Physio Talk With Lukas: Returning to Dance

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Hey everyone,

It's Lukas here, and yes, it's been a while! This week, I'll be discussing the return to dance, especially after such a long time off. There are many reasons to take a break now and then (and for some time), whether it's a global pandemic, holidays, injury, or family obligations, you name it. And seeing as we're humans, it's only natural that we struggle to keep up with the hard work and effort every second of the day. There is a need to distance oneself from work to recover, not just physically but mentally as well.

So, how do we get back in shape and prepare for the upcoming performances after all this time off? To answer that, we'll have to dive into two things. First, what happens when we've stopped working out, and secondly, the body principles in the case of its loading capacity.

Depending on your fitness level, your structure needs to rest and recover because if you overtrain, the loading capacity will decrease.

The Bad News

Our body is adapting daily, such as when you go running over time, your cardiovascular system, joints, and muscles will adapt, resulting in you running faster and longer becoming more mobile. The same occurs when you stretch your muscles and tissues where they become more tolerable and easier to reach those positions. For example, a weight lifter can lift 150 kg with bad posture without harming his back (that is if he's had enough training), whereas someone like me would most likely be left with one or two issues afterward.

The point here is that if we don't give our body any impulses, it will decline. Just as if you were to lie in bed for one-week watching Games of Thrones season 1 through to 8, your body will start to detrain and decondition. And how fast you decline depends on multiple factors, such as initial fitness level, genetics, nutrition, length of time off, and age to name few. After about 2 weeks of being time off, you will lose some of your muscle mass, cardiovascular endurance, and your metabolism will slow down. This will result in the form of your muscles decreased capacity to enhance oxygen, which is a vital energy supply process for adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

In short,

  • Your muscle mass will get less after some time

  • Your heart will have more difficulties pumping the blood volume efficiently

  • Your blood pressure will increase and you will have a different cholesterol level

  • As is with your blood sugar levels which will decline slower

The Good News

Okay. So now, the good news. As you are already in good shape, having worked out for the majority of your life, you'll already have a big advantage over others (like me) who've had more experience opening bags of potato crisps! While it might sound drastic, all the above processes are slow, and you can easily speed back up to your former shape even after a few weeks off.

The point here is that if we don't give our body any impulses, it will decline.

To help you visually, imagine every structure in your body and your mind's capacity as:

Body = loading capacity

Mind = willpower

Loading the structure within its capacity = healthy sport/activity

Each structure has its capacity depending on the task and the number of challenges it faces. What is the principle? Think along the lines of Nike: use it or lose use! Depending on your fitness level, your structure needs rest and recovery because if you overtrain, the loading capacity will decrease. And it can also decrease if you don't use the capacity you have. The bottom line? Your body will adapt to have a smaller and more fitting capacity to your daily routines and tasks. Why is that? It's because muscles and other structures require a lot of energy to maintain.

Some centuries ago, this was a vital adaption process to survival. You cannot afford muscles if you don't use them, least until now. The point is we degenerate if we don't challenge our bodies on a controlled and repetitive basis.

Photo by Paulio Sóvári

On the contrary, similar things also happen if we load too heavily. In minor cases and for longer periods, this results in stressed tendons or joints. And if suddenly it exceeds our capability, an injury/damage will occur, and in the long run, we also degenerate (this is a topic in itself). It's a matter of how fast and whether it's the normal aging process. Just like how your skin won't look like it does in 60 years, it doesn't mean that it's not doing its job, just like how many MRI findings show normal aging or adaptive processes to daily habits. Overall, it's normal; daily habits and activities, and if balanced right you stay fit and healthy for as long as possible, so it's important to load on a healthy basis to give your body the right amount of time to recover along with sufficient sleep, a clear mind, and nutrition. They all play a vital role so that your body has time to adapt and as a result, its loading capacity will increase.

The next question: how do we get back in shape? We have to start slow, steady, and with your vascular system first, as it provides your body with nutrition alongside the recovery process. Warm-up as well as possible and try not to load heavily too fast. If you're at the gym, and you were once used to doing 10 reps of an exercise, do 7 or 8 instead, then increase the load as you progress every week. Your capacity is smaller now; you need to improve it again, and that requires patience and time.

The best way, in the beginning, is a small load of rhythmic and harmonic movements. As you learned in the last Physio Talk, tendons, in particular, don't like it if you load rapidly on them or the opposite, if you drastically lessen the load. Make sure you are getting enough sleep at night, especially when you're back in training, try to incorporate a power nap. It takes a lot of energy for your nervous system to process all the new information. Here, a new uncommon movement is happening where the oxygen levels drop and the pH level changes, your breathing, and movement pattern have also changed towards the new task, and you also have to remember the new steps, and I'm only just listing a few things. It's important to remember that your nervous system weighs 2 percent of your total body weight, but it uses 20 percent of your body's oxygen! As long as things haven't become a habit where you don't need to consciously process them, you will use more energy.

So choose your habits! Set some small goals to archive. Enjoy being back in the studio or wherever you are training.

In the next installment, we will talk more about pain perception with Melissa Part 2 coming.


Lukas Hinds-Johnson

Resident Physiotherapist, Berlin State Ballet & Owner, PhysioX Berlin

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