5 Thoughts on Conditioning for Dancers

Aerobic conditioning often brings about a knee-jerk reaction to thought processes of running long slow distances.

The fitness industry has gone back, forth, and back again as to why “long slow distance (LSD) running” is bad for you.

I’ve even written an article as to why running is “bad” for bboys. Looking at only mechanics of running versus three dimensional movement is a bit short-sighted of me, and I apologize for the lack of applied information.

However, aerobic fitness as a concept is important.

  • As a concept, aerobic fitness will help to improve nervous system functioning.
  • It will also help to improve cardiac functioning (improvements and increases in aerobic enzymes and left ventricle of the heart).
  • Lactate threshold levels are realized sooner if the body’s metabolism is not functioning from an aerobically optimized system.

When learning and adapting newer information, I have one main thought in my head:

Will this benefit dancers?

And the answer to this question of whether or not aerobic fitness will help is yes – aerobic fitness is extremely important for dancers.

By improving your aerobic conditioning, and improving on the body’s exchange of oxygen, you can exhibit less fatigue, last longer throughout battles, and even more extrapolated, you can improve your ability to learn new combinations and movements by the simple notion that if you are fatigued, you won’t be able to practice as intensely or for as long.


Photo Credit: RobertsonTrainingSystems.com

To take a step outside of the context of strictly just breakdancing, aerobic fitness is important for dancers of all types as well.

How? I’m so glad you asked.

Improving aerobic fitness can improve recovery.

Allow me to put this in a more realistic context. Imagine you are traveling from city to city, or you are performing night after night with no days off between rehearsals and performances.

Stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system is helpful for rest and digest mechanisms.

Increasing and improving cardiac parameters related to a more optimized aerobic system will allow more blood to flow with less cost to the system as a whole – more transactions with less cost.

This is opposed to enhancing your anaerobic, or more specifically the alactic/lactic energy systems, where there is only a finite amount of energy stores that will cost a lot more in terms of energy for the body to utilize.

How can I improve my aerobic fitness?

Money question there, young buck.

However, this is both a little more complicated than just running for hours every day. Sometimes it is as simple as reducing the amount of conditioning you are currently doing. The name of the game when it comes to dishing out advice online is that it depends, because everyone is different and will respond differently to exercise prescriptions.

Observations with Respect to Aerobic Fitness and Movement

My aerobic conditioning is lacking. For the past 3-4 months I’ve been tracking my heart rate whenever I session with people or whenever I’ve been on my own.

  • Power moves bring me up to an exceptionally high heart rate very quickly.
  • Even more obvious – footwork, toprocks, transitions, and combination movements result in lower heart rate numbers due to less demanding tasks (when compared to powermoves often seen in bboying).

So with this, I have a few suggestions for other dancers to try.

1. Buy a heart rate monitor and start seeing when you go over a certain threshold.

There are many ways to standardize your heart rate numbers, and “see” where you are in comparison, but if you go running, and utilize the running data as a means to set a standard for where your bboying conditioning should be, then we are already setting you up at a lower standard.

One quick way to do this is to perform your most intensive set, or footwork, or go all out with whatever move set you choose while wearing and tracking your heart rate.

  • Afterwards, see how long it takes for you to return to a heart rate of 130 bpm.
  • Record this time, and remember your move set.

2. Front load power moves in the beginning of the session.

There is a finite window of opportunity with which to practice, due to physiological demands from ATP and PCr energy stores being the drivers in these large movement patterns.

Energy Systems

Photo Credit: 8 Weeks Out

Also, the body’s nervous system has only so much in the “tank” before it gives – so by front loading your choice of movements to work on in the beginning, you are more likely to perform these movements  cleanly, while simultaneously improving your capacity to learn and string movements cleanly together.

Basically, by being less fatigued you are more likely to improve your capacity to move more and move better.

Performing movements under high levels of fatigue may pre-dispose you to a host of systemic issues, namely utilizing synergistic muscle groups as prime movers, when they should be stabilizers, otherwise known as synergistic dominance.

This leads to my next point.

3. Perform movements cleanly, and once you get sloppy, stop.

If you begin to drop in intensity, or it takes longer than a set number of seconds/minute(s) to recover your heart rate, then you should move on to the next task.

I have the ability to discuss heart rates during power moves because I literally had a heart rate monitor on when practicing power moves. Sometimes it took me 2 to 3 minutes to recover from a heart rate of 196 to 130 BPM. If I can make an assumption that someone will have a greater aerobic fitness level than me, then it should take that person less than 2 minutes to restore to an acceptable percentage of heart rate max.

Hopefully at this point, you understand the concept that there are wanted variables and unwanted variables when training. Reaching technical failure on a movement is a largely unwanted variable.

