Managing Training Load, Volume and Intensity in the World of Dance.
For all the data lovers... this one is for you. Dance Science in practise.
Do not be deterred by the nature of this article. We are going to go on a journey through how much hard work Dancers actually do. We are all aware that Dancers work hard, and anecdotally, the history books and news articles of a Ballerina's foot and the weird and wonderful positions that Contemporary and Hip Hop Dancers put themselves into, are well advertised on Youtube and wider networks. But how much energy, effort and physiological/psychological stress are Dancers putting themselves through.
Over the last decade there has been a surge in research surround Acute:Chronic workloads in Sport Science. A learned gentleman, Tim Gabbett, is arguably the go to researcher in the field of quantifying how much training and stress Athletes are subjected to on a daily and yearly basis. Usually, Parents and Teachers report how many hours of practise a young Dancer performs on a daily and weekly basis. However, we need to look at this quantification of Dance Training in greater depth.
How much impact, central and peripheral fatigue are Students and Professional Dancers subjected to?
What are the links between the fatiguing effects of Dance and performing well the next day?
Are Dancers adequately recovering after a day of Dance Training so that they can continue to perform and practise with an adequate level of accuracy and exertion the following day.
How much Dancing should someone be doing in order to improve at an optimal rate?
Is the intensity and volume of Dancing suggesting that individual may sustain an injury through overload?
What are the psychological stressors that are markers of over-training and fatigue?
Are we taking psycho-social factors into account?
These are all questions we must entertain. A considerable majority of Dance Injuries reported by NHS clinics around the UK over the last two years are overuse injuries that occur at typical sites for Dance injuries. Lower limb injuries are the most common in Classical Ballet due to considerations such as pointe work and the volume of jumps that Dancers are exposed to without pre-requisite or adequate lower limb strength.
Therefore there is a large calling for us to quantify how Dancers are feeling and how much training they are doing so that we can offset or mitigate injury risk. Similarly, allow Dancers the time to gain the required adaptations so that they can cope with these large training volumes and not sustain typical injuries from 'over-using' their already heavily exerted systems and movement patterns.
So what do we do and what efforts have been made?
The latest article from The Guardian regarding the Strength training that Royal Ballet company perform demonstrates the consideration that Ballet Companies should have for the performance schedule and ensuring that Dancers are physiologically equipped to cope with the Demands of Ballet.
During my time aiding KS Dance in all things Strength and Conditioning, we have collected daily data regarding training load using the Session RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) method. This involves a Dancer rating their own perceived level of exertion (0-10) for each class or rehearsal they perform and multiplying this by the length time (minutes) in which they took part in the session.
This allows us to create class (acute) and long-term (chronic) workloads data and analyse how the volume and intensity of their training changes in accordance with the rep or choreography changes and compare styles in terms of intensity and exertion.
How can we use this data?
Throughout the 17/18 season, KS Dance was using this data to change and control weekly workloads on a real time basis in order to create enough progressive overload for Dancers to improve but keep large surges in workload to a minimum so that Dancers could have adequate periods to recover. This process also allows Dance Science staff to individually aid Dancers returning from injury and those facing fatigue manage their training for the benefit of their progression, whilst allowing the Coaches and Teachers visual feedback on how the Dancers are feeling and the challenges they are facing from training and performance.
Initially, this tool was in developmental stages and therefore we would analyse weekly and daily training loads to advise the Dance Staff how much volume and intensity to include in their sessions. If there was a sharp increase in weekly load then we could advise Teachers and Coaches to remove certain elements, like repeated jumps and single leg landings, from the class to allow the Dancers to still work on other elements effectively whilst also recover and allow for super-compensatory effects and physiologically improve and reduce the risk of fatigue induced injury or overuse.
This is not a perfect science and there are many variables to consider, however this is a step in the right direction to quantifying Dance Workloads and subsequently adding knowledge to the world of Dance showing that more rehearsal or practise does not always result in Good outcomes. Managing the amount of training you do for optimal improvement and performance is part of effective Dance Performance programme.
