Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It's raining, it's pouring....

... but we still have to dance!

I am feeling the rain in my achilles tendon today, and my body definitely knows that it's raining out.  We woke up to torrential downpour rain this morning in Saratoga, and I wonder if the rain truly impacts not only our moods, but our body's aches and pains? 

The biggest connection is between sunlight and tiredness.  With little sunshine today, I am feeling TIRED for sure.  Less sunlight leads to less Vitamin D and less seratonin to boost your mood.  You may need to ingest more carbs to get your body motivated, too.

When it rains and the barometric pressure (air pressure) comes down, our tissues swell, hence our sore muscles.  One study even shows the pressure inside of the joints is impacted by a decrease in the temperature -- 10 degrees less equals more pain.         

So... keep warm with lots of layers in the studio, and take more time to get your body ready for activity.  Listen to your aches and pains on a day like today, and hopefully we'll be back to sunshine tomorrow!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

I was listening to the radio yesterday and I heard an advertisement for the Nopal Cactus (the prickly pear) and a new pill to help reduce inflammation.  I became very curious and thought I'd check it out.... 

According to Livestrong, cactus' have a unique chemistry that makes them a natural anti-inflammatory substance: 
  • they contains a range of nutrients and antioxidants, including vitamins C, E, A, iron, calcium, carotenoids, quercetin and rutin which aid in reducing inflammatory responses
  • another chemical is credited with the anti-inflammatory properties of cactus: beta-sitosterol
    • Beta-sitosterol is a plant sterol that is found in other herbal products, such as saw palmetto and nigella sativa, and has cholesterol-lowering, inflammation-inhibiting and testosterone-balancing actions 
 The best way (and perhaps easiest way) to get the needed nutrients is to juice a cactus.  Depending upon where you live, you may have easier access to cactus', but a natural food store should have the juice available to you. 

 Just be very careful to ensure the cactus you are ingesting is in fact safe and non-toxic -- check in with your doctor, or health nutritionist first.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Foods to eat that help reduce inflammation

Some foods naturally combat inflammation in the body and by eating these, it can help our sore bodies and those tense muscles. What should we eat? Check out this basic anti-inflammatory diet:
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (especially leafy greens!)
  • Minimize saturated and trans fats
  • Eat a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as healthy fatty fish and walnuts
  • Watch your intake of refined carbohydrates such as pasta and white rice
  • Eat plenty of whole grains such as brown rice and bulgur wheat
  • Eat lean protein sources such as chicken; cut back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods (low-fat dairy only please!)
  • Avoid refined foods and processed foods
  • Spice it up -- add ginger, curry, and other spices
Foods that are high in sugar can spike inflammation.  It can even cause over-activity in the immune system, which can lead to joint pain, fatigue, and damage to the blood vessels. 

Ideally we want foods with vitamin E, fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fat -- and the list above contains a lot of these. 

My personal favorite suggestion, and what I plan to start (beginning tomorrow), is drinking 1 cup of tart cherry juice per day.  "Studies have found that tart cherry juice can reduce the inflammation in lab rats’ blood vessels by up to 50%; in humans, meanwhile, it’s been shown to help athletes improve their performance and reduce their use of anti-inflammatory pain meds."

So... drink up!!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Investigating our knees

Today's post is for NYSSSA student, Jesse!  She was inquiring about some typical knee deviations so I've decided to share some info about being "bow-legged" or having "knock knees" and what to do about it.

What does it mean to be "bow-legged"?

Genu varum: when your knees align to the lateral (outside) of your ankles and looks like a bowing of the lower leg (tibia and fibula bones).  This can either be caused by an abnormality when the legs curve outwards, or by patterning and use over time.  Strengthening the glutes and the hamstrings (incorporating the pelvic bridge, clam shell, and single leg/roman dead lift exercises we've been doing in class, or a standard hamstring curl) will help to support the backs of the knees and strengthen our muscles. 

And what does it mean to have "knock knees"?

