Category : Fitness and Conditioning

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Fitness and Conditioning
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How to deal with ingrown toenails

It’s not sexy. It’s not glamorous. It’s not exciting. Unfortunately, it’s a topic that comes up time and time again with Irish dancers. Ingrown toenails. Between super tight soft shoes, and the repetitive banging of hard shoes, we are doing plenty of damage to our toenails, which can cause painful ingrown nails. We asked Dr Mariola Rivera, podiatric surgeon, how to care for nails to prevent this painful condition.

What causes ingrown toenails?

According to Dr Rivera, “Generally ingrown nails are caused by improper trimming of the nail, narrow shoes, repetitive pressure, and hereditary shape of the nail.” She goes on to add, “In dancers, constant trauma can cause damage to the nail bed, therefore abnormal growing of the nail. In dancers with long toenails who wear tight shoes or pointe shoes with narrow toe boxes, this can create excessive pressure on the toenails.” Tight shoes? Repetitive pressure? Sounds familiar.

Cutting your toenails

It isn’t as simple as just snipping your nails when they get long. Dr Rivera recommends using nail clippers to keep toenails the correct length. “Cut the nails straight across or in a square shape, and avoid cutting too far into the corners. Also, keep the medial and lateral nail folds clean without any residue, for example nail polish or nail debris. Avoid tearing the nail corners or any round shapes. The nail should be at the length of the tip of the toe.” In a nutshell, keep the edge of the toenail straight, and the corners square.

Dealing with the pain

If you do get ingrowns, there are some quick and easy ways to deal with the pain. “I recommend soaking the affected nail for 10 minutes with Epsom Salt to soften the nail. Do this for 5-7 days,” Dr Rivera explains. “Apply over the counter triple antibiotic to the affected nail twice a day, and keep the area protected and covered with a bandage.” Dr Rivera goes on to say, “If there are no signs of infection, insert a tiny piece of cotton tip under the nail to help the nail grow away from the skin.”

What if they get infected?

The best advice is to always see a professional. Dr Rivera advises, “Avoid picking at the nail, or using unsterile tools to try to remove any ingrowing pieces because it can cause an infection.” Additionally, “if the surrounding skin is red, warm, swollen, with or without discharge, you should see a podiatrist to aseptically remove the ingrowing nail via a partial nail avulsion or treatment with oral or topical antibiotics.”

Most importantly, look after your feet because you need them to dance! Do you get ingrown toenails? Leave a comment or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Fitness and Conditioning
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6 essential pilates exercises for Irish dancing

These days it’s not just enough to go to class for a couple of hours a week – if you’re serious about your dancing, you’re cross training and stretching outside of class too (and regularly reading Ready to Feis, obviously). If you’re tight on time but still trying to make the most of your dancing, these 6 pilates exercises are the ones you should add to your daily routine. Why pilates? According to TCRG and pilates instructor Caitlin Golding, “It is important we know how to properly care for and respect our bodies as they are our tools of expression.” Pilates is a form of exercise that focuses on strength, flexibility, coordination, muscular endurance, balance, and good posture, all essential for Irish dancing. According to Golding, “If you have begun to recognize any muscle imbalances, are prone to injury, or want to prevent the onset of either, practicing Pilates 3x a week (at least) can greatly improve your overall strength, mindset, and Irish dance technique.”

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Below, Golding demonstrates and explains the 6 essential pilates exercises for Irish dancing, so that you can add them to your daily routine.

1. Treading

Start standing with your body in total alignment. Shoulders over hips, hips over knees, knees over ankles, feet in parallel. Make sure that your core is engaged and you are neither sticking out your chest or your glutes.