The research shows that sharp increases in acute workload and continued periods of high chronic workloads are associated with the occurrence of injury, with this is in mind, as far as we are aware loads of this nature have never been collected in Dance or Ballet. However we have to understand that we can take many precautions to prevent injury but we cannot predict it and we can ONLY mitigate risk and reduce the chances.
The example I will now show, demonstrates an observational period of 40 Dancers during a 12 week period load monitoring along with where out acute injuries occurred.
Figure 1. Demonstrates daily workloads of on Dancer across their typical practise, class, rehearsal and performance schedule.
Figure 2. Shows the continued workloads across all the Dancers at KS Dance. According to Dance Staff the work was progressive in the first 6 weeks the season however the data would suggest that their levels of exertion were dropping week on week. This may be for a number of reasons. One key identification was that the Dancers felt themselves getting fitter and stronger through the process and therefore the intensity of the workload was getting progressively more bearable due to an observed training effect. Arguably, as a Sport Scientist I would imagine to see an increase in workload that was progressive as the Dancers were able to tolerate workload and thus the workload increased. But if we consider the acute effect of training for Dance, there is the possibility that the Dancers were performing what was asked of them but the training effect ensured that they were able to cope with this load and subsequently their perceived exertion fell week on week.
The yellow line depicts a one week break period. After this point the next recorded week reported an extremely high workload, possibly due to an ambitious workload set by the Dancers themselves and feeling positive after a break the demands on them were too high for the first week back. Some might say that the week off were little Dancing was performed might have not been then best thing to have during a period of continued workload. Therefore our Goal workload may have been better suited to the Orange line in Figure 3. So that workloads could be steadily progressed again after an off period. Nevertheless, the blue star depicts 2 acute injuries from falls and the yellow star depicts an acute injury or reported acute pain in the hip and back. It is fair to estimate that these occurred as a result of sharp changes in workload between weeks 6 and 7. Subsequently, this data was collected in real-time, and therefore between week 8 and 9 steps were taken by the staff and Sport Science Team at KS Dance to ensure that workload was managed and Dancers could recover back to their optimal points. This is shown by the white triangle in Figure 3 above. During this 12 week period, there were no reports of over-use type injuries in typical sites for Elite Dancers. This is surprising, however, by having an ongoing awareness of training load and managing workload at individual level, it may be that scenarios of over-use injuries can be avoided.
Data like this has never been displayed in Dance or Ballet before and it is fair to say that the traditions of Dance have never taken workload into account in an objective manner.
I would argue that the staff at KS Dance have a brilliant subjective awareness of how the Dancers are feeling and that is why injury rates remain extremely low with occurence rates below 0.2 injuries per 1000 hours of Dance practise. This is due to their understanding and communication within the faculty and with the Dancers and Sport Science Team. Now that the observational period is over we are placing programmes and steps in place to further predict the workloads for next season and adjust rehearsal and class structure to allow for more progressive workload with lower risk of injury due to fatigue and systemic overload.
Finally, we understand there are many more considerations to be obtained here and this is just one insight into our analysis however, it is a first for Dance and beginning to the picture. We have also included indirect measures of Neuromuscular Function to compare the to this current data. There will be more to show in time. Key Points Below. It is important to understand that both the actual and predicted workloads also take into account the performance schedule and is build around peaking adequately for these performances. Later this year we will share our data from the full 40 weeks.
• Literature Suggests that a greater than 10% increase in acute training load will place a significantly greater risk of injury upon an individual.
• Ramped and progressive loading of the body as a system shows greater physiological improvements when compared with sharp increments in training volume and intensity.
• Volume and Intensity of Training are interchangeable.
• Responsibility of the Coach and Staff to draw the line between repetition for effective practise and unwanted stresses placed on the body.
• Injury Rates have been lowered upon previous terms and years as a result of monitoring performance and training.
• Given the importance of Dancer/Athlete availability and overall company/team performance, there has been a surge in training-load and monitoring research in recent years. Evidence from this research suggests that poor training-load management and prescription is a major risk factor for injury.
Here is a link to an interesting article surrounding the topic:
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