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The Cross-Training Conundrum, Solved For Irish Dancers!

Erin is a 20-something Irish dancer competing in the Southern Region with Nashville Irish Step Dancers. She splits her time between dance and her career in social media marketing. Her favorite part of dancing is meeting new & inspiring people. Connect with her on Twitter @erinforevr.

We’ve all been there – staring at the results pinned up on the wall with thoughts of frustration clamoring through our head. Just one or two placings away from where we wanted to be. “More height in jumps, feet not turned out, fix arms,” the judges’ comments say. You practiced day in and day out, running your steps every chance you got, so what is keeping you from having that extra oomph you need to take your dancing up a notch?

The answer is cross-training.

From beginners to champs, we know it’s what we need to really advance as dancers. Time and time again our teachers emphasize the importance of strengthening muscles and building stamina. But, many dancers find themselves at a loss for exactly how to train outside of simply dancing.

So, after thorough investigation (and quite a few sore muscles), I devised an Irish-dancer-friendly list of workouts, wildly popular in fitness right now, that are sure to enhance your dance.

The list is broken down by which areas of Irish dance each workout will benefit.

You can likely find classes for these in your area, and remember, you can always check out the Goals section here on Diddlyi for great workouts to do at home.

Happy training!

AcroYoga

Acrobatic Yoga

Dance areas impacted: Posture, arms (especially for teams), and flexibility.
Muscles Worked: Lower back, arms, shoulders, core, and muscle length.
Seeking perfect posture on stage? Need to fix those flailing arms or polish up your team’s performance? Your arms, shoulders, chest, and core will get some special attention in this fun partner workout. Acro is also a great trust-builder for teams as it focuses on synchronizing with another person.

Pure Barre

Dance areas impacted: Cuts, lift, high kicks, sharper clicks, and closing gappy thighs.
Muscles Worked: Glutes, quads, inner and outer thigh muscles, calves, & core.
Although there IS a ballet bar involved, this is a far cry from tondues and plies. Like a revved up pilates session, Pure Barre uses small contracting motions to develop serious strength.

Tabata

Dance areas impacted: Stamina!! Jump power, and total body strength.
Muscles Worked: Cardio, total body strength.
Do the words “all 3 steps in a row” strike fear into your heart? Then this is the workout for you. It’s “high intensity interval training” which is a fancy way of saying that it packs a lot of fast-paced cardio into a short amount of time.

Aerials

Dance impacted: height on toes, balance, point strength, core for jumps, and CONFIDENCE!
Ever dreamed of running away to join the circus? Of course, we all have! This sport let’s you do just that. Aerials give you a beautiful escape from reality while challenging you to take your body & fitness to new heights. The muscles worked will depend on whether you do silks or trapeze—
Trapeze: Calf and core strength.
Silks: Core, arms, flexibility.

Screen shot 2013-09-16 at 9.56.05 AMKettlebells

Dance impacted: turn out, powerful leaps, jumps, stamina.
Muscles Worked: Hips, quads, hamstrings, glutes.
More approachable than big squat bar, Kettlebells are adaptable round weights with a handle on top. Using lots of lifting from the hips, a kettlebell class is great for strengthening those turnout muscles, and most Kettlebell instructors can tailor workouts to your needs.

Note: Always seek aid of a certified instructor when first attempting an unfamiliar workout.

Photo credit: Images are courtesy of and belong to author.


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Comments

  1. You go girl! What a fantastic workout. Wish I were a wee bit younger. You couldn’t find a bettter partner than Ashleigh, she really works hard, and is great in whatever she choose, and you are terrific.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. – Any additional tips on avoiding injuries; especially to the feet of Irish dancers? Many of the dancers your age and older (they seem to be staying with it longer these days) are fighting injuries and even missing major world qualifying events because of them. – Best luck to all as you try to qualify for the worlds! Dick J – NY (Katie’s dad)

    • Great Question Richard!
      The first thing I’ll say is that every dancer’s body is different. Foot injuries are often cause by weaknesses, overuse, or imbalances in other areas of the body. So, I highly recommend dancers seeing a physio (Physical Therapist) because they can assess the dancer’s individual weaknesses (and potential injury risk areas) and give customized exercises and stretches. It’s worth the investment especially this time of year!

      That said, a few things dancers can do on a regular basis to help prevent injury:
      -Stretch! I know too many dancers that blow off stretches. It’s very important to do them before and after. Tight calves can often cause or exacerbate foot issues such as plantar-fascitis

      -Roll-out: Use a foam roller on a regular basis to roll out tension in hamstrings, quads, calf, and IT bands. A gym trainer or physio can show you how to properly use one. Also, I HIGHLY recommend use a golf ball or tennis ball to roll out arches of your feet. (This is especially good for dancers with plantar fascitis). Put the ball under one foot and press down through the foot gently as you roll the ball back and forth under your arch. This works like a massage to rub out knots in that arch muscle.
      This should be done after every time you dance and is best if followed immediately by ice.

      -Get a Thera-band and do foot and ankle strengthening exercises regularly. (Something a physio can help you with, you’ll also find videos for things like this, including some strength videos here on Diddlyi).

      -Strength glutes, calf muscles, and other leg muscles. Doing isolated exercises for those will help protect the feet and ankle joints by taking some of the stress off them and having the other muscles do more of the work.

      -Ice!!! Any area that hurts after dance – be it shins, feet, ankles etc. you should ice that area for 15 minutes after every time you dance. This is a simple thing but it can work wonders especially during heavy training seasons.

      -Wear sneakers! I know they are not the cutest or trendiest but you can go back to high heels and stylish (uncomfortable) shoes when worlds are done with! Right now dancers need to give their feet a break and wear supportive sneakers whenever possible. For dancers with major feet issues (especially us older ones) orthodics or other inserts can also be helpful to wear.

      -Tape – athletic tape and wraps can be a dancer’s best friend. There are different taping methods that can help protect different areas of weakness. Again this is something a physio or athletic director can help with.

      Hope these tips help. Best of luck to all the dancers out there! And to everyone pushing through injuries remember to listen to your body and take care!
      -Erin

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