Let’s pick up where we left off last week. If you are new here, be sure to go back and check out Fitness For Ballroom Dancers, Part 1 to get yourself all caught up!
Before I start in on anything new, I feel like I should reiterate the disclaimers that I posted last week, just in case anyone new here does not want to follow the above link and read them there:
DISCLAIMER #1: Please don’t try anything I mention if you do not think that you are physically capable of doing the exercise. If you are unsure whether you can accomplish any of the exercises but you still want to try them out, make sure to modify the movements so that you can be successful. There is no shame in modifying your movements or using lighter weights if it helps you finish your workouts successfully.
DISCLAIMER #2: Every trainer I have talked to and every exercise program I’ve done has made it abundantly clear that there are some important rules to follow when you want to exercise. I’m going to narrow it down to just three rules to keep it simple., which are the same rules I like to use for dancing:
- Safety – always rule number one. We want to get results, not get hurt!
- Form – form (a.k.a. technique) is crucial while exercising just like it is while dancing.
- Fun – having fun is what keeps you coming back to dance, right? If you apply that same line of thought to exercise, having fun will help keep you working out to improve yourself. Fun is important!
DISCLAIMER #3: Resistance training is important, even for ladies. ESPECIALLY for ladies that avoid doing resistance training altogether. You can do cardio workouts until you keel over, but it probably isn’t going to give you that toned look that you were going for. Adding in weight training will help.
If you are a normal, healthy woman, YOU WILL NOT BUILD A LOT OF BULKY MUSCLE BY LIFTING WEIGHTS! Unless your hormone levels are super messed up, women just don’t have a lot of testosterone in their bodies. No matter what you might think, you are NOT going to add lots of muscle to your body by lifting weights a couple of times a week for a couple of weeks. Period. Full stop. End of line.
Ladies can build a bunch of muscle, but to do so requires a much more meticulous level of eating than a male has to do in order to build muscle mass. Plus you would have to be eating something like one gram of protein for every two pounds of body weight you have in order to build muscle fast. And it would have to be real meat, not vegetable proteins like tofu, because eating a lot of meat will help increase your natural testosterone production, which in turn helps you develop more muscle.
Are you planning on eating that much meat? Or taking testosterone supplements? If not, you shouldn’t worry about gaining weight by building muscle through weight training. More often, women find that they lose weight through weight training because it can burn a lot more calories when you push yourself. If you find yourself gaining weight after a short period of weight training, most likely the problem is something in your diet, such as not actually sticking to your calorie goals.
With those disclaimers out of the way again, there are a couple of new areas of fitness that I want to talk about this week. I’ll start off by touching on core fitness, then spend a little time talking about balance, and finally I’ll give you some thoughts on eating to fuel all of this physical activity. Sound like a good plan to you? Let’s get started!
This is probably the area of the body that you thought I was going to do second, right? And for good reason – the core is really important for a whole lot of what happens in dancing any style. Plus, if you want to compete at high levels in Latin or Rhythm, where the guys wear shirts that seem to be unbuttoned down to their pants and the ladies wear dresses that seem to be made of little more than floss and sequins, having a strong and toned core can help give you the body confidence to throw on an outfit like that and hold your head high!
I might even be willing to make the argument that the body confidence could do more to help improve your dancing than anything else, but that’s probably a topic for a whole post all by itself…
The way a lot of people think (I was certainly guilty of this in my youth), they assumes that Core = Abs, so their instinct is to lay on the floor to do a million crunches to try and develop a six-pack. But I promise you that if you look in the mirror, you will notice that your core is shaped more like a rounded box, so to truly have a strong core you need to work on all four sides! We already talked about the back separately, since I feel that it needs its own section, so let’s look at the other three sides of this hyperrectangle below your head, shall we?
Crunches, Et Al.
Most of the exercises that you will find to work on the front of your core (i.e. the abs) are going to be some variation of this movement, so I can’t really get away from mentioning it. Since I’m pretty sure that everyone has done at least one basic crunch before and knows what it looks like, let’s look at some more advanced variations to build on that baseline.
