Timing’s everything when it comes to dancing—right down to the timing of your breathing. And when the choreo you’re performing calls for one quick, demanding sequence after another, you need to be sure you’ve caught your breath before you take the stage again. But that’s easier said than done! Dance Spirit spoke with Alexis Robbins, a dancer and personal trainer at New York Health & Racquet Club, to find out how you can avoid getting winded.
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
…onstage, about to go from one intense combo to the next.
“If you need to catch your breath immediately following a short burst of movement, take two to four deep breaths, focusing on filling your diaphragm and expanding the rib cage before exhaling,” Robbins says. The deeper breaths fill more of the air sacs in your lungs, which means more oxygen gets to your muscles.
…at a pause, with a few minutes to go before your next entrance.
“Clasp your hands behind your head while standing or slowly walking,” Robbins says. The elevated arm position helps engage your diaphragm, which lets you fully fill your lungs.
Resist the urge to sit down or bend over. “Staying upright allows for more direct blood flow to and from your heart, improving oxygen delivery to your muscles.”
Drinking water is important, but “avoid taking huge gulps—your body can’t digest them properly while you’re trying to breathe steadily,” Robbins says. Instead, take very small sips.
…at the end of a long, intense performance.
“It’s normal to want to immediately crash on the floor once you exit the stage,” says Robbins. But that won’t help your breathing, and sitting right away will actually cause your muscles to tighten up. Instead, walk around slowly while your body regains its equilibrium. Allow yourself to breathe heavily and deeply, which will help your heart rate decrease.
With winter on its way out and glorious spring days in sight, it’s natural to want your body to feel as fresh as the weather. A detox can seem like a logical choice—but it’s important to understand how they can affect your body. “ ‘Detox’ has become a buzzword,” says Peggy Swistak, MS, RDN, CD, of Pacific Northwest Ballet. “They promise to eliminate any ‘toxins’, but we have organs like the kidneys and liver to do that for us. However, some detoxes won’t cause real harm if done in a controlled way over a short span of time.”
“Juice cleanses are a popular form of detoxing,” Swistak says. The duration of a juice cleanse can range anywhere from a day to a week. However, Swistak warns that more than three days is an extreme approach. “One day isn’t bad, but if you’re only drinking juice for three or more days while dancing regularly, you’re depleting your muscles of glycogen—a key factor in maintaining energy.”
It’s no secret that crankiness is a symptom of hunger. Depriving your body of solid foods during a juice cleanse will make you prone to snapping. “Dancers might experience headaches, irritability and shakiness—none of which is helpful to their dancing,” Swistak says.
The Master Cleanse
The master cleanse is among the most extreme variations of detoxing. It consists of water with lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper and a nightly laxative, with no solid foods at all. “Dancers need to understand that while a day of the master cleanse might make them feel lighter, it comes at a cost,” Swistak says. “On the master cleanse, you’ll be losing energy and muscle, which is a recipe for disaster.”
While many people choose to follow a raw-food diet as a lifestyle, it’s also a common short-term detox option. But sticking to it even for a few days can be difficult. “You can’t really eat anything at restaurants, so everything you consume must be prepared in advance,” Swistak says. Another factor to consider is the need for daily nutrients. “By its nature, this cleanse is very low in calcium and vitamins D and B12. You’d need to eat a huge amount of fruits, nuts and seeds to meet your daily requirements and sustain the energy you need for dancing.”
Swistak also cautions dancers against this cleanse because of its health risks. “Everything is unpasteurized and raw, which drastically increases the chances of contracting listeria, salmonella and other food-borne illnesses,” she says. “At some point you have to ask yourself if it’s really worth it.”
Did You Know?
If you’re facing a long day of rehearsals, it’s tempting to resort to coffee for a boost. But while a cup in the morning will certainly wake you up, be mindful when reaching for a second pour later in the day. According to a study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, a single cup of coffee six hours before bed can disrupt your sleep over the course of the night by about one hour.
Are you considering a fast to purify your body of toxins or to shed a few pounds? Whatever your ultimate goal, food deprivation is dangerous and can even lead to weight gain and muscle loss. Before you go on a fast, here’s what you should know.
Fasting: The Dark Side
During a typical fast, a person refrains from eating solid foods for a certain period of time in order to lose weight, rid the body of toxins, or for spiritual or religious reasons. But fasts may not yield the results that you want. In addition to weight gain, fasts can cause muscle loss, headache, irritability, poor concentration, nausea and other side effects. Because bodies need energy to function properly, even while sleeping and during sedentary activities, when meals are skipped, the body enters a semi-starvation state, with metabolism slowed in order to conserve calories for vital organs.
Within three to four hours after a fast begins, the body starts rapidly depleting its stores of sugar, also known as glycogen, to fuel the brain and other vital organs. When glycogen is broken down, water is released, resulting in multiple trips to the restroom. This means that the majority of pounds melted away consist of water, not body fat. Once you start eating again, your body weight will go back to where it started as the water from foods and beverages rehydrate your body.
Every time the body is deprived of calories, it consumes some of its calorie-burning, dance-enhancing muscle mass. Because fat tissue requires far fewer calories to function than muscle, the less muscle you have after a fast, the higher your fat levels will rise.
Instead of fasting, try a modified detoxification diet like the one below to clean out your insides and safely lower body fat.
Nature’s Best: Food in its natural form contains fewer toxins and can help eliminate toxins in the body. Aim for a well-rounded, portion-controlled diet that contains five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, along with plenty of whole grain breads, cereals and crackers; pasta and rice; lean proteins such as chicken, turkey, fish, egg whites and lean red meats; nuts and seeds; nut butters; and olive oil.
Fab Fiber: High-fiber foods facilitate natural waste elimination, ensuring the removal of toxic substances. Fiber also helps keep energy levels on an even keel and appetites at bay. Fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains are the best sources of fiber.
Clean Shop: In addition to limiting highly processed and refined foods, take a vacation from caffeine, alcohol, fatty and fried foods and anything high in artificial additives, sweeteners or preservatives.
Drink Up: Drink at least eight glasses of water a day to keep everything moving through your system. To stimulate digestive juices, drink a glass of warm water with juice squeezed from half a lemon.
Detox diets are recommended two to three times per year for one to two weeks at a time. Avoid detox during and prior to performance, heavy training and stressful times.