaving you with healthy muscles and bones (American Hiking Society). Human beings are meant to walk much more than we do in today’s society. If you don’t have time for a long hike, a short walk can still benefit you. Don’t overlook something so simple and accessible for your stress management.

Time in Nature

In addition to hiking, time spent outdoors can do wonders for your overall well being. There are many correlation studies that link time spent in green space with improvements in health, including improvements in perceived stress (Roe et al). Thompson et al even found that the more green space near by, the better the diurnal cortisol levels. While I was not able to find randomized control trials (the gold standard today for scientific rigor), the correlational studies I did find were fairly large, and seem to prove something we already know: that having a connection with nature is important for our health. While it may be hard with busy schedules and uncooperative weather to spend time outside every day, do what you can to connect to nature. If it means sitting on your front porch in the morning to have your morning drink or taking a 15-minute walk after dinner, so be it. I even take my laptop outside and work from my porch on nice days. Every little bit helps!

Connection and Socialization

potluckConnection and socialization are different today than they were even 20 years ago. Technology has allowed us great opportunity to connect with people far and wide quite quickly. And while being able to Skype with someone overseas helps to maintain vital connections to our loved ones far away, it does not replace physical interaction and socialization that we all need form time to time. Even the most introverted person requires some social interaction on occasion. Making sure you put time aside in your busy schedule to see friends for a meal or have tea with someone special can add years to your life. Umberson et al reported that having sufficient social interactions could lead to lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and improved stress hormones. Our friends and family offer us emotional support, an ear to listen, and laughter therapy. If you’ve been drowning in work and can’t remember the last time you went out with friends, scheduling in some leisure time may be just what the doctor ordered.


If you’re already overwhelmed or burnt out, and you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re digging yourself a bigger hole to get out of. Sleep loss can result in higher cortisol levels (stress hormone) the next day (Leproult et al). One small study of 14 showed that low cortisol levels in the morning (when cortisol should be at its highest to encourage waking up and preparing for the day’s activities) were correlated with sleepiness upon awakening, anxiety, exhaustion, and poor health the prior day. High evening levels of cortisol (when cortisol should be at its lowest levels to allow a good night’s rest) were associated with increased stress and poor self-rated health (Dahlgren et al). While it may be easy to think that 5 or 6 hours should be enough, and that we’ll be tired but “functional” is misleading at best and harmful at worst. Sleep seems to be the first thing we sacrifice when we find ourselves drowning in work. Add kids into the mix, and it somehow manages to get worse. The truth is that most of us need 7-9 hours of sleep per night to function at our best. If you’re already stressed and overwhelmed, making sleep a priority isn’t optional; it’s a must. Often, that takes a little discipline and improvements in time management, but it’s doable. I don’t mean that you have to be more productive during your waking hours or fit more in. When I mention time management here, it’s probably a bit more about not watching TV too late at night or putting your laptop away earlier so that your brain can unwind, stop being over stimulated, and prepare for sleep a little earlier than usual. What usually happens as a result of getting more sleep is that you’re more productive during the day and are able to check things off your to-do list more easily. Start with making sleep a priority, and watch the trickle down effect, from your perceived levels of stress to what you actually accomplish in a day.



While this may be easier said than done, if you’re completely burnt out, taking some time off may be in order. Not everyone gets vacation days, and if you’re a dancer, vacation time may be dictated by performance schedules. But if you have any flexibility here, taking a long weekend may be quite beneficial. Stay-cations can also be just as wonderful as vacations, so travel isn’t a must in this situation. Keep in mind that if you are able to get away or take some time off at home, not having scheduled activities would probably benefit you most. Trying to adhere to a strict schedule can be as stressful on vacation as when you’re home and working like usual. If the point is to rest and rejuvenate, get plenty of sleep and relaxation time in during your time off. This is a great time to employ some of the above suggestions, like sleeping in, taking a walk in nature, getting a massage, or meeting a friend for coffee.


Food choices can exacerbate conditions in an already stressed body, or they can help heal them. Higher cortisol levels (seen with high stress levels) impact blood glucose levels, inhibit protein synthesis, and reduce calcium absorption. If these conditions persist for long periods of time, impacts can be felt in the body far and wide. To make things worse, stressful situations can cause us to want to eat more processed foods and refined sugar because of the reward pathways it activates in the brain, including the release of the “motivating” neurotransmitter dopamine. And while this may benefit us veggiesin the short-term, it wreaks havoc on our systems in the long run. These foods can cause cravings, impair memory and learning, increase depression and anxiety, and lead to metabolic issues such as insulin-resistance. In essence, processed foods, junk food, refined sugar, and fast food will tax an already taxed system. On the other hand, eliminating or limiting these foods will give your body a chance to recover from stress. Filling your plate with green vegetables, healthy proteins and fats, and a small amount of starch will literally nourish your body. You won’t overeat because your body will have the nutrition it needs. With the nutrients it needs to function properly, your brain can think clearly, your liver can get rid of toxins, and your kidneys can eliminate waste. Supporting your body in this way allows for good decision-making and provides your body with the nutrients it needs to function at an optimal level. Breaking bad food habits and food addictions is never easy. But if you’re stressed and overwhelmed, neglecting your nutrition will only make it worse. If you can stumble upon that “better nutrition habits” wave, ride it for as long as you can!


Next week, we’ll delve deeper into sleep.  Stay tuned!


















This website contains affiliate links, which means Tricia may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. You will pay the same price for all products and services, and your purchase helps support Tricia’s ongoing research and work. Thank you for your support!


Exercise Programs and Specific Types of Exercise


Last week, we introduced cross training, discussed the benefits, and even mentioned some specific muscle groups to target as dancers. This week, we’ll look into some specific programs and types of exercise you can use to cross train or to supplement your current workout regimen or your current dance training.

Low Impact Activities

We’ll begin by discussing three activities that are low impact and great for your overall health: yoga, Pilates, and walking/hiking. Incorporating a yoga practice into your life can improve your flexibility, strength, and mental well-being (aka, stress levels). In their comparison review, Ross et al found yoga to be beneficial in nearly every category, and found that yoga was at least as beneficial if not more beneficial than regular exercise in multiple areas (including balance, flexibility, grip strength, stress, menopause symptoms, and sleep, among others). Some areas where regular exercise was more beneficial than yoga was energy expenditure and VO2max. This can vary, however, based on the type of yoga you do as well as the type of “exercise” you normally do. As we mentioned last week, if you’re already stressed and your body is a bit overtaxed, restorative yoga may be best for you. This may also be true if you’re recovering from injury. If you’re fairly healthy, not currently overtraining, and don’t find yourself often overwhelmed and/or exhausted, you may benefit from a more strenuous yoga class, such as a Vinyasa flow class or an Ashtanga yoga class. Remember, too, that not all yoga is asana (poses). Yoga can be entirely breath work, or a combination or the breath, meditation, and chanting. There is a wide range to choose from (and per Cowen et al, different types of yoga will confer different benefits), so you can certainly find something that suits your needs and your fits your current bill of health.