Take a deep inhale and on this breath raise your arms overhead feeling the energy course through your fingertips. Exhale and begin curling your fingers towards the ground. Begin rounding your spine by pulling your navel back towards your lumbar vertebrae. Scooping all of your abdominals as you get closer and closer to the ground- visualize your body as a candy cane. Once your hands reach the ground, walk them out in front of you while keeping your heels pressed firmly down. Sink back into your pelvis and release any tension in your wrists, neck, and shoulders. Continue to deepen this stretch by alternating gentle bends in the knees, always keeping the opposite heel pressed firmly into the ground. After 16 alternating reps, walk your hands back up to your feet and begin articulating up to standing- rolling through every individual vertebrae, navel pulled back to the spine, and energy flowing through your fingertips. Once you are standing reassess your body alignment to make sure you are neither sticking out your chest or glutes.

2. The Hundred

Begin by hugging the knees into the chest. Take a deep breath inwards and on the exhale curl your upper body off the floor until only the tips of your shoulder blades are grazing your mat. Release the arms from the legs and reach them long beside your body at shoulder height. Extend your legs out on either a 45 degree angle or straight up to the ceiling. Turn your legs out with your heels together forming a “pilates V”. Your spine should be in neutral – imagine a blueberry underneath your lumbar vertebrae that you cannot crush! Once in this position, take 5 short and deliberate inhales and 5 exhales while pumping the arms by your sides. Repeat 10 times or until your take 100 individual breaths. In this exercise you are meant to be squeezing the stale air out of your lungs, don’t be afraid to be a little loud on your breathing!

Concentrating on your breath while performing the correct form and technique of this exercise can directly translate to your dancing. If you know when and where to breathe during your competition or performance steps, your stamina, focus, and mindset will greatly improve.

3. The Rollup

Begin by laying down, arms extended overhead and legs long with heels in a Pilates V. On your inhale, raise your arms towards the sky and lift the crown of your head, chin, neck, shoulders, and articulate through the spine – exhale until you reach all the way down towards your toes. Hold for a count of 3 and then inhale to begin rolling back up through the spine, sitting tall on your sitz bones, with arms stretched strong out in front of you. Imagine you are sitting with your back against a wall and you must sit as tall as you can – like a string is attached to the top of your head and is pulling you to your tallest form. Exhale and scoop out the abdominals as you contract your core – pulling your navel to your spine – and roll back down all the while reaching towards your toes. Bring the arms back overhead. Repeat 6x.

Always keep reaching through your hips during this exercise to feel a stretch along those hip flexors. Irish dancers tend to develop tendonitis in their hips among other serious hip injuries and this exercise is all about using the core to lift instead of pulling through your very tiny hip flexors! They are not muscles, and as Irish dancers we must learn to relax them and use our core to lift instead. This one is my fave!

4. Leg Circles

Begin by laying down, legs extended and arms by your side. Pull the right leg into your chest, left hand just below your inner knee cap and right hand by your outer ankle. Take a breath inwards and on the exhale pull your leg deeper into your chest. Inhale and extend the right leg towards the sky without shortening your hips – keep the right and left hip squared. Give your right leg a tug either on your calf or your hamstring, never behind the knee – it is a hinge joint and has limited mobility. Release your leg and place your arms long beside your body.Turn both legs fully out and point through your toes. Inhale, and circle the leg towards the midline of your body, down to perfect hip alignment, and then gently outside the frame of your body on your exhale. Repeat 5x and then reverse directions – start by circling the leg outside, then down, then across, then up. When you are finished fold the right leg into the chest and switch legs. Repeat 5x each direction.

The key to this exercise is to keep both sitz bones (basically your butt bones), hips, core, and shoulders on the ground without movement. Do not allow your shoulders to creep up like earmuffs – remember the tips of your scapula (shoulder blades) should always be in the center of your back. If you draw this connection and feel the engagement of your core and upper body while executing the leg circles with minimal movement, this exercise will help you greatly improve your posture and carriage while dancing.

5. Scissors / Single Leg Stretch

Begin the same as leg circles by folding the right leg into your chest and extending it to the sky, grabbing either behind your calf or hamstring. Keep the legs in parallel during this exercise to work different muscle groups. Irish dancers tend to overdevelop certain muscles and under develop others – it is important to condition your body in all forms to maintain balance, strength, and overall health. Take an inhale and raise your upper body off of your mat until your gaze meets your lower belly. Gently pull the right leg twice and switch to pull the left leg twice. Inhale and exhale on the double “pull” alternating between right and left legs. Finish by folding the legs into the chest and resting your head.