Remember last week when I mentioned taking a weighted plate from a barbell and holding it to your forehead while doing Cobra? How about your take that same plate and put it behind your head like a pillow and do a crunch! As before, increasing the resistance will help you build more strength than just using body weight alone.
How about you try doing crunches slowly to really feel the burn! Start off by doing three seconds as you crunch all the way up, and then three seconds to lower back down. If you’re feeling super strong, make it six seconds! Personally I wouldn’t make them any longer than that. Five crunches at six seconds up, six seconds down will already take you over a minute to finish, and you don’t want to be lying on the floor forever, right?
This movement is sure to work the sides of your core. Lay down on one side and bend at the waist like a V. Let your lower arm just rest on the ground – but be sure to keep it loose. Pushing up with the arm isn’t working your obliques! Take the fingertips of your upper arm and hold them at your temple so that your elbow is pointing toward the ceiling. Now bring your upper body and your legs up off the ground to try and touch your elbow to the side of your upper leg. If you can get it – great! If not, come as close as you can and try and do better each time you do this exercise.
Pause for a second at the top and then lower yourself back down to your starting position. In order to balance on your hip when you lift your upper body and legs off the floor, you may need to lean back some, and that’s OK! Just don’t lean back too far, or you risk rolling yourself onto your back. If you’re in public and you accidentally roll onto your back, try quickly rolling to your other side and starting the Oblique V-Ups – it will look like you totally planned it, and people will think you’re super smooth!
This is a great movement for working your whole core. Holding a plank properly forces you to engage everything so that you don’t stick your butt up in the air, and bringing your legs underneath you really works your hip flexors and your obliques. Plus, this movement is more fun than just holding a plank without moving.
Start out by getting into a plank. Make sure it’s a good one, with your heels going back, your back and neck straight and your butt in line. Now, take one leg and bend it, raising your knee up as you twist your body to the opposite side of the leg that you are moving. Keep the leg off the floor the whole time, and try your best to get your upper thigh perpendicular with your body. Rotate the body back as you replace the leg – now you’re back in plank position. Repeat with the opposite leg, switching back and forth on each repetition.
This is another move that is more synergistic in nature, working multiple sides of the core in one exercise. The rotational action here should feel really familiar to anyone who dances ballroom styles and uses figures with a lot of Contra-Body Movement (CBM).
There are multiple variations of this movement that you can do depending on your fitness level. The most basic involves sitting down, feet flat on the floor, knees slightly bent, and leaning backward as far as you can go while keeping your back straight and your feet on the floor. In this position, clasp your hands together like one big fist and then twist your body from side to side, striking the ground with your hands on each side as you twist back and forth.
If you feel like the basic version is too easy, the next step would be to lift your legs off the ground and hold them up so that your shins are parallel with the floor as you twist back and forth. When you feel like you’ve mastered that variation, it’s time to add some resistance. Go back to the basic setup, keeping your feet on the floor. Now take a single dumbbell and hold it in both hands. Keep the weight more toward the center of your body the whole time – the weight is used to make it harder for you to hold your body up on an angle as you twist, trying to bring your elbows as close to the floor as you can.
Once you get super strong, try combining both variations! Use the weight to add resistance against your upper body, and then lift your legs off the floor at the same time! If you get through this variation without breaking a sweat, you should feel pretty accomplished with your core fitness.
There are lots of programs out there specifically designed to work on core strength. For example, Pilates focuses on core work quite a bit, as you might know if you’ve ever taken a class. But the amazing thing about core work is that it is incorporated into almost every workout that you do. Martial arts will help you work your core if you are doing the movements right. So does Yoga. So do even basic exercises like push-ups, where you really need to keep your core engaged the whole time to keep from having a bow in your back. You just can’t escape!
Like all other muscle groups though, you don’t want to destroy your core by working it super hard every day. It’s one thing to work the core in a secondary manner as a byproduct of working your other muscle groups – it’s another thing entirely to focus on a routine built specifically for core strengthening. Try to limit focused core work to no more than three times a week with at least a day in between to give your muscles a chance to recover.