Per the Pilates Method Alliance, “pilates is a method of exercise and physical movement designed to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body.” Posture, proper breath work, and core strengthening are all emphasized, as is executing movements while maintaining length, which improves overall flexibility. This low impact form of training improves a wide range of bodily functions and systems, including lung capacities, circulation, core strength, flexibility, posture, balance, coordination, and bone density. And you don’t need to start out physically fit to enjoy the benefits of Pilates training. Sekendiz et al found improvements in core strength, flexibility, and endurance in sedentary women in their randomized control study.


While walking and hiking may not seem like “exercise”, they are, in fact, the oldest form of physical activity for human beings. Indigenous tribes walk miles a day, and humans having been using our feet as a main mode of transportation for thousands of years. There are definite links between walking and improved mood, cognitive function, decreased cardiovascular disease, decreased anxiety and stress, and improved sleep. Walking or hiking may also be beneficial if recovering from injury or if you’re too stressed, and your HPA axis is over taxed. If so, this would be a great way to get moving without risking deleterious effects from over-exercising.

Endurance Activities


If you’d like to include aerobic or endurance activities in your normal workout regimen, some popular and effective choices are running, swimming, and biking. While running can offer increases in VO2 max and be a great way to spend some time out in nature, it can also be hard on your joints due to impact. So if you’re someone who already has joint issues, running may not be for you. There are several programs and apps out there now to assist with transitioning from a sedentary lifestyle to completing your first 5K, for example. You can find a ranking of some of those apps here. Swimming and biking both offer cardiovascular benefits, increases in VO2 max, and improved pulmonary function, and are less stressful on your joints (as they are lower impact sports). So if you find you have joint issues, you may want to consider these lower impact forms of endurance exercise. Another word to the wise: if you’re already overstressed and over-exercising, aerobic and endurance training may not be suitable at this time. Consider yoga or walking instead.

High Intensity Activities

If you’re someone who is already in decent shape, isn’t overstressed or overwhelmed, and would like to improve your overall physical fitness, then you might be drawn to activities such as Cross-fit, Insanity, or P90X. These exercise programs focus on functional movement, which is good, but are definitely high impact. Cross-fit is defined as “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” These exercises are usually performed in groups in a gym, and can be very beneficial….. if you’re the right type of person. Most already need some level of physical fitness or health to participate. And again, if you’re overly competitive to the point of poor judgment or already overstressed and overtaxed, this type of exercise may not be for you. It may cause you to risk injury for the sake of competition or to risk injury from overtraining. Rhabdomyolysis, a condition when muscle breaks down and releases toxins into the blood stream, can occur when working out at high intensities, intensities that might occur with Cross-fit training. Making sure you can train hard and still know your own limits is important if you decide to participate in high intensity programs like this. Home programs, such as Insanity and P90X offer the convenience of performing high intensity circuit workouts in your own home and when you have time. In addition, movements are functional and incorporate the whole body. These workouts are based on using different exercises so that your body doesn’t adapt as quickly, and subsequently, keeps being challenged. But just as with Cross-fit, if you’re joints are impaired, or you’re too stressed and overtaxed, these workouts might not be what the doctor ordered. Rhabdomyolysis can also be a concern here, so make sure you’re not pushing yourself beyond repair.

Weight Training

As a dancer, you may be afraid of bulking up with weight training, but I urge you to reconsider.  It can be of great benefit to your dancing and your overall health to incorporate the use of weights and resistance into your strengthening and workout regimen.  If you’re still worried about putting on too much muscle, check out a great article here on the benefits to weight and strength training (12 of them, in fact).  If you’re a mesomorph (have a more muscular build), and you are concerned about bulking up, you may wish to use lower weights and do higher repetitions.  So how to you determine what exercises to do?  Easy.  You can refer back to our post on cross-training to determine which muscles you may wish to target in general.  You can get muscle testing from a physical therapist to help determine which muscle groups are weaker on you. Or, as referenced by Kozai et al,  you can consider your general areas of strength and weakness in the classroom.  Are you better at adagio, but struggle with petit allegro?  You may need to work the intrinsic foot muscles and muscles in the calf to improve your petit allegro.  If you struggle with adagio, you may need to focus more on core control, strengthening hamstring, adductors, and possibly even iliospoas for those amazing developpes you’re striving for.

Foundation Training

anatomy-trainsFoundation Training was developed by Dr. Eric Goodman to help reduce back pain, improve posture, and improve overall athletic performance. It targets some of the fascial lines that run throughout the body proposed by Thomas Meyers that strengthen the core and gluteal muscles in particular. This program can be helpful for those recovering from back injuries or those who look to strengthen their core muscles and improve muscle activation. For more information on foundation training, please go here.

Eccentric Training

Eccentric training utilizes the repetition of eccentric muscle contractions for exercise. An eccentric muscle contraction is one in which the muscle is lengthening while carrying a load. The load could be your own body weight, or could have resistance, such as weights. Eccentric training is often done slowly (over time), and can result in stronger muscles, increased muscle repair, and increased basal metabolic rate. During eccentric movement, the muscle actually absorbs energy, which improves overall efficiency. As dancers, we utilize eccentric training regularly while in class. We focus on lowering the leg slowly from a grand battement. We focus on lowering into our grand plié (even though we still utilize concentric contractions to lift the leg or come up rom the grand plié). This may be why we also suffer from a fair amount of soreness, as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is attributed primarily to eccentric training. Fortunately, DOMS decreases with repeated training. One thing to note is that eccentric training can lead to injury if the person is unaccustomed to the exercise, but, if performed properly, it also leads to adaptation, which decreases overall risk for injury. It can also be a wonderful tool for rehab, as many studies have found improvements in achilles tendinopathy and things likes jumper’s knee from eccentric training. It has also been helpful in rehab with older adults, as it does not require as much energy expenditure and risk for injury is low.

