5 reasons why Irish dancers need an off-season
One of the most difficult and demanding aspects of competitive Irish dance is the scheduling. With competitions year round, there is no off-season. While this might seem fun, it is important to create your own schedule that includes off-season and preseason – if you try to work at 100% all the time, you will burn out and get injured. Lauren Early, Irish dance trainer and author of the new book Reaching New Heights, explains why it’s so important to create a seasonal structure to your dance training.
To begin with, Early points out the benefits of breaking training down into seasons. “There are many major fundamental reasons why coaches include off-season and in season training into their athlete’s programme, and as dancers or teachers if we are also going to do this we will need to understand the benefits of doing so.” These include:
- Injury prevention
- Long-term performance
- Goal setting
- Mindset / motivation
- Peaking at the right time
Of all these reasons, injury prevention might be the most crucial – injuries have the potential to be career-ending, and you won’t need to worry about a training schedule when you’re stuck at home in a boot. Breaking it down, Early explains, “When we are dancing we recruit certain muscle groups to do what we need to do. For example, quadriceps and calves are primary movers in Irish dance. Now, if we train the same way all year round, this means that we are asking the same muscles to work year round with no consideration to the opposing muscle groups that are underused in dancing. This is a fundamental reason why Irish dancing has such a high injury rate.”
This is why off-season training is crucial for injury prevention – you need time to strengthen the opposing muscle groups that aren’t used during the year. If a large amount of energy is spent on the quadriceps during training, the hamstrings need to be strengthened so that they can safely tolerate the power that the quadricep produces. This is called structural balance – where two opposing muscle groups are working equally.
Injury prevention goes hand in hand with long term performance, as Early explains, “The alteration through different training phases from off-season to in season will use different energy systems at different intensities. This alteration gives the body a break from the training type that came before it, and the training that will come next. It will help to avoid overtraining and burnout from too much repetition, and also look after your long term health and performance, meaning you can continue your sport for many years having conditioned yourself properly.”
Off-season doesn’t have to be for months, like football players. In fact, with the schedule of majors on the Irish dance calendar, there is opportunity for two small off-seasons throughout the year, allowing the body to rest, recover, and strengthen before the next competition. For a dancer focusing on three majors per year (Worlds, Nationals, Oireachtas), Early suggests two 4-week off-seasons – January and August. Coupling these with periods of pre-season, in season, and maintenance, you can peak at the right time while also looking after your body and staying mentally and physically fit.
Early explores the five main benefits of a seasonal training program in more detail, including suggested calendars, in her new book Reaching New Heights. Grab her book to explore this more, or pop over to our Facebook page for your chance to win a signed copy.