This exercise is a perfect example of dynamic stretching. With every contraction comes a stretch. This a great exercise to warm up and lengthen the legs for overhead kicks and front clicks while maintaining a strong core and spine.

6. Lion Drinking

This is a fundamental exercise used to increase upper body strength and awareness. Despite not using our arms much in competition dancing unless we are doing ceilis, we need to balance our upper bodies with our typically overdeveloped lower bodies or we will suffer back injuries or poor posture.

Start on all fours, knees hip distance apart, hands directly under shoulders, fingers facing one another, and spine in neutral or slightly exaggerated like in “cow” exercise in yoga. Begin by inhaling and bending through your elbows, lowering only your upper body to the ground. Your head and neck should be neutral and your gaze straight ahead. Imagine yourself as a lion drinking out of pond, always keeping a lookout for potential danger. Once your chin reaches your hands, begin straightening your arms through your elbows, curling up through your thoracic spine, dropping your head and neck, and pushing through your shoulder blades to feel a deep stretch like “cat” in yoga. Once your arms are back to full extension, release the spine back to neutral or “cow” and lift the head and neck.

I love this exercise because it is serious tricep workout and also keeps me aware of all of the muscles in my body. Your core should always be engaged and your belly button pulled back toward your spine. The complexity of this exercise is similar to the thought process we go through while dancing and it is challenge to always be mindful and conscious in the moment! Great practice to manage the influx of thoughts or bodily feelings.

Do you do pilates? Do you have any favorite exercises to keep your body in shape? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

A special thank you to Silpa Sadhujan of Rince and Repeat for her incredible photography for this story. Silpa is a professional portrait and dance photographer based in New York City, as well as an Irish dancer. Silpa is available for dance photo shoots. Be sure to check out her Where We Dance photo series.

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10 things Olympians do that Irish dancers should do too_irish dance_ready to feis
Fitness and Conditioning, Mental Preparation
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10 things Olympians do that Irish dancers should do too

In this guest post from Suzanne Cox, TCRG and Accredited Exercise Physiologist (ESSA) with the Australian Institute of Fitness, she outlines 10 things we can all take away from the Olympics. Irish dancing might not be an Olympic sport, but we can certainly train like Olympians.

1. Mental Preparation

Olympic athletes know that mental practice is as important as physical practice. They practice mental preparation techniques continually and are prepared for any situation. Michael Phelps incorporates training without goggles into his routine in case he needs to race in a major event this way. He has won major events with his goggles falling off, not being able to see where he is going but being so well trained and prepared for anything that it didn’t affect his performance.

2. Taper

You won’t find any Olympic athlete doing heavy loads of training in the week leading up to their event at the Olympics. In fact up to a month before their event their training volume will be significantly reduced in an effort to be fully recovered when they need to be so they can perform at their best. After all, the hard work should be done at that point and any last minute heavy training sessions won’t help you beat the athlete that has been working solidly and consistently up until that time for years before that.

3. Follow a yearly periodization plan and schedule your week

An Olympian works with strength and conditioning coaches who tailor a periodized plan for them. They have programmed recovery periods throughout their year, periods of high volume, periods of more specific preparation, and periods of high intensity work.

Athletes follow a highly scheduled week. Meals, training, appointments, homework etc are all covered in their weekly plan. They schedule down time. They schedule mental preparation time. They know exactly when they will be training and for how long.

4. Cover each element of performance

Every sport has different elements of performance and the athlete that has nailed each one of these elements will be the most successful. A hockey player has elements of aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness, agility, mobility, strength, accuracy and mental capacity. If even one of these areas isn’t catered for in training the performance is not at its optimum.

5. Fuel your body and set a sleep routine

Athletes know that great nutrition equals a great performance. Part of their training plan is how they eat for years before the event not just the night before. They fuel their body adequately every single day. Loading your body with carbohydrates even a week before the event will do nothing if you have been eating terribly all year!