Incorporating Eccentric Training

Here are a few examples of exercises you can do if you’re interested in incorporating eccentric training into your regular exercise routine:

  1. burpee-1203906_1920Eccentric push-ups: These can be done by taking 5-10 seconds to lower yourself all the way from a high plank position to the ground. If it’s then too hard to push yourself back up, push back up on your knees, and then resume the plank position to start again. Keep in mind that overall repetitions will be low here, maybe in the 5-8 reps range.
  2. Eccentric shoulder press: You will need a weight here. Again, take 5-10 seconds to lower the weight. Then use one or both arms to put the weight back overhead.
  3. Eccentric squats: These can be done on one or two legs. Take 5-10 seconds to lower yourself down, and then return to standing. If doing one-legged squats, use both legs to return to standing.
  4. Eccentric lunges: Start standing with feet a few feet apart with one foot in front of the other. Take 5-10 seconds to lower down before returning to standing.
  5. Eccentric Lat Pull-down: Start with the weight in at your chest and slowly let the weight go back up over your head. This can be done with one arm eccentrically (depending on your grip attachment) and concentrically (when you’re pulling the weight back into your chest) with both arms.
  6. Eccentric pull-ups: Use a chair to start with your chin up over the pull-up bar. Then, take 5-10 seconds to slowly lower your body down. Use the chair again to return to starting position (if you don’t have the strength to pull yourself back up).

Remember, these are just a few examples, and not at all an exhaustive list. Keep in mind that while you can do this easily with isolated muscle groups, it’s often good to devote more of your workout to functional body movements that involve multiple, large muscle groups.

I hope you’ve learned something about different types of exercise you can implement I your exercise routine. Stay tuned as we shift gears next week, and talk a little more about stress and mental burn-out.
























This website contains affiliate links, which means Tricia may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. You will pay the same price for all products and services, and your purchase helps support Tricia’s ongoing research and work. Thank you for your support!


Cross Training


What is Cross Training?

Cross training is defined as exercising in a way that minimizes the shortcomings of your usual athletic endeavor by emphasizing aspects of physical fitness that it may not include. That could mean training in a sport that is different than your own (or your main sport), or targeting muscles and muscle groups that don’t get as utilized in your regular routine. It can also mean training aerobically versus anaerobically, or vice versa. The main reasons for incorporating cross training into your normal regimen include reducing risk for injury and to improve overall physical fitness in a balanced way. Cross training can also allow you to continue to challenge yourself outside of your normal sport or outside of your usual ways if you’re recovering from injury. In addition, cross training and changing your normal work-out routine serve to challenge your body in a different way, which minimizes the training effect (ie your body improving in a sport-specific function because of your training, which, while desirable, may only allow for progress in that specific area) and enhances overall fitness.

How do you do it?

While most people train sport-specifically, and dancers are no different, it’s important to maintain a balanced approach for your overall fitness now and 10 or 20 years from now. Most injuries come from overuse, injuries that no athlete is immune to. If you are looking to target certain muscle groups that you don’t normally utilize in your own sport, you first need to examine what IS required. For example, if you’re a cyclist, cross training in more of a weight bearing position may be beneficial, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t tend to stand much as you ride. For dancers, consider paying some extra attention to the following groups of muscles (please note, this list is not exhaustive):

  1. Dorsiflexors- These are the muscles in the front of the shin that help to flex the foot. We spend so much time pointing, which can result in overuse injuries, that flexing the foot would probably do us some good.
  2. Foot and Ankle Inverters- These muscle of the foot and ankle help to (dare I say it) sickle the foot. While this is a big no-no in the dance world, one of the main muscles of inversion (called posterior tibialis) is paramount in maintaining the arch and preventing a fallen arch as you age. When you’re out of the classroom and rehearsal, don’t be afraid to use a Theraband to strengthen this muscle. It won’t cause you to lose eversion, or the ability to wing your foot. But it may help keep your arch lifted.
  3. deadliftHamstrings- These wonderful muscles in the back of the thigh are often weaker than the quadriceps in the front of the thigh, with most people having quadriceps that are 20-50% stronger than their back-of-the-thigh counterparts. When you also consider the rate of hamstring injuries in dancers and gymnasts alike, you then have a definite need to pay extra attention to these muscles. Dead lifts are a great way to work your hamstrings while keeping their length. Hamstring curls and reverse hinges in kneeling are another great way to target your hamstrings.
  4. Hip internal Rotators- The dreaded turn-in. We work our turn-out so much as dancers, that it affects our bones, the joint capsule, and the surrounding ligaments and soft tissue. It seems that the more we turn-out, the less we can turn-in. These motions are supposed to be fairly equal to maintain good hip integrity. SO when you’re not in class, consider doing something to strengthen your internal hip rotators. Again, you won’t lose turn-out because of this. But you may minimize risk for injury and help yourself later in life by choosing to turn-in every once in a while when your out of you leotard and tights. Consider lying on your side with a Theraband tied around your ankle. While keeping your knees together, try to lift your top foot up in the air by rotating inward at the hip.
  5. Core Muscles- While we definitely use our whole bodies when dancing, making sure we do things to target our core decreases risk of injury and improves balance, lifts, and turns, as well as partnering. This means taking time to focus on our abdominals and our back muscles outside of class. This can be done with whole body exercises, such as planks, side planks, and the hundred exercise from Pilates, quadruped exercises opposite arm and leg lifts, bridging with your feet on a ball (double or single leg), and rowing (not an exhaustive list). For upper back or chest, consider push-ups or pull-ups
  6. Arms- Men need to maintain strength for partnering and lifts, which makes targeting the arms important. For the ladies, cross training here can help improve our partnering and help us with our overall fitness goals. Push-ups and pull-ups come to mind again, as do chest press or overhead presses and rows or lat pull-downs. There’s nothing wrong with skull crushers or bicep curls on occasion, but you want to try to incorporate more muscle groups, as this is more in line with how our body truly functions.

Outside of targeting certain muscle groups, you can also cross train by working aerobically, anaerobically, or using interval training, depending on what your main sport is. As dancers, we tend to have moments of aerobic activity and anaerobic activity. You may think, “Great! I’m already getting both,” which is true. But interval training outside of class and rehearsal can continue to benefit us. As an alternative, you can alternate cross training methods to target both systems by working aerobically one day and anaerobically at your next work-out. Some examples of aerobic activity include hiking, long-distance jogging, or other activities that probably come to mind when you think “cardio”. Anaerobic activities include things like sprinting, burpees, and squat jumps. Interval training usually involves bouts of intense, anaerobic exercise interspersed with periods of lower-intensity, aerobic exercise or rest periods. Some people may walk for a period of time, then sprint for a period of time, and then return to walking. Some may do high intensity intervals, such as a set of squats for 30 seconds, followed by a set of jumping jacks for 30 seconds, followed by a set a push-ups for 30 seconds, and repeat these sets multiple times. We’ll look deeper into some of these training methods (and others) and the science behind them in a different blog post, as the focus of this one is the science of cross training in general.