4. Train footwork and transitions to stay within a heart rate of 130 to 150 BPM.

Call this mental conditioning, but next time you practice footwork, give this a try on your off days. By staying within a certain pre-defined heart rate (the 130-150 BPM is an assumed target heart rate – each individual will have fluctuations above and below these levels), you are more likely to stay within a specific range of functioning.


Well, I’m always looking to see if things will transfer to the task that is necessary.

In this case, bboying is the name of the game.

So if you can perform your sets, footwork, and other dancing at a lower heart rate than previous sessions, I’d like to imagine your economy of movement is improved.

Basically you’re more efficient.

I’d say you’re relatively inefficient if your heart rate is at 190+ during footwork for 2 minutes at a time.

5. Recovery between sets is important, so be cognizant of your work:rest ratios.

If you perform back to back sets, chances are you will be at a high heart rate for a long time. Literal physiological power output will likely decrease past a certain number of seconds (8 seconds is the an important time to remember, as this is when the alactic energy system is primed for contributing.)

I’ve timed bboy sets, watched hundreds if not thousands of battles by this point, and I’ve competed as well, all to make an observation that more often than not, many higher level bboys utilize a timeline of about ~15 to 30 seconds of powermoves, footwork, and dancing to get their point across.

Any more time than that, and the message you are trying to convey may not come across as well due to fatigue.

Obviously, performances will have a different set of demands, as they often range anywhere from ~2 minutes to 60 minutes+ of high performance energy!

For those interested in more application of energy systems training to dancing, read on ahead as I’ve attached some interesting items from Mike Robertson and Joel Jamieson respectively.

Further, if you’re interested in learning how to take it to the next level of dance, please sign up for my newsletter, and/or pass or share this info along using the easily available buttons at the bottom of this post. I would appreciate it!

As always,

Keep it funky.


Further Reading

Robertson Training Systems – 10 Nuggets, Tips, and Tricks on Energy System Training

8 Weeks Out – Research Review: Energy Systems, Interval Training, & RSA

8 Weeks Out – Truth About Energy Systems (VIDEO)

A Systemic Approach Towards Improving Range of Motion

The first part of this quasi-series began by glossing over the broad strokes that a holistic approach would partake with regards to enhancing performance.

To dial in towards a specific topic that I have an interest in, I’d like to outline my own thought process towards achieving more range of motion and ultimately a “problem” and “solution” towards why you may feel tight.

The Nervous System and Muscular “Tightness”

How can you measure your nervous system’s “goop”?

Is the autonomic nervous system (ANS) some goop found in your brain that regulates functions on a reflexive level?


Luckily for us, there are different ways to indirectly measure the state of our nervous system, mainly coming down to Heart Rate Variability, which can reflect various biological markers such as recovery of heart rate and heart rate recovery, along with different postural assessments that can reflect a snapshot of your nervous system in a physical form.

Specifically for athletes, dancers, and regular gym goers alike, the nervous system can be modified either positively or negatively, with regards to enhancing performance.

Por ejemplo, if you travel all day and then go off to perform for an hour or two, then travel back that same day, I’d argue that would be a negative stimulus to your body. On the opposite hand, if you sleep for 10+ hours, eat well, and get plenty of hydration, and then do some dynamic warm-up exercises, that could be a positive stimulus to making you perform better and ultimately feeling better.

So enhancing performance can subdivide into several groups of qualities: improving power, strength, speed, along with acquiring a greater range of motion with the desired effect of improving performance (with the opposite restricting movement). Range of motion at least in my eyes, is referring to both the active and passive ranges about a joint’s movement pattern (take hip internal rotation as you descend into a squatting motion, for example).

So, where am I going with all of this?

For the purposes of this article, I’ll be going through the mechanisms and solutions to muscular “tightness” and range of motion.

Mechanisms for Subjective Feelings of “Tightness”

Both the nervous system and muscular system have influences on why you may be experiencing limited ranges of motion about a joint. To digress to a specific example, with the dancing community, the hip and achieving a split (or the abduction of the femurs) seems to be the standard, yet many do not go about it in the safest and most efficient manner possible.


So, there are a few potential reasons why you may feel tight:

  • Acute activity (Which can be explained via tone of the nervous system)
  • Quality of Muscle (Short vs Stiff)

To elaborate further, the time after an acute activity will exhibit a specific tonicity, or passive muscular tension, after the [offending] activity is performed. For example, if you go running, you might feel tight in your calves and hamstrings, depending on your stride of course. Or, if you like to dance, you might do something more along the lines of this:


These movements can bring about tightness in varying parts of the body.

In this dancer’s case, there may be feelings of tightness in the neck (with rotation and flexion), shoulders (with internal rotation and adduction), and the inside of the hips (or adductor tightness).