Lack of sleep can have a massive impact on performance. Quality sleep is paramount for any athlete wanting to perform at their best. Some studies suggest that hours of sleep missed can’t be made up so make quality sleep a part of your weekly routine!

6. Focus on themselves

No athlete trains exactly the same and prepares in exactly the same way. Some athletes train at 5am, others perform at their worst at this time. Olympians focus on themselves and commit to their own training pathway. This doesn’t mean they don’t follow what the best athletes are doing, it just means they can determine what is right for them and trust their own pathway.

7. Understand progress over perfection

Olympians focus on their own progress, this is the largest thing that they can control. They set small goals that will lead them to their bigger goals. They look for ways they have progressed in an event in their physical performance or their mental performance. They understand that a performance will probably never be perfect and that a result they are not happy with in an event is not a sign that they haven’t made progress.

8. Move on from setbacks

Every athlete suffers setbacks whether it be injury, poor performance, or a bad competition day. No athlete is immune to this. The Olympians that get the Gold medal are the ones that push past this and realize that one race is just one race and doesn’t determine the rest of their career.

9. Celebrate success

Olympic gymnast Simone Biles celebrates her successes with a pepperoni pizza after a major event. Whether they walk away from an event happy with their result or not, they take a moment to celebrate that they competed, they worked their hardest in the preparation, and at the very least they learnt something from the experience.

10. Be a good person

Good athletes are good people. They appreciate the support from their family and friends, thank their Coaches for their dedication to their success, and want the best for the athletes around them. They don’t talk about the athlete that beat them as being undeserving, in fact most of the time they are quoted in the media applauding the amazing athlete they were up against. You can be great at the same time as others. There is plenty of room in the world for lots of amazing people!

Image via: Marty Lochmann Photographer
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Fitness and Conditioning
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Can ballet improve your Irish dancing?

It’s a simple question – does doing ballet improve basic Irish dancing skills? There are many similarities between the two art forms – turn out, carriage, grace, poise, extension. But there are also many differences in technique and form. In exploring the pros and the cons, we tapped Mary Lynn Collins-Callanan, an Irish dancing teacher and ballet master, to weigh in.

Pro: Pointing

“Ballet is all about pointing”, says Collins-Callanan. She goes on to explain, “In ballet, so much time is spent practicing how to point. You go from the ball of the foot, to the point, back to the ball of the foot, back to fifth position. In Irish dancing we just teach dancers to point, we don’t teach them to use the balls to the point. As kids get older, you can see that a lot of dancers are pointing, but their toes aren’t pointed – it’s because they have never understood the power of the ball of the foot to the point.

“The thinking behind something as basic as learning how to point properly – ball to point, point to ball, back to fifth – is so critical because it’s firing the muscles that they need to go up from the ball of their foot to their point.” Is this good for Irish dancing? You bet. Learning how to point through the foot, and get up high on your toes, are basic skills that will serve you well in Irish dancing.

Con: Wide Knees

While we pull up in Irish dancing, crossing the knees and keeping the legs tight, ballet dancers are taught to keep the knees wide and steady as they perform fluid movements like plies, bending into the knee and then rising up. Could these wide knees become a problem for Irish dancing? According to Collins-Callanan, “If you’re using ballet as a supplement to help your Irish dancing, you’re not really going to have a wide knee problem. You’re not going to be in it that long, and you’re going to take from it what you need and that will help your Irish.” Wide knees are something that comes from years of training, and if you’re at a point in your ballet training where wide knees becomes a problem, then congratulations because you are obviously very dedicated to your ballet training.