A word on stress

I’d be remiss here if I didn’t mention exercise and stress. And I’m not talking about how exercise can help reduce stress and improve mood (which it can); I’m talking about what type of exercise you should or shouldn’t be doing depending on your current stress levels. Most of us in Western Civilization tend to be on the go all the time. Stress is inescapable, and seemingly seeps into our lives at every turn. While this may not be true for everyone, most dancers and elite athletes tend to be Type A personalities that keep pushing their limits to achieve their goals. Overtraining then becomes more common, and burnout can occur quickly. If you know for yourself that you are already overtaxed and overstressed, you risk injury if you keep pushing. You risk injuring not only your muscles, but you also risk HPA axis dysfunction (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which in turn can impact your immune system, digestion, mood, energy storage and expenditure, and sexual function in a negative way. We’ll go more into this in a future blog post, but for now, just know that if you’re feeling overly tired and run-down all the time, high intensity cross training may not be the best option for you. Opt for things like hiking in nature and restorative yoga for the time being.


Finally, I was able to find a few great articles that refer specifically to dancing. One article by Matthew Wyon focused on cardiorespiratory training for dancers, and discussed the energy systems utilized by dancers in class, in rehearsals, and at performance time. Another article, by Twitchett et al, echoed much of what Wyon conveyed in his article, but focused primarily on professional ballet dancers (which were found to have less developed energy systems than their contemporary counterparts). Wyon found that class and rehearsal was not enough to meet the demands we place on ourselves during performances. Barre work is considered low to moderate intensity and low impact work with adequate rest periods (aerobic activity). Center floor was found to be moderate to high intensity with shorter durations for exercises but longer rest periods (anaerobic activity). Rehearsals still have longer rest periods as a whole than is required during a performance. Performance requires longer bouts of movement with shorter rest periods (or periods of less intense movement). Therefore, Wyon suggests supplementing in-class training with interval training, as this will mimic performance in terms of bouts of intensity and result in increased VO2max (peak oxygen uptake). Increasing VO2max delays the onset of fatigue, which can then reduce the risk of injury. He also recommended that students who are training to become professional dancers (with a focus on mastering technique versus performance) should consider adding 1-2 session per week of aerobic activity, as this would, again, delay the onset of fatigue, and reduce the risk of injury. That being said, I can already here the students out there saying that they perform, too. In that case, you may want to supplement your dance training with an aerobic activity during training times and consider interval training closer to the times when you’re performing. Neither activity will hurt your performance or impede your progress, as long as you’re healthy and not overtraining when injured.

Another article I found by Brown et al focused on plyometric training versus strength training with weights and their respective effects on aesthetic jumping ability, lower body strength, and power. While this training was not strictly cross training, as the movement did mimic certain movements from class and/or use muscles that dancers are already utilizing on a regular basis, the results were favorable. Both methods improved aesthetic jumping ability, lower body strength, and power, and were therefore recommended to supplement current dance training. It was also noted in this study, that the control groups displayed no improvements despite being in class regularly, which could indicate that taking class alone is not enough to make significant improvements in these areas. Please note that this study was fairly small and was performed on collegiate level dancers.

As far as non-dance specific articles, Stuart McGill, who specializes in the spine, found that training the core improves performance and reduces the risk of injury. In the rehab phase, he focuses on three primary stabilization exercises that are quite famous in the physical therapy world: the bridge, side planks, and the quadruped bird-dog. Once stabilization has been achieved, he recommends progressing to strengthening exercises. For those of us that cut and change directions frequently (he references football players in his article, but I think this applies to dancers, as well), good abdominal and quadratus lumborum strength is essential (especially for the men in partnering). Two ways that McGill recommends targeting this area would be through the one-armed suitcase carry or the asymmetrical bottom-up kettlebell carry (please see his article for more details).


A few other articles, such as those by Hirofumi Tanaka and Foster et al, found that sport-specific training resulted in the best results, although there were some improvements in VO2max between running and swimming. Foster et al also reinforced the notion that cross training outside of your normal sport may help with injury recovery as well as overall fitness levels.

What does all this mean?

No one is saying to stop dancing or stop taking classes. This will always help to hone your craft and make up the core of your training. But cross training outside of class, even if only once a week, can reduce risk for overuse injuries, allow for some sort of exercise during rehab or recovery, lead to overall improvements in physical fitness, and can enhance your dancing. Supplementing with some sort of aerobic training or interval training may also prove beneficial to us as dancers.

Want to no more about exercises or types of training you can incorporate into your current exercise regimen? Stay tuned!












This website contains affiliate links, which means Tricia may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. You will pay the same price for all products and services, and your purchase helps support Tricia’s ongoing research and work. Thank you for your support!



Stretching, Part 3- Dynamic Stretching

stretch out strap

For our finale on the topic of safe stretching, we’re going to discuss dynamic stretching. Dynamic stretching is categorized as movement that extends to our end range for a given muscle that doesn’t require a long hold at that end point. In other words, we move through it. We may hold it for a brief period of time, but it’s quite different than static or PNF stretching, in which we may hold certain positions for 5 to even 60 seconds per stretch.

Mechanisms of Dynamic Stretching

Dynamic stretching utilizes reciprocal inhibition to achieve results (Longo). If you recall from last week’s blog post, reciprocal inhibition is the concept that, as one set of muscles act on a joint (for example, the quadriceps contract to straighten the knee), the opposing muscles (in this case, the hamstrings) lengthen to allow this action to occur without injury. There is something, however, that can counteract this lengthening we desire: the myotatic stretch reflex. This is the reflex that occurs when the doctor is testing your reflexes in his office during a routine physical. This reflex causes the muscle being stretched to tighten, or contract, to resist injury, with the goal of trying to keep the muscle the same length (not having it stretch too far). But when trying to stretch a muscle, like the hamstring, it also takes about 1.5-2 seconds to take effect. This is where timing for dynamic stretching comes into play. Dynamic stretching is only held for 0-2 seconds to bypass this reflex that some might say impedes progress.

Obviously, it doesn’t impede all progress, as we already know that static stretching works. Again, it simply is using one reflex to our benefit while trying to avoid another that counteracts the desired lengthening. Neither way is wrong or right. Both aim to increase our flexibility by utilizing different mechanisms (ie, in different ways).

It’s also important to note here that dynamic stretching is not the same as ballistic stretching. Ballistic stretching involves quick contractions of the agonist muscle (for example, quadriceps) to lengthen the opposing, antagonistic muscle (in this example, hamstrings). There is no static hold at the end range for the muscle, which results in a bouncing movement that causes the joint to move into an extreme range of motion. This elicits the myotatic stretch reflex, which is the very reflex that dynamic stretching works to avoid (Longo).