I’ve been told often enough by various strangers over the years, ‘Oh, you’re so lucky that you have such good balance.’ That not really true – I had to work on it to make my balance look this good. And unless you have some kind of medical condition that upsets your body’s ability to remain stable, balance is something that you can work to improve as well.
The good news is that there are things that you can do to work on balance that aren’t as boring as standing around on one leg. I have done balance training in Yoga lots of times, but I found that a lot of the poses that they used were some variation of doing just that. Think about Tree pose, for example, or Warrior III, or Half Moon (if you don’t know what these poses are, you can find pictures online pretty easily). Holding poses like these can certainly help you improve, but as a dancer the first thing that you are usually asked to do is to be able to balance yourself while moving around. Creating the fancy lines where you are balancing in one place with little movement usually comes later.
So, I like to practice balance while doing other exercises that force me to move around! Last week I mentioned doing Single-Leg Calf Raises, which is a perfect example of this concept. You have to balance yourself on one leg, but then you are also moving your body as you perform the calf raise. Think about doing a Natural Turn in the Waltz, where you have to remain balanced as you plant one foot and rise up on your toes while drawing your other leg in to close. Tell me you can’t see the similarities!
Another exercise I mentioned previously that this concept works well with are the Lateral Raises for your shoulders. You can easily transition to standing on one leg while lifting your arms to your sides. In fact, a lot of common upper body exercises can be modified in this way – Bicep Curls, Overhead Tricep Extensions, Shoulder Presses, and so on. Doing any of these movements while standing on one leg will help you improve the strength in your ankles and knees needed for balance, all while you also working on another body part at the same time! Plus, I personally think it is more entertaining than just standing there staring at a wall.
But balance is more than just how well the ankles and knees can hold you up – there is a lot that core strength can do as well to help improve your balance. If you stand up right now and lift one leg off the floor, do you find yourself engaging the muscles in your core to help keep your spine in one place over your standing leg? Training your core muscles to help keep your spine stable can do wonders for you!
One entertaining way that I’ve found to do this is actually through push-ups. In normal push-ups you have to keep your core engaged to help keep your spine straight while you raise and lower yourself. Now, as a challenge, how about you find a couple of medicine balls (the solid kind, not the squishy kind) and put one under each hand. That’ll make you keep your core engaged to keep from falling over!
Too easy for you? Make it one medicine ball under both hands, or find two more medicine balls for a total of four and put one under each hand AND one under each foot! If that’s still too easy, find yourself one of those bigger stability balls and try to do push-ups while gripping either side of that thing. If you’re a glutton for punishment, try putting your feet up on the stability ball while you put your hands on top of one of those medicine balls you thought were too easy earlier. Yeah, using your core to balance your body while your feet are on a stability ball and your hands on the medicine ball is hard all by itself, and on top of that I’m asking you to try doing push-ups at the same time! Not so easy anymore, is it?
My point from all this is that if you want better balance, you need to work on it, but you don’t have to be bored while doing it. Yes, Yoga certainly can be great for improving balance, and also helping you calm your mind as you get into the flow, but there are other options out there. Over the years I’ve done all of these – including Yoga – to continue challenging myself, and challenge is what helps me improve and break through my plateaus. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have good balance if you weren’t born with it – work on it and see how much better you can get!
To get the results that you want out of any fitness regimen, you have to eat properly. Pure and simple. There’s no magic involved with being in shape – it’s all achievable through having a proper fitness plan and putting the right fuel into your body.
I’m going to start off by telling you the unpopular advice that you probably don’t want to hear: if you want to eat for the body you dream of, you have to eat right. That means that you should start today, go through your refrigerator and all your cupboards and THROW. OUT. ALL. THE. CRAP.