Pro: Leg Lifts

While Irish dancers are often just taught to kick, ballet dancers spend years at the barre perfecting the grand battement, learning how to raise the leg while turning out from the hip, controlling it on the way up and the way down, while using the bottom leg for support. “In ballet, we spend a lot of time talking about how you lift you leg, what muscles you fire, and how you do that safely” says Collins-Callanan. “It’s learning how to control extension. In ballet when you’re teaching a child how to lift their leg, even to 90 degrees, you’re working on the bottom leg that’s supporting you, while also learning how to do that with the absolute turn out coming from the hip.” If you’re not controlling your leg lifts from the hip, you can get injured. Learning how to safely lift your leg up and down with control is a very valuable skill for Irish dance.

Con: Spotting

Something that most dancers who have done ballet before switching to Irish dancing struggle with is keeping the head still. “In ballet, your head always faces out to the audience, and in Irish dancing it doesn’t.” explains Collins-Callanan. “In Irish dancing, we’re asking the dancers to do really hard turns, but we don’t let them spot.”

“If you’re in a theatre production, like Riverdance, or if you’re in a ballet show, or a gymnast or a skater, you always get theatre time before you actually have to do your performance. And there’s a couple of reasons for that – one is spacing, and figuring out where to move. But as our dancing becomes more complicated, in ballet especially, if you had a solo, you would have to figure out where you were spotting. For Irish dancing, you have to learn how to spin without spotting.” Will ballet training impact your ability to dance without spotting? No, but it might confuse your ballet teacher.

Ballet has many positives and negative for Irish dancers. If you are using ballet purely to enhance your Irish dancing, then be mindful of which exercises are going to help you most and which will actually be a hindrance. Your ballet teacher will know what you need and be able to help you get the most out of the exercises you’re doing in class. If you are serious about both dance forms, then work with your teachers to devise ways to work around the differences.

Do you do ballet as a supplement to your Irish dancing? Or are you a ballet dancer who has made the cross over to Irish dancing? We would love to hear your experience doing both – share in the comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Fitness and Conditioning
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How to improve your posture for Irish dance

One of the fundamentals of Irish dancing technique is good posture. This seemingly simple instruction – stay up straight – is actually very difficult to master as steps get harder, with lots of traveling, leaping, and kicking up as high as you can. Suzanne Cox, TCRG and Accredited Exercise Physiologist (ESSA) with the Australian Institute of Fitness, gives us the insight into why our shoulders might hunch and what exercises we can do to fix it.

Why do my shoulders hunch when I dance?

Irish dancers are renowned for their lower body strength but what influence does the upper body have? With an art form that has a large focus on footwork it can be easy to forget about what is happening from the hips upwards.

Hunched shoulders are primarily down to 2 main reasons;

  • A lack of muscular strength to keep the shoulders back and the shoulder blade in a good position.
  • Tight muscles that are pulling the shoulders and shoulder blades forward.

Let’s take a look at the first issue to begin with. How the shoulders sit will be directly related to how the scapula (shoulder blade) sits, and the muscle strength around it. Weakness in particular muscles controlling the scapula and shoulder can be from weak and untrained muscles, or can be from a poor postural habit that has become the norm over time, which actually causes muscular weaknesses. There is some commonality in what tends to be going on for a large amount of the population, including dancers who hunch their shoulders. Generally speaking, here is what happens;

  • The muscles that surround the scapula (shoulder blade) and shoulder are weak. These muscles act to hold the shoulder blades back and down. They can become weak from spending time at a desk for long periods while studying or reading, continually sitting hunched over, or having a ‘slouch’ when traveling.
  • Muscles work in pairs, so if the muscles on the back side of the body around the scapula become weak, the muscles on the front side of the body become tight. In this case the most common muscle groups are the chest muscles and the muscles at the front of the shoulder. When these muscles are tight it becomes even harder for the muscles in the back to do their job properly.

How can I correct my posture?

Here are a couple of basic exercises and stretches that can help. It’s important to remember that poor posture doesn’t develop overnight so consistent and long term muscle re-training is vital to make a difference.

Prone back extension

Prone-back-extension_posture_irish dance_ready to feis

This exercise is great for strengthening muscles on the back side of the body, in particular some of the ones that will help to keep our scapula in a better position.