How to perform dynamic stretching

Much like other types of stretching, there is more than one way to stretch your muscles. I’ll provide some examples here:

  1. Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back with a strap around your foot (like the one pictured here). Use your own strength to pull your leg straight up in the air while holding the strap (do not use the strap to hoist your leg up) until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh (not pain). At that point, use the strap to provide assistance in stretching beyond your active range and into the passive range (again, not until the point of pain, just until the stretch is increased some, but tolerable). Hold this for 1.5-2 seconds. Then release your leg back to starting position.
  2. Adductors/Inner thigh stretch: Lie on your back with a strap around your foot and your leg turned out. Again, use your muscles (not the strap yet) to pull your leg out to the side and up towards your shoulder as far as you can without pain. Then, use the strap to assist the stretch a little further for 1.5-2 seconds. Then, release your leg back to its starting position.
  3. Quadricep stretch: Lie on your stomach with the strap around your foot or ankle. Bend your knee as far as you can, as if you were trying to touch your heel to your bottom. Then, use the strap to assist you in stretching further for 1.5-2 seconds. Then, release the lower leg.
  4. Plantarflexor/gastrocnemius stretch: Sit in long sitting with one leg extended straight out in front of you. Use a strap around the foot (if you can’t reach your foot with your hands), or if your hamstring flexibility allows, be ready to grab your foot with your hands. Actively flex your foot, pulling your toes back towards your head. Once you’ve actively reached your end range, assist your foot in stretching further by grabbing the ball of your foot or pulling on the strap for 1.5-2 seconds. Then, release.

By now, you should notice a few themes here:

  1. Actively move your limb into it’s end range with your own strength. This activates the agonist muscles to set up the stretch and keep the reflexes in check.
  2. Apply overpressure with a strap or your hands to increase your flexibility by shifting from your active range of motion to your passive range of motion.
  3. Hold for no more than 1.5-2 seconds.
  4. Return to your starting position.

dynamic stretching

Also, keep in mind that you don’t have to hold the stretch at all. If you’re a dancer, think leg swings. Whether done as a straight leg or in attitude, you swing your leg to end range in one direction, and then swing to the other. This is dynamic stretching. A demi plié is another example of a dynamic stretch. While we’ve been doing these in class for eons without naming it a dynamic stretch, we’re all well aware that this increases our calf flexibility, and is an integral part of class and what we do as dancers.

Programs to assist in Dynamic Stretching

Obviously, the above list is not an exhaustive list of ways to perform dynamic stretching or muscle groups that can be stretched utilizing this method. If you’d like more guidance in a particular area or would like a program to follow, I know of two. The first system is AIS (active isolated stretching). The program was created by Aaron Mattes, who has a Master’s of Science Degree with special emphasis in Kinesiology and Kinesiotherapy. He has focused on the mechanisms mentioned above to create a system that can apply to any muscle group with the intent of increasing flexibility of the soft tissue and fascia without risk of injury. More information about his work can be found here, and videos for his program can be found here.

Another program that utilized dynamic stretching is EasyFlexibility. Paul Zaichik created the Kinesiological Stretching Technique and EasyFlexibility. Per his website: “The purpose of Kinesiological Stretching techniques is to avoid the stretch reflex, while increasing the range of motion of a specific muscle. This is strikingly different from previously known stretching techniques, which look to increase the ROM in a specific degree of freedom of a joint or group of joints. (Hip Flexion, shoulder rotation, neck extension, etc.) Kinesiological stretching simultaneously increases the flexibility of a muscle in all its actions, using the reversible system of targets and leverages. This allows the stretch reflex to be avoided.”

Zaichik’s research is listed as private, so I could not view any of his studies. I personally have purchased two of his videos to try them out. I certainly understand the concepts behind his techniques, but it would be nice to view the scientific literature for myself to make a better determination of the study’s validity and the efficacy of the techniques offered. That being said, several people tout the benefits of his program. If they’re something you’d like to look into or try for yourself, you can view them here. I’ll offer an update on the two that I purchased at a later time.


There’s a fair amount of evidence in the scientific community since the 1990’s regarding dynamic stretching; however, several are small studies and some only involve men or women, which limits their generalizability. Keeping that in mind, Bandy et al found that both static and dynamic stretching improved flexibility, but that static stretching was the best method. This study, however, held their “dynamic” stretches for 5 seconds, which would trigger the myotatic stretch response that dynamic stretching was created to avoid. Similarly, Meliggas et al studied 13-14 year old boys (I wanted to include this study here, as this blog is not only for adults, but also those who are up and coming and have an interest in optimizing their health), and found that both dynamic and static stretching improved range of motion. O’Sullivan et al determined that static stretching was better at increasing range of motion than dynamic stretching. Longo concluded that AIS outperformed static stretching and PNF stretching in her study, although it was a small sample size (n=10).

A few other studies I found compared dynamic stretching and static stretching in terms of performance versus flexibility. Herda et al examined peak torque of the biceps femoris (the outermost hamstring) in 14 males after stretching statically (30 second holds) and dynamically (no holds, just moving through movement at end range for 30 seconds), and surmised that there was no decrease in peak torque (maximal muscle strength) after dynamic stretching while deficits surfaced after static stretching. Amiri-Khorasani et al studied 18 professional male soccer players, and concluded that dynamic stretching allowed for better kicking leg forward phase and follow through phase range of motion over static stretching. Finally, Maneol et al found that dynamic stretching was better than static stretching or no stretching regarding knee extension power in 12 women (although both static stretching and dynamic stretching increased range of motion).

What does all this mean?

Dynamic stretching can be a safe and effective way to stretch and increase flexibility. But if you’ve been paying attention to my previous blog posts about stretching, static stretching and PNF stretching both offer benefits, as well. What this means is that there is no one right way to stretch. Everyone is different, and you have to find what works for you. That being said, you might want to consider when you’re performing your stretching, as some studies (but not all) have demonstrated that static stretching before jumping, balance, and agility activities could affect your outcomes in a negative way. Perhaps dynamic stretching is best before class or before your workout with static stretching better once you’re finished exercising. Perhaps you don’t like static stretching, and PNF suits your needs. You have to try a few of these methods and see how you feel and how you perform. After all, you are your own n=1. Be your own experiment, and see what is optimal for you. And remember, there are always tools to help you along the way (such as a stretching strap, yoga block, AIS DVD’s, or EasyFlexibility videos). Happy stretching!

Next week, we’ll turn our focus from stretching to cross training. Stay tuned!
















This website contains affiliate links, which means Tricia may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. You will pay the same price for all products and services, and your purchase helps support Tricia’s ongoing research and work. Thank you for your support!

Stretching, Part 2- PNF Stretching

So what is PNF stretching?

