Summer intensives can be a shock. Switching from five classes a week to five a day is a big jump—especially if you spent a month relaxing after the school year ended. “Unfortunately, many students come out of shape, and they suffer because of that," says Pacific Northwest Ballet School principal Abbie Siegel.
To get the most out of an intensive, you need to arrive prepared. Fine-tune your body strategically by taking a play from the sports world: Use periodization, an approach to training and cross-training that relies on defined periods of rest and activity. It helps athletes make sure they're in top form at the height of their season. Megan Richardson, MS, ATC, who works with the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center's Hospital for Joint Diseases, explains: “Periodization is training intensively, taking rest time and then building back up to elite performance level. The cyclical training and cross-training allow the body's tissues to repair and become stronger in a balanced way." By following this timeline, you will reach your peak fitness just in time for your summer program.
A fresh perspective: Last year, Katie Critchlow went through seven months of recovery for a debilitating ankle sprain, but the process transformed her outlook on cross-training: “You think that doing ballet class every day is enough, but it's not," she says. “Ballet dancers are hypermobile, and in order to execute everything onstage when you're tired and fatigued, you need a lot of strength to back that up."
Ready to run: About two months after her injury, Critchlow began jogging. “I had to start really, really slow on a treadmill." Her ankle sprain had affected her hip, too, causing her to veer in a diagonal until she balanced the alignment in her legs. Now she prefers to run outdoors around Salt Lake City. “It helps mobilize my joints, so I'll either go at the end of a light day or wait for the weekend."
The Royal Winnepeg Ballet principal adapts her cross-training for the company's frequent touring.
Travel savvy: Touring seven to eight weeks a year means Sophia Lee hits hotel gyms a lot. “I usually pack my runners and workout clothes," she says. Once she arrives at a tour stop, she'll hop on the elliptical for 20 to 30 minutes. If there's no gym, she'll walk around the city to relieve stiffness from the bus or plane ride.
Picture this: While she's traveling or in her hotel room, Lee does visualization exercises. “I close my eyes, listen to the music and imagine exactly how I'm going to execute each movement. I actually think about firing the same muscles and where I'll breathe in and breathe out."
Morning zinger: Jessica Collado makes a pitcher of a spicy drink with turmeric, ginger, lemon juice, coconut water and cayenne pepper at the start of each week. “It's the first thing I drink when I get up. It's good for my body and wakes up my mind."
For her turnout: Twice a week, Collado finds an empty studio and does a floor barre DVD before company class. “I don't have flat turnout," she says, “but doing exercises lying down has helped my hips open up in a more natural way."
Cross-training keeps Andrea Yorita prepared for the demanding variety in BalletX's repertoire.
Choreographic chameleon: At BalletX, Andrea Yorita performs a wide range of contemporary ballet by dancemakers like Matthew Neenan, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Trey McIntyre. “It's very hard on our feet," she says. “Even within a show, we'll go from socks to bare feet to flat shoes to pointe shoes."
A solid foundation: To keep their pointework crisp, the dancers typically take class on pointe five days a week. Yorita also does Thera-Band work for her ankles each morning, plus doming exercises. “I try to keep all of those little muscles on the bottom of my feet strong, so I can be grounded when I'm dancing in socks."
You may not understand exactly what causes a tight IT (iliotibial) band, but you've probably experienced that uncomfortable tension along the outside of your thigh. While it's not actually a muscle, the IT band may require daily stretching, says Suzanne Semanson, physical therapist at New York University Langone Medical Center's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. The IT band is made of fascia, or tough connective tissue, that attaches to the pelvis through the tensor fascia lata (or TFL)—a small muscle between the pelvis and femur—and runs down to the outside of the knee.
When you're dancing with a fully extended knee, the IT band stabilizes the knee so that it doesn't move sideways out of alignment. However, “it is commonly tight in dancers due to compensatory patterns and overuse of the TFL," says Semanson. For example, if you force your turnout too much from your knees or rely on the TFL (instead of muscles in the hip) for développés to the front or side, this area might be too tight. The IT band and TFL can also build up excess tension from the demands of dancing several hours a day.