  • Lying on your front, place one hand on top of the other with your palms facing the floor. Put your forehead on your hands.
  • Lift your arms, shoulders and head off the floor ensuring you don’t bend from the neck. The neck should remain in line with the upper back for good alignment and good postural development.
  • Aim to hold this for 15 seconds to start and build up to 30 seconds. Work your way up to a minute but remember this will take time – this exercise is usually very hard for Irish dancers!

Chest stretch

chest-stretch_posture_irish dance_ready to feis

This stretch is great for stretching the muscles in the front side of the body that can pull the shoulders and shoulder blades forward causing a hunch.

  • Using a doorway, place your forearm up to your elbow on the side of the doorway, bending your elbow at 90 degrees.
  • Rotate from your feet slightly, away from this arm until you feel a stretch across the front part of your chest.

Do you struggle with your posture when you dance? Do you have any exercises or stretches that have helped you? Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Fitness and Conditioning
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What to eat on feis day for maximum performance

The morning of a feis can be tough – there’s hair and makeup to contend with, tanning (if you’re into that), making sure you don’t forget anything, stretching, warming up, and perhaps some serious time in the car if the feis is a distance away. Amidst this chaos it’s really important that breakfast doesn’t get overlooked. If you don’t fuel yourself properly in the morning, it can throw you off for the whole day and you’ll give a lacklustre performance – definitely not what you want after all that hard work.

Breakfast

According to Frances Dunne, personal trainer and founder of Fitness Formula Irish Dance, “The morning of a feis you really need to make sure you fuel up for the day.” Dunne goes on to explain, “ It depends on what you’ve had the day before, but you want to make sure your body is stocked up with glycogen for energy – that means having some form of carbohydrate like oats or potato, and protein to keep you feeling satiated. Adding some healthy fats into the mix will also help maintain your energy levels throughout the day.”

Breakfast checklist:

  • Oats
  • Potatoes
  • Eggs
  • Avocado
  • Yogurt

Snacks

Keeping your body fueled doesn’t stop at breakfast. You’ll likely be at the feis for hours on end, with a wait before you dance or breaks between dances. Keeping your bag stocked with snacks for the day means you can grab what you need and keep energy up without relying on feis food.

Dunne recommends “Granola bars (flapjack/oat bar) are a good source of quick energy, and simple sugary foods like jellies, although not healthy, will help quickly replenish glycogen stores if they’re depleted. It’s also useful to have foods such as bananas or salted nuts on hand to replenish electrolytes. Electrolytes are vital for keeping your muscles working properly!”

Feis bag checklist:

  • Granola bar
  • Banana
  • Salted nuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Gummy candy/jellies
  • Water

What do you eat for breakfast on feis day? What snacks do you keep in your feis bag for energy? Share below in the comments, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Ready to Feis_Irish dance_why are my muscles sore_delayed onset muscle soreness_header
Fitness and Conditioning
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Why are my muscles sore?

If you have ever had a tough dance class and walked out feeling okay, but then woken up in a world of pain the next day…welcome. You’re part of the DOMS club. That would be Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.

What is it?

According to Riverdance star and personal trainer Chloey Turner, this feeling is when “your muscles feel stiff and painful hours after exercise, sometimes even many days after.” DOMS occurs when an eccentric muscle action occurs – that is, an activity that causes muscles to lengthen while force is applied, like Irish dancing.

Soreness can kick in as soon as six to eight hours after exercise, and tends to be most sore around the 48 hour mark, although this varies from person to person. Turner adds, “If you change your exercise programme, or work your body harder than you are used to, whether you’re a conditioned athlete or somebody new to exercise, you can get DOMS.”

Is it bad?

No. Frances Dunne, personal trainer, founder of Fitness Formula Irish Dance, and current lead dancer in Lord of the Dance, explains “DOMS is essentially microtrauma done to your muscles during training. The repair and adaptations done as a result of this damage is how we get stronger!” That all said, you need to be able to read your own body, and know the difference between muscle soreness and an injury.

How do I ease the pain?