PNF stands for “proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation”. It is a concept in which the body uses its proprioceptive system to encourage (facilitate) or discourage (inhibit) certain movements (muscle contractions). And what is proprioception? Proprioception is the body’s ability to be aware of itself in space. In other words, it’s your body’s way of knowing that if you put your arm up in the air, it’s up in the air (relative to the rest of your body). Proprioceptors are found throughout the body in muscles, tendons, and joints. Combine proprioception with information from your vestibular (balance) system, and your brain has the ingredients for spatial awareness, movement, and changes in speed.

A little about the history of PNF

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, a neurophysicist named Herman Kabat was working with individuals with neurological conditions (such as cerebral palsy). He found that stimulating distal body parts (ie, the ankle relative to the hip) allowed proprioceptors in the more proximal body parts (ie, the hip relative the ankle) to engage. For the population he was working with, this was huge, as many had deficits in proprioception from their neurological conditions. It allowed things that were otherwise seemingly asleep to wake up. Through his work with these individuals, he determined that moving limbs and body parts in concert (using the whole leg, for example) versus in isolation (flexing just the hip) produced the desired results (helping the muscle lengthen).

These concepts of the distal affecting the proximal and moving the body in concert versus isolation also apply to those of us who are healthy. It’s a more functional way of moving, as the body rarely works in isolation. And for those with an interest in (or awareness of) functional training, PNF is the basis for it. That being said, how exactly does it work? I’m glad you asked.

Mechanisms of PNF stretching

PNF is based on two concepts: autogenic inhibition and reciprocal inhibition. Here’s the science of it. Autogenic (self-generating) inhibition (restriction or hindrance) is a reflex that occurs when a muscle is under high tension. Such a tension might occur when a muscle is being stretched towards its end range (for example, the hamstring). When the body (specifically golgi tendon organs) senses this increased tension, it allows some slack in the muscle to prevent it from tearing. Another name for this reflex is the inverse myotatic stretch reflex. Reciprocal inhibition is the concept that, as one set of muscles act on a joint (for example, the quadriceps contract to straighten the knee), the opposing muscles (in this case, the hamstrings) lengthen to allow this action to occur without injury. Both of these can be utilized to lengthen a specific muscle group. One reflex that stands in the way is the myotatic stretch reflex. This reflex causes the muscle being stretched to tighten, or contract, to resist injury, with the goal of trying to keep the muscle the same length (not having it stretch too far). Think about having your reflexes tested at the doctor’s office. This is an example of a myotatic stretch reflex.

So you have one reflex that allows the muscle to relax and lengthen to prevent injury (autogenic inhibition or the inverse myotatic stretch reflex), and another that contracts and tightens that very same muscle to prevent injury (myotatic stretch reflex). How can both be true? The answer is that both of these reflexes work together. You don’t just get one or the other (at least, not in healthy individuals). Think about how out of balance you would be if only your quadriceps worked to straighten the knee, but never the hamstrings to bend it. You need to be able to both end and straighten your knee, just as you need to have reflexes in your body that oppose each other. In order to have a healthy, balanced body, you need your reflexes to react in a balanced way that allows you to safely move through space, lift, bend, twist, run, jump, and stretch. How much and for how long these reflexes work depend on the specific motorneurons that regulate these reflexes in the spinal cord. In healthy individuals, they determine a safe balance and which side (if any) eventually wins out. Some have a longer latency, meaning they take longer to set in. Other reflexes occur quite quickly in response to a stretch (ie, the myotatic stretch reflex).   So how long you hold a stretch or whether or not you contract a muscle will affect these different reflexes. Static stretching (see last week’s blog post) invokes the inverse myotatic stretch reflex to work its magic. PNF stretching utilizes specific durations and muscle contraction intensity to target the assistance of autogenic and reciprocal inhibition to achieve its goals. And dynamic stretching (which we’ll discuss next week) bypasses certain reflexes based on the duration of the hold.

hamstring stretch solo

How to perform PRN stretching

There are three main ways to perform PNF stretches. Since I’ve done most of this blog referring to the hamstrings, I will continue to use them for my examples.

  1. Hold-relax: Have a partner raise your leg into the air with your knee straight until a stretch is felt in the back of the leg (not pain). Make sure your other leg is straight and flat against the floor or mat table. It’s easiest to prop your ankle onto your partner’s shoulder for support. Durations vary for how long to hold the stretch here from as little as 7 seconds to as much as 20 seconds, depending on the study. After this initial stretch phase, push your leg down onto your partner’s shoulder (not a maximal contraction, as this is not necessary per Feland et al, but closer to 20-50% maximal contraction). Hold this submaximal isometric contraction for 6-10 seconds (Rowlands et al). Then relax your leg, and have your partner stretch your hamstring further (passively). Repeat this cycle of holding in a relaxed state, contracting your hamstrings, and relaxing to stretch further for 3-5 cycles. This stretch primarily utilizes autogenic inhibition.
  2. Contract-Relax: This is almost identical to the above; however your partner should hold your leg in the air with his/her hands versus propping your leg on his/her shoulder. This is because your leg will go through an isotonic (same muscular tone) contraction versus an isometric (same muscle length) contraction. In an isotonic contraction, you will push your leg all the way back down to the bed or mat table while your partner offers resistance. Again, 20-50% of maximal contraction should be sufficient here. The contraction times and stretch times should be the same as above. Repeat this cycle 3-5 times. This stretch primarily utilizes the inverse myotatic stretch reflex.
  3. Contract-Relax-Agonist Contract (CRAC): The set-up for this stretch is almost the same as for the Hold-Relax technique; however you begin by actively performing a straight leg raise to lift your leg straight into the air until a stretch is felt in the back of the thigh. Then, rest your ankle on your partner’s shoulder. The hold times from above will apply here, as well. The hamstring contraction you perform is isometric (versus isotonic), just as in the Hold-Relax technique. After your first isometric contraction, you now actively lift your leg (potentially off of your partner’s shoulder) into a greater hamstring stretch for 7-10 seconds, with your partner coming to meet your leg in the new position. Repeat this cycle 3-5 times. This technique primarily utilizes reciprocal inhibition.

PNF stretches can be used with other muscle groups, as well, such as the quadriceps, plantar-flexor muscles of the calf, biceps, triceps, and pectoralis muscles, to name a few. Having a partner to help you is recommended, although there are some creative ways to perform some of these techniques on your own. For example, you can lie in a doorway with your leg propped up on the wall for a hamstring stretch. When going further into the stretch (after the contraction), just slide your bottom closer to the wall while keeping your leg straight. Or, if your hamstrings are on the more flexible side, you may be able to use your own hands to push against and to assist your stretch.  You are limited to either the Hold-Relax or the CRAC technique here, but it’s nice to have options for PNF stretching when you don’t have a partner.


