Is Running Bad for Dancers?
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When I took up running as a hobby, I came across some claims that running was the worst kind of cross-training for dancers. Specifically, people said running makes you less flexible. This, of course, piqued my interest. I had thought running would help my stamina and endurance, but maybe it was a trade-off. So I did some research, and now I’m here to share the results with you!
The Benefits of Running for Dancers
Running has many benefits for dancers, as long as you’re smart about how you do it. For a great resource on how to run smart as a dancer, I refer you to this great article from Pointe Magazine. Wear good shoes, stretch afterwords (not before), run in moderate amounts, and make sure you’re running in true parallel, not turned-out.
Smart running can lead to:
- Strengthening of internal rotator muscles, a necessary balance to our overused external rotators.
- Increased stamina.
- Lean muscle (not bulk, as the popular myth suggests. It’s a low-weight-high-repetition exercise, just like dance).
- Increased height in jumps and leaps.
I can personally attest to the improved jumps due to running. I was never a “leaper,” always feeling like I could barely get myself off the ground. In fact, I used to have nightmares about my teachers yelling at me to jump higher. And of course in dreamland I couldn’t jump at all because everything was in slow motion and it was awful. Anyway, you get the idea.
After running for just 8 weeks and competing in a 5k, I went to my college’s Irish Dance Club for the first time. These girls had never seen me dance before, and after seeing one of my routines, one of them said, “You’re so springy!” I stared at her, dumbfounded. Springy? Me???
But the truth was, I did feel springy that day. After 14+ years of dance training, running was the thing that finally got me into the air.
The Downsides of Running for Dancers
But we can’t ignore the fact that there are downsides to running for dancers as well. Running is a high-impact activity, just like dance. That’s more strain on your joints, which is not good for longevity of your performance career. And yes, you can lose flexibility.
There are other aerobic activities that you can do if running’s not your thing. Swimming works a lot of the same muscles, with the addition of upper body work and the subtraction of strain on the joints. But if you want to run, there are ways to get around most of the downsides.
You can minimize joint strain by wearing good shoes and running on good surfaces. It’s the same deal as dancing on sprung floors. As for flexibility, running doesn’t make you less flexible. You lose flexibility by strengthening without adequate stretching. Too much of either one makes you lose the other. That’s how you get people like me who can kick their face but can’t hold their leg up at 90 degrees (#strugglebus), and people who can jump 3 feet in the air but can’t touch their toes.
The bottom line is this: Running can be a great cross-training activity for dancers, if you’re smart about how you do it. It will especially benefit you in the stamina and jumping departments. It’s also an inexpensive hobby, because you don’t need a gym membership (like you would for swimming or weight training), just a pair of running shoes and a road.
However, running is not essential for dancers. Cross-training is a really good idea, but there are other ways you can do it. Find something that you actually enjoy, because you won’t be motivated to do it otherwise.
What’s your cross-training activity of choice? Any questions or tips for dancers who run? Share them in the comments!