Sadly, the only thing that can ‘heal’ DOMS is time, but there are ways to help ease the pain and get back to dancing sooner. Turner explains that you should “have a combination of protein and carbohydrates within 30 minutes after exercise, like a protein shake and a banana. This will help to refuel your body, promote muscle recovery, and keep you energised.”

Dunne says, “encouraging blood flow will encourage repair, so things like warm baths, gentle stretching and light movement or cardio will help you deal with it.” Turner agrees with this, and adds, “Make sure to always warm up and cool down properly and of course keep hydrated!”

Have you ever dealt with DOMS? What’s your secret to getting your muscles back in shape after a tough class? Share in the comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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Building stamina for Irish dancing
Fitness and Conditioning
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Building stamina for Irish dancing

Stamina. Just the word can send shivers down the spine. Irish dancing is such a physically demanding sport that having high stamina is crucial. Dancers need to perform anaerobically for up to 3 minutes (Planxty Davis at 76, anyone?) and it’s very tough to get and maintain that kind of endurance.

The key to stamina

This is not the time to get lazy. According to Frances Dunne, personal trainer, founder of Fitness Formula Irish Dance, and current lead dancer in Lord of the Dance, “The most important thing to building your stamina is thinking about specificity and not cutting corners!” Specificity? Dunne explains, “If you want to be able to get through a heavy jig with maximum effort, why would you go for a slow and steady jog? Equally, if it’s technique you need to work on keeping consistent, letting it slide just so you can keep your energy up a bit more by the last step is just going to create bad habits.” This means building up to working at maximum output for the required length of time while also working at maximum technique – no point maintaining energy to the end if it’s sloppy.

But how?

Dunne points out, “Cross training isn’t a necessity for stamina. It is however important for staying injury free, getting stronger and more mobile, and keeping your body on a progressive path.” So should you be dancing or cross training? “When it comes to stamina, a mixture is ideal. Run your dances to make sure your dancing is technically strong, and cross train to get your muscles up to the job and your sanity intact! There’s nothing worse than dreading doing a dance the whole way through – it just puts negative associations in your brain.”

Working independently

To build stamina while also conditioning muscles for peak performance, Dunne recommends plyometric or sprinting style exercises that are demanding on your legs, such as:
Squat jumps
– Bike sprints

Exercises like squat jumps are easy enough to do at home while still getting a successful workout. Dunne says, “The aim is to reach fatigue by 30/40 seconds and keep pushing through that!” Cross training should be managed like dance classes, making sure your body has enough time to recover between sessions, with space carved out for rest and repair each week.

Do you cross train to improve your dancing? What’s your balance between dancing and cross training? Share in the comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

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irish dance_ready to feis_Irish dancing and a sickled foot
Fitness and Conditioning
3

Irish dancing and a sickled foot – what you should know

One of the very first things Irish dancers are taught is to point their toe. From that first class onwards, pointing is mandatory. There is nothing more beautiful than an outstretched foot during a leap over, or a strong point during a hop. In competition, adjudicators are looking for clean lines and precision. What they’re not looking for is a sickled foot.

A what?

A sickled foot occurs when you point, and rather than your shin, ankles, and toes all making a straight line, your foot curves either in or out. Pat Roddy, specialist in movement mechanics, anatomy in motion, and fitness instructor, explains “a sickled foot, or a hooked foot, can be common in many forms of dance. It can happen as the dancer tries to arch the foot while turning out, breaking the line of the leg, ankle and foot.”

What causes a sickled foot?

There are a number of reasons a foot may sickle. The first is that it could be simple anatomy, with a dancer either pronating (rolling in) or supinating (rolling out) when standing still. The best way to check this is to stand flat on the floor and have someone look at your ankles from behind – do you roll in or out? If the ankle is not straightly aligned, a podiatrist or physiotherapist can diagnose any physiological issues. Pronation or supination can lead to knee and hip problems if the leg is incorrectly aligned.

irish dance_ready to feis_Irish dancing and a sickled foot_pronation supination

Another cause of a sickled foot is overpointing. If a dancer points too hard, it can push the foot into a sickled position. While a nice strong point is an essential basic, when the point is pushed too hard from the ankle, not only does it look bad but it can lead to injuries. A dancer with poor technique who sickles is likely to develop imbalanced muscles over time, and suffer from weakness in the ankles. Additionally, if the foot is not pointed straight and strong on a jump, you also risk going over on the ankle when you land because of uneven distribution of weight.