I found no articles that determined PNF stretching did not result in some increased range of motion or flexibility gains. Some showed that a longer contraction time resulted in more gains (Rowlands et al). Others showed gains with PNF versus static stretching after 60 minutes of exercise (Funk et al). Another revealed increased range of motion with the CRAC over the Hold-Relax technique, although both yielded positive results (Nagarwal et al). As with most studies, there are some drawbacks, such as all-female or all-male groups, small sample sizes, and/or particular age ranges that limit generalizability. But again, I found none that said that PNF stretching didn’t work. What this means for you is that there may be a different way for you to stretch that increases your gains or that you find more pleasing. Everyone is different, and having different tools to reach the desired outcome is paramount as a healthcare practitioner, and as a dancer or athlete. That being said, I encourage you to try some of these techniques, and see what works for you and what doesn’t.

Next week, we’ll conclude our series on stretching with dynamic stretching. Stay tuned!














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Stretching, Part 1- Static Stretching


As dancers, we’ve been stretching for as long as we can remember. We started working towards our splits in elementary school, and we’ve strived to increase, or at the very least, maintain our flexibility throughout the years.   Most of us have done this primarily through static stretching. But what is static stretching exactly, and what other options are there?

According to Bandy et al, “Static stretching is performed by placing muscles at their greatest possible length and holding that position for a period of time.” These are very familiar stretches to dancers and athletes alike, and include things such as a pike in long sitting for the hamstrings, stretching in a straddle for the adductors, or bending one knee and pulling your foot towards your buttocks for a quad stretch. Timing seems to vary, however, from 10 seconds to beyond 60 seconds, depending on the study. Bandy et al found that 30 seconds seemed to offer the best results for hamstring lengthening, and that there was no statistical difference (benefit) in holding the stretch for 60 seconds or more regarding improvements or increases in range of motion.

Below are links to some examples of static stretches:

  1. Hamstring
  2. Outer thigh
  3. Inner thigh
  4. Quadriceps
  5. Hip flexors
  6. Gluteal and outer hip
  7. Pectoralis

stretch out strap

Some of the static stretches performed on these videos (and that I do on my own) involved the use of a strap. One of my favorite straps to use can be found here. It offers several loops, which allows you to use the length that best suits your needs today, and gives you room to grow and improve. In the PT world, we use these straps regularly.   Another strap that I use in my stretching routine is my yoga strap. It’s very easy to use, adjustable, and goes with me to every yoga class.  there are even 10 foot lengths for those of you who tend to be on the taller side.  If you’re really in need of a strap, and don’t yet have one (or the one you’ve ordered hasn’t yet arrived), you can even use things like a jump rope or a long towel. You want to make yoga strapsure that whatever you use isn’t stretchy, though. For example, I don’t recommend Theraband for stretching, as there is often too much give, which leaves you fighting to hold certain positions. This isn’t the best set up for static stretching. The OPTP strap and the yoga strap are two of my favorites for stretching, and I highly recommend them.

Now that you have some ideas on how to perform static stretching and how long to hold the stretches, I’d like to shift to what the evidence says about static stretching.  I did not find any study that concluded that static stretching did not increase range of motion in some way. Therefore, static stretching certainly works. Arguments in the scientific community seem to arise about when static stretching should be performed, which is what we talked about in the last blog post. In case you haven’t read it yet, some studies conclude that static stretching can affect power and strength. One systematic review by Kay and Blazevich in 2012 concluded the following:

“When all relevant studies are examined in toto, the results of the present review seem to largely agree with previous suggestions that acute static stretching can reduce maximal muscle performance. Forty-four percent of all variables included in our analyses (144 findings) from 106 studies showed significant reductions in maximal strength-, power-, or speed-dependent performance. However, a more detailed examination reveals clear evidence that no performance decrements in strength-, power-, or speed-dependent tasks occur when total stretch durations are <45 s. Furthermore, there is only a moderate effect of stretch for durations >60 s. We found there to be only minor differences in the effect across muscle contraction modes or muscle groups and no substantial effect of movement velocity.”

Keep in mind that these are total stretch times per given muscle group. Still, other studies find that static stretching can be detrimental to things like maximal voluntary contraction of the quadriceps (Power et al), jumping (Bradley et al), balance (which is very important for us as dancers), reaction time, and movement time (Behm et al). It’s important to note, however, that some of these studies have been conducted on small sample sizes and some only included men.

What does all this mean? It means that static stretching works to increase things like hamstring and quadriceps flexibility, but that you may want to do static stretching at the end of your workout instead of at the beginning. As more evidence emerges (and it seems to be doing so at an increasing rate), please keep in mind that this may change. This is simply the best evidence that science has provided us right now.

In the next blog post (stretching, part 2), we’ll continue the discussion on stretching, but shift gears from static stretching to PNF stretching. What the heck is PNF, you say? Stay tuned to find out!










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Dynamic Warm-up- A Better Way to Get Moving


quad stretch

We all know that warming up before we exercise is beneficial. It gets our blood flowing, increases our heart rate, and prepares us for what’s coming. As dancers, it’s been engrained in us to come in to the studio early and start warming up before class (and for those of you that aren’t dancers out there, this is probably true for you in your athletic endeavors). It’s something we’ve done since our childhood. Unfortunately for many dancers (and probably some other athletes), this often involves little that actually warms us up, gets us moving, and increases our hear rate from its resting point, and instead looks a little something like… static stretching. This is where we start to go wrong.

Sometimes, it just feels good to start by stretching a little, especially as we get older and perhaps aren’t running into class as energetically and limber as we were when we were children. We tell ourselves that we are getting moving, working through the kinks by hanging out for a 30 seconds or a minute in a “gentle” straddle, for example. But the point of warming up is “to increase body temperature and heart rate, pliability of joints and muscles, and responsiveness of nerves and muscles in preparation for physical readiness training activities” (McMillan et al, 2006). We don’t have to do full out sprints, and some short- duration stretches aren’t bad, but our warm-up should not consist of merely sitting in some stretches before class. “Static” stretches are not going to increase our heart rate or our core body temperature to prepare us for what we’re about to do in class, practice, or rehearsal.

Static stretching as part of a warm-up was originally theorized to reduce risk for injuries. But that has since been disproven, and can even adversely affect things like running, jumping, maximal muscle contractions, muscle strength-endurance performance, balance challenges, and reaction time (McMillan et al, 2006). Not only do dynamic warm-up activities get us ready for what’s coming next, they can also offer improvements in our performance. Granted, I don’t know of any studies currently looking at dynamic versus static warm-ups specifically for dancers, but several studies have shown that sprinting, jumping, and agility activities (things that include stopping, changing directions, and accelerating again with control) improve with a dynamic warm-up over a warm-up of static stretching (Troumbley 2010). All of these skills are involved in what we do in class and rehearsals as dancers, and many of these apply to multiple sports and athletic activities. I did come across one study by Taylor et al (2008) that found that doing a “sport-specific” warm-up after static stretching might help to negate the losses in power seen with merely a static warm-up (based on a vertical jump test and a 20m sprint). However, the sample size was small (13 subjects), and this is the only study of its kind that I found to date. Therefore, more investigation into this type of warm up is warranted before clearer conclusions can be drawn.


