Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dancing with the Stars Injuries: Cursed or Klutzes?

Dancing is a very physical art form. Its demands on the body go far beyond the aesthetic qualities of a perfectly extended leg, pointed toes or correct body alignment. A recent query from the press asked why “Dancing with the Stars” participants, pros and celebrities alike, are dropping like flies from injuries. They wanted to know if the dancers were cursed, klutzes, or if their injuries were just part and parcel of life as a dancer.

Well, the pros certainly aren’t klutzes, and for the most, part neither are the celebrities, and chances are, they aren’t cursed. I believe the reasons for these injuries are an aggregate of problems. First off, these dancers/celebrities are over-training. They sometimes spend 3 to 6, even 7 hours a day rehearsing for a show. And that’s over and above their grueling work week from their other careers.

Overuse of a muscle often times causes injury. A dance rehearsal that extends beyond 2 hours of intense movement is very hard on anybody, whether they’re fit or unfit. If the muscles and connective tissue do not receive sufficient recovery time after a hard workout, they are vulnerable to strains, stresses and tears. A good rule of thumb for sufficient muscle recovery is 24-48 hours between workouts. But, when the show must go on… and 3 days of rehearsals have to be crammed into one night- sometimes that equates to 6 to 7 hour of straight rehearsals. Under these circumstances, the muscles haven't had enough time to rest and recover. And when that scenario repeats over and over again, these dancers set themselves up for injuries.

When a muscle is worked to fatigue, a complicated set of chemical compounds shut down muscle function, it's an inherent survival mechanism built into our physiology. When we "manually override" that fatigue, the body recruits other energy sources to continue through the workout. And that “manual override” can cause normally strong and healthy tissue to weaken and become compromised, and in turn, develop strains and stresses. Just like a rubber band, when muscles and their connective tissues are pulled and stretched beyond their limit, they can snap under the stress.

In the case of athletic celebrities turned dancers, they need significant time to systematically acclimate themselves to new movement modalities. Even though they are in great shape and have strong and supple muscles they still need “sports specific training”- training their muscles for specific movements akin to the new sport. For example, Olympic Gold Medalist Misty Mae’s muscles are trained for her specific sport, beach volleyball. Her body is used to digging hard into the soft sand and with explosive power, jump into the air to spike the ball. Then, when she took that tremendous power to a dancer’s hardwood floor- and dug into that surface like she's used to doing on the beach, BAM, her Achilles tendon ripped right off.

Also, doing complicated tricks and acrobatics add an additional risk factor to these dancers. If the balance and positioning is not precise while in the air, chances are the landing will cause strain on a joint or, a landing on the head. Gravity is pretty unforgiving.

I would recommend to Dancing with the Stars participants to condition their bodies in a better fashion. First off, they should all include strength training (resistance training, with weights or even Pilates- where one uses their own body’s weight as the resistive force) as part of their workout regimen. These exercises will greatly minimize the chances of injuries because they’ll increase muscle strength and enhance elasticity.

They should also take extra time to stretch and cool down after each workout to sufficiently relax the muscles and allow for an immediate brief recovery period. Then, they need to rest a good 24-48 hours in between rehearsals- they have a week to prepare for the show so, that’s doable. They should use “economy of exercise” when they rehearse. By marking (walking through the steps rather that dancing full out) in most of the rehearsals and they can save the full out moves for one or two times prior to the show. Then they can give 100% at show time.

It's not worth the injury to do the triple back flip that won't score the highest points- especially if someone lands on their head. So, the short answer to that media query is, these guys aren't klutzes, and they aren't cursed, they simply are not being careful and thoughtful of their bodies. Being a dancer is a very grueling sport, but, it doesn’t have to be that way. In short, as long as one listens to their body, understands their limitations, strengthens their weakness, and creates the best of choreography within the confines of their limitations- they’ll be DANCING WITH THE STARS!