According to Roddy, “Do not let the ankle twist or turn in, and keep the focus on the front of the ankle as it plantar flexes and points away from the body. Keep the arch strong and turn the foot out. A good point of focus here is that your turn out should be coming from the hip, so try to feel the leg externally rotate and turn out all the way from the hip. Your heel should be pointed in towards the midline of the body with the toes pointed maintaining a clean line all the way up the leg.”

Do you have sickled feet? Have you managed to overcome it? Share your experience in the comments below, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Note: Pat Roddy can be contacted at info@patroddy.ie for any fitness and movement mechanic enquiries.

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Fitness and Conditioning
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How to safely land an Irish dancing jump

As Irish dancing has gotten more athletic, one of the most notable changes is the jumps. Reels and slip jigs, as well as hard shoe dances, are now full of complicated and daring jumps and leaps that push the boundaries of the sport and what the body can accomplish. While these jumps are exciting to learn, they need to be performed safely and landed correctly so that they don’t result in injury – the force of landing a big jump incorrectly can lead to a host of foot, ankle, knee, shin, hip, and back injuries.

Pat Roddy, specialist in movement mechanics, anatomy in motion, and fitness instructor, says “Irish dancers today are a study in balance, athleticism, skill, and technique, and all training revolves around strength, balance, and endurance, along with the technical steps and choreography. Like any sport it’s difficult to pinpoint an optimal performance model because there are so many variables.” Being a former CLRG World Champion and former lead in Riverdance (the show and on Broadway), Roddy has first hand experience when discussing the complex and technical nature of landing jumps. “Because we restrict our upper body movement in Irish dance, our movement patterns lack the counter balance that our upper body provides in almost all other activities that we do. This can provide us with a challenge while jumping or elevating from the floor, one that can highlight postural issues with some dancers unable to manage our upper body restriction.”

“Our feet are our first and last point of contact with the ground and ultimately determine the quality of movement above them. Balance is essential, along with strength through the foot, ankle, and leg. Launch and landing mechanics develop as we progress as dancers. Some have it from an early age and others need to be guided and cued through every move”, explains Roddy.

Building strength

“Building up strength in the feet, ankles, and the major muscles groups of the legs are key”, Roddy points out. “Foot and ankle strength and stability enable a dancer to manage the impact from the ground and absorb shock while maintaining balance, posture and timing.”

There are simple exercises dancers can do at home and in class to build the required strength. “Use a TheraBand to increase foot and ankle strength while doing resistance exercises, wrapping and pulling the band one way and moving the foot/ankle to oppose it.”

Take it slow

When learning new moves, it’s important to pace yourself. “Practice the moves slowly, then gradually build it to improve and perfect with the power, strength and precision that a competitive performance requires. Focus on relaxing the foot and toes as it launches and lands – this allows all the muscles of the foot to operate fully. Tensing or gripping with the toes will limit muscular performance in the feet and lower leg and impact on your ability to land softly or launch while jumping”, says Roddy.

“The foot’s structural mechanics can inhibit this important phase also leading to uneven weight distribution the whole way up the body – some postural irregularities can become obvious as the body tries to compensate and help itself through the movements. Try to avoid attempting new jumps and spins while extremely fatigued as this is when you are most susceptible to injury, and always include jumps and spins as part of your warm up, gradually increasing the intensity and giving the body enough time to prepare and adjust for what is ahead.”

Have you learnt any new and crazy jumps recently? What was your technique for learning and practicing? Share below in the comments, or join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Note: Pat Roddy can be contacted at info@patroddy.ie for any fitness and movement mechanic enquiries.

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