With regards to dancing, crashing your body and spinning sends a signal to your brain to “protect” and prevent this motion from overreaching and causing any severe damage. So, the next time your body is more prepared to handle the forces that the body is experiencing when you dance (or lift, or sprint, or etc…).

If there were a continuum to explain this better, it would look something like this:

Parasympathetic < ————————————————-> Sympathetic

Fancy, right?

Well, if you continue to dance (or run, lift, sprint, play hockey/baseball/insert sport), and continue to crash your body into the ground, and continue to push the limits of what the human body can handle (let’s be honest, we are dancing and rivaling what gymnasts are doing), where do you think the body will end up from a nervous system point of view? Where will this activity drive the state of your nervous system?

That’s what you get for running.

It is my belief that the body will experience a surge of sympathetic related feedback – increase in all stress related hormones to reduce the “pains” of dancing, increase in postural demands that the body can experience, increase in respiratory rates, which can lead to increased heart rate, and so on and so forth. Long story short, it isn’t the best thing to always be in such a sympathetically driven state. You need to chill, bro.


The solution that I have been taking to shift myself and the dancers I work with is multi-faceted, and one aspect involves providing a positive stimulus that will reduce the sympathetic tone that the body has presented. This will ultimately guide your nervous system to relax.

  • Perhaps providing slight tension on a muscle bed will help to calm any muscular tension that you may be experiencing.
  • Or perhaps trying any of these breathing exercises that you might have read me write about very recently will help to effectively shift you out of a sympathetic state into a parasympathetic state.
  • Or even more extrapolated, perhaps a nice long walk on the beach will provide a better parasympathetic stimulus to your body, enough for you to relax and feel less tense!


Interestingly enough, these things can help reduce tension systemically, albeit temporarily.

Muscular Tightness: Short vs Stiff

With regards to muscular tightness, there are two avenues available:


Overcoming stiffness in a muscle can be demonstrated by adding an external load during a movement pattern in which the muscle is being tested.

One example that has been used in the past is adding a weight to a squatting pattern to differentiate between stiffness and shortness in the hip flexors. Stiffness will allow the femurs to reach a lower level than before, due to the force transfer of the hip flexors acting on the femurs.


So how would you know if you have shortness in your muscle quality or not?

Difficult question for sure – that is, unless you get assessed by an experienced therapist, coach, or trainer.

But at the end of the day, many people will present in several common areas that are often presented as tight, but no one really addresses this issue. Generally, everyone knows stretches for their hamstrings, quads, and maybe arm stretches. Unfortunately for these individuals, there are more muscles that can present as “short” that would require varying stretches to “hit” these “tight muscles”.

On the opposite hand, the posterior muscles of the hip (glutes), along with the latissimus dorsi are neglected muscle groups that don’t get the attention that they deserve.

…To take that next step, what if your lat dominance is causing you to have tight hips or anterior pelvic tilt?


I know, my brain asploded the first time this was postulated to me as well.

In any case, it is my belief that stretching should be the last thing almost anyone should do – that is, if you haven’t taken care of the quality of your nervous system, or the quality of your muscle tissue (before you go on stretching it).

Why is that?

Well, stretching is the devil.

All joking aside, stretching has a few caveats that should be taken into consideration before doing it:

Stretching has been known to have acute negative changes in force production if done prior to exercise or activity.

How? It provides an inhibitory (or reduction-like) affect to the muscle bed at hand.

So if you stretch your hamstrings and adductors before you start doing flares and windmills, you are being counterproductive towards your efforts – you are in fact, making yourself less powerful for your power moves. How is that for counter-intuitive?

So Where Does This Leave Us?

I wouldn’t be much of a writer if I didn’t leave you with an action plan, now would I?

Well, luckily for you, I do have one.

But there’s a catch – I’ll outline the general ideas, but the specific steps will be outlined in my upcoming e-book (which will be free mind you), Unlocking Rotational Power.

So, these steps involve:

  1. Assessing for Postural Demands
  2. Exercises to Reduce Sympathetic Tone (Purposeful Breathing Exercises)
  3. Exercises to Reduce Muscular Tone (Foam Rolling and Self-Myofascial Release)
  4. Inhibition Exercises (Stretches)
  5. Stability Exercises (To reinforce any joints that need subsequent stability due to the inhibitory drive from all of the above exercises)

The fifth point is one that is something you might see other trainers and coaches write about – in which performing a stability exercise will provide enough of a stimulus in order to override any lack of stability, along with a subsequent increase in range of motion about the joint’s movement pattern. (For example, Dean Somerset comes to mind with his side plank to improve hip internal range of motion “party trick”.)

In any case, this is a lot to digest, so I’m going to open up the comments section if you or anyone has any questions regarding the subject matter above.

As always,

Keep it funky.