So what do we do now? First of all, stop static stretching before class! If you’re moving through different planes with different body parts, and not hanging out statically for more than about 10 seconds, then you should be fine. But I still wouldn’t focus on this type of movement as the main part of my warm-up. I may move my trunk and spine, or move my legs at my hips and knees towards their end range to get my joints lubricated and get rid of stiffness, but the key here is movement. Beyond this, I focus on getting moving, increasing my hear rate, and increasing my blood flow and core body temperature. There are many things you can incorporate into your dynamic warm-up and there’s no particular order to do these in. That may depend more on how your body is feeling that day, what type of space you’re in, etc. When putting a warm-up together, I focus on keeping movements functional and using multiple muscle groups in your body, as the body does not work in isolation (meaning it’s rare to do something in your every-day life or your training that just involves one muscle). I also try to not to do too many activities in a row that target the same muscle groups to ensure a thorough, full body warm-up and to prevent fatigue. Here are some ideas:

  1. Jogging- This can be done in place or moving. This is not a sprint, but a slow jog to begin to increase our heart rate without being too taxing.
  2. Jogging with high knees- Same as above, but incorporating lifting the knees up towards the height of your hip. These are more tiring, so make sure you don’t over do it with this one. You may only need to do this for a short time.
  3. Jumping jacks- These are a great way to get your blood pumping, and can be done stationary and in a fairly small space. I also sometimes do them with turns to the right and left, which increase my heart rate more.
  4. Carioca- This is the more formal way of saying “grapevine”. You do need some space to travel with this one, so be mindful of that.  dance fitness
  5. Lunges- I love incorporating lunges into my dynamic warm-up, and do so regularly. They can be done stationary, traveling, with an upper body twist, and even backwards. Get creative with these. Do different styles different days to keep your warm-up fresh.
  6. Standing knee-to-chest- In this exercise, you may remain stationary, or you can walk around the space that you’re in, bringing one knee up to your chest and hugging it to you before switching sides.
  7. kick outsKick-outs front- For dancers, these are like developpés. For none-dancers, stand on one leg and pick your knee up in front of you (like a march). Then, straighten your top leg to get a stretch behind the knee. I prefer to do them in parallel and with a flexed foot to target my hamstrings a bit more. But they can be done turned-out and with pointed feet, as well.
  8. Kick-outs side- For dancers, these are the same as above, but turned out and done a la seconde. For non-dancers, these are just like kick-outs to the front, but with the knee turned to the side and the leg kicking out and straightening towards the side. Again, I prefer a flexed foot here to target my inner hamstrings and adductors, but you can point the foot, as well.
  9. Heel-to-butt- You can do these while jogging or walking. They can be done in place, or traveling. While walking or jogging, try to kick your heel to your bottom with your back leg. This begins to stretch the quadriceps in the front of the thigh.
  10. Leg lift back (straight leg or attitude)- This may be targeted more at dancers, gymnasts, cheerleaders, and those of the like, but this is essentially lifting the leg in back to an arabesque or attitude to begin to open up the front of the hip. For the non-dancers out there, step one leg forward, and lift the other leg straight up in back behind you. I usually do these turned out, but you can do them in parallel, as well.
  11. Squats- This one is probably self-explanatory, and is one I incorporate into my dynamic warm-up regularly. These can be done without a lot of space, as they are stationary. Remember to try your best to keep the knees over the ankles instead of pushing forward over the toes. This keeps undue pressure off of the knees (and your knees with thank you in 10 or 20 years).  Burpees
  12. Burpees- Most people know what these are already, as well. If not, you can easily find a video (or several) on youtube.com. I don’t always drop all the way down to the floor and back up when I do these (aka, I don’t always do the push-up with my burpees). I feel there’s an option for both. Be mindful that these can also be quite tiring, so if you’re not used to doing them, don’t do too many as you begin to incorporate them into your warm-up.
  13. Planks (front to side or other variations)- I love including planks in my dynamic warm-up, as they incorporate so many muscle groups and warm up your core. They can be done in push-up position or on the elbows. They can be done by moving from the front to the side (which is a great shoulder opener if you lift the top arm up to the ceiling in your side plank). You can bring one knee out to the side towards your shoulder or elbow. There are so many options with this one. Again, get creative.
  14. Squat-jumps- These start as squats and end with a jump. Watch the knees when landing, making sure that they stay in line with your ankles and don’t fall in towards the midline as you land. These are another one that can be tiring, so a word of caution here.
  15. Push-ups- Again, several options here. You can keep your arms narrow, wide, or “neutral”. You can even do them in a “downward facing dog” position. Are push-ups hard for you? Modify them by dropping the knees onto the floor (perhaps with a blanket under them if your knees give you trouble) or place your hands on a barre or something higher then the ground for incline push-ups.  inchworm
  16. Inch worms- These start in standing.  From standing, you work your way towards a high push-up position.  Then, walk your feet towards your hands to end up in more of a down dog position. Then, walk your hands back out in front to return to your high push-up position, and continue to “inch” along position. These can also be done backwards.
  17. Airplanes/moving warrior 3’s- These are usually done traveling, but can step forward and return to your starting position if you don’t have a lot of room. Step one leg in front, and then lean forward while picking the back leg up in the air behind you. You can reach towards the floor, or keep your arms out the side. For the dancers/gymnasts/ice skaters, etc out there, this is a bit like a penché/pitch/scale/spiral, but probably not too over the top yet (remember, this is warm-up). These can be done turned-in or turned out.
  18. Elbow to knee- These can be done traveling or in place. Bring one knee up towards your opposite elbow and touch your elbow to it. This will help warm-up the hip flexors as well as your core muscles, like your obliques.  elbow to knee
  19. Bridges- these are done lying on your back. With your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, stomp your feet on the ground and lift your hips and buttocks into the air. Keep your core muscles tight. If this hurts your back at all, choose a different exercise, or adjust how high you lift. These can also be done with one leg in the air.

You don’t need to do all of these activities, and you can always incorporate your own. These are just some ideas. You may decide if you want to do these for a certain amount of time or for a certain amount of repetitions, or you can just go by feel (as some of these exercises are more tiring than others). I usually warm up this way for roughly 10 minutes total before moving onto dynamic stretching (more on that next blog post). Have fun with it, as you should enjoy what you’re doing as much as you can while achieving your goals of properly warming up.









August 8, 2016