Genu valgum: when the knees align to the medial (inside) line of your ankles.  Ideally we want the hip bone, patella (knee cap) and center of ankle to stack one on top of the other, but with knock knees, the knees are not in a straight line, as you can see above.  This can be caused, again, but a deviation in the skeleton, or laxity in the ligaments around the knee.  For strengthening, you can do a straight leg raise for the quadriceps -- while seated with the legs stretched out in front of you, lift one leg a few inches off the floor and return to the ground.  Other strengthening for the quads include a standard squat, or sitting again on the floor with a towel rolled up under you knee and pressing down into the ground.  You can even place your hands on the quad muscles around the knee and feel those muscles engaging.  A standard hamstring curl will also benefit a person with knock knees.

So no matter what kind of knees you have, keep them healthy and safe with strengthening!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Adding plyometric training to our workout

Group 2 of NYSSSA School of Dance students in the weight room last night! 

In addition to the exercises mentioned yesterday, some students also incorporated plyometric training to their workout with some box jumps.  Plyometric training incorporates speed training by exerting muscular contractions in a short amount of time -- moving from an extended muscle to a contracted one, quickly.  We can train with this "explosive" quality, which for dancers will help us to move with speed while remaining efficient when traveling through space. 

Here's a box jump: 

Then you can simply step down to repeat a second jump back up onto the box/platform, or jump back down to continue the action without stopping. 

REMEMBER: If you have any kind of alignment issues, like knees or arches rolling when doing a squat or plie, or any previous ankle or knee injuries - like sprains, to be extra careful during plyometric training.  You'll wan to start with some balance training first, then work up to these short burst, high power exercises.  
Try a single leg balance reach, like the photo below, standing on one leg then bending and straightening the standing knee (tracking the knee over your laces while stabilizing) taking the leg front, side, and back.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

In the weight room!

Tonight our first group of students traveled to the weight room on the Skidmore College campus to do some strength training.  Most dancers, especially females, are concerned that lifting weights will make you "bulky."  Well, we can actually build lean muscles by using light weight (less than 10% of your body weight) and a high number of repetitions.  For many of our students, I suggest about 5-8 lbs (depending upon your body weight) and about 20 reps per exercise -- this will help to build muscle endurance, not bulky, thick muscles. 

Check out Hannah doing arm strengthening for her abductors:

Notice her stable base with her legs apart and a slight bend in the knee, as well as a "pulling up maneuver" about 2 inches (in and up) below her belly button, to keep her back safe and core engaged while lifting weight.

Check out Gianna in a squat on a balance board:

By doing the movement in an unstable environment like this, she is incorporating some serious core stability -- an added bonus! 

Now... take a look at Sam taking both Hannah AND Gianna's exercises a step further by combining the squat prior to both arm and leg abduction: 

We can target one specific muscle for strengthening, or partner multiple exercises to create something that works the total body, though we still want to support the spine and keep the core engaged at all times.  Be creative and have fun! 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Cross-training for dancers

In this video David Popoli, M.D. from Children's Heathcare of Atlanta, reinforces the importance of cross-training for dancers.  By changing up the type of physical work we are doing for our bodies, we utilize different muscle groups and strengthen other parts of the body that we don't typically use.  By incorporating things other than dance into our weekly routine, we can improve balance and stability, develop core strength, and increase power.  It will not sacrifice our skills as dance artists, but improve them -- I promise :)    

Dancers usually want only to DANCE DANCE DANCE, and it's often a struggle to find time (and the energy) to do other things outside an already rigorous workload.  He recommends yoga, pilates, or even simply changing up the type of dance class you are taking in order to work those other muscle groups more efficiently.  Whatever you do, finding the time is essential. 

The NYSSSA students will be heading to the weight room on campus tomorrow to explore some resistance training with free weights.  Stay tuned for those photos!

And check out (video below) the students in yesterday's workout featuring squats, reverse lunges, single leg hamstring reach (roman dead lift) and the pelvic bridge.