Q Im studying dance at college, and love to run to keep fit. However, a tutor has warned me that running is bad for dancers as it jars and shortens the muscles, affects leaping ability and so on. I really dont want to stop running, so is this true?
A Its a common belief that running compromises other physical activities, dance included. But its not true, unless youre doing high mileage. So, while I wouldnt advise you to run 60 miles a week, you shouldnt give up either. Running is a fundamental pattern of movement, so it can work well as cross-training for other activities. The key is to create a running programme that enhances the physical qualities needed for dance.
For example: dance puts a premium on strength, power and flexibility, which you can certainly get from occasional speedwork. This uses every major lower-body muscle and involves a wide range of motion. You dont need to run speed sessions as hard or for as long as someone training to race. Instead, do a series of strides or short, quick accelerations twice a week.
After 5-10 minutes easy jogging, find a flat area where there are no cars, and accelerate smoothly to a fast pace (not flat-out) for 10-30 seconds. Then decelerate back to a jog until you feel ready to go again. Emphasise good, relaxed form, and run tall, without hunching your shoulders forward. Dont force yourself to run too fast by tightening up and pushing too hard. Start with four to six strides, and gradually increase the number, speed and duration.
Cool down after every run with easy jogging, followed by thorough and slow stretching. Emphasise the hips, lower back, hamstrings, calves and ankles. Since running is supplemental training for you, do it on days when you dont dance or when the dance load is lighter. And schedule runs after dancing, not before.
Tim Anderson, professor of kinesiology at California State University