I know, it’s bad to waste food. If it makes you feel better, give it all away instead. If it’s unopened, donate it to a food pantry somewhere. If you have opened sweets, take them to work and pawn them off on your coworkers. Just get rid of it somehow. DO NOT EAT IT!
If you are looking to do something transformational with your body, like lose a large amount of weight or build up a lot of muscle, you have to eat for those results. Once you have those results you can have some of those ‘treats’ around, but until you achieve what you want it is better to not even have the temptation. Cake and ice cream? You don’t need it. Chips? How about no. Pizza? Don’t even go there. Beer, wine or liquor? Naught but empty calories. Get them all out of your house and don’t buy any more until you achieve the results you want! Even after you succeed, you should limit what you have in your house to avoid undoing everything you’ve worked so hard for.
Don’t tell me that it’s too hard. I do it all the time. I don’t eat donuts when someone at the office brings in a box to share with everyone for free. There is almost never any ‘snack foods’ at my house, even when I really want some. I will go out with friends to bars and only have water while everyone else has adult beverages. If I can do it, you can do it too! All it takes is a little willpower to make a huge difference in your dietary intake.
Now, once the crap in your house is gone, we have to do a little math. I know… not many people like math, but trust me – these are important numbers that you will want to have in mind constantly while you are training. These calculations are what works best for me, so I will be using myself as the example. If you find that these mock-up calculations don’t work for you, I would recommend seeing a specialist to get specific recommendations for your body.
The first thing we need to do is calculate your caloric baseline, or how many calories you should eat per day just to keep on keeping-on. The math is pretty simple:
If you live a sedentary lifestyle when not working out (desk job, lots of time in front of the TV), use (Current Weight) * 11
If you live a moderately active lifestyle when not working out (walk a lot, always park in the back of parking lots, play with your kids all the time), use (Current Weight) * 12
If you live an active lifestyle when not working out (never sit down all day, don’t own a TV or a couch because you are always traveling and sightseeing), use (Current Weight) * 13
For example: I have a sedentary job, where I am always at my desk or sitting in meetings when I’m at work. When I’m not at work though, I spend six days a week at the dance studio. For me, the moderate plan works best. My current weight is roughly 205lbs, so 205 * 12 = 2,460 calories per day is my baseline..
Now, we need to add in calories for your workouts. This is where it will be harder for me to give you guidance unless you are on some kind of regular workout plan where you can get approximate calorie burn estimates, but there are three principles that holds true no matter what you are doing:
- If you want to lose weight, you need to eat less calories than you burn while working out (but not zero calories – you still need some fuel for the workout!).
- If you want to maintain your weight, you need to eat the same amount of calories you burn while working out.
- If you want to build muscle mass, you need to eat more calories than you burn while working out.
Seems pretty straightforward, right?
My food intake for working out also factors in my rough body fat percentage (8%), and the fact that I work out six days a week with one day of rest. I am currently looking to maintain my current weight, so I am adding in 600 calories a day to fuel my workouts. 2,460 + 600 = 3,060, which I round down to 3,000 calories every day just to make my life easier.
Because I am working out six days a week, I eat the same amount of calories every day, including on my one day of rest (to give my body the fuel to repair itself). If you are not working out that frequently, your overall weekly caloric intake will look different from mine.
Now, let’s talk about what you want to eat. To make life easier, lump foods into three major categories:
Proteins – This is your primary nutrient for building muscle, because it is the only nutrient that the body can convert into muscle tissue
Carbohydrates – Carbs are not to be avoided, because these are what your body will use for fuel! Energy is essential for… well, for life. The problem with avoiding carbohydrates in your diet is that your body’s first response to get the energy it needs will be to start breaking down your muscle tissue, which is not a good thing if you want to keep those strength gains that all the exercise gives you!
Fats – another primary source for energy that your body actually requires. I know that talking about eating fats sounds terrible, but eating well does not mean eliminating fat entirely from your diet. You just have to be sure that you eat the right kinds of fats! Healthy fats will also help you fight inflammation, joint pain and muscle soreness – three problems that can keep a lot of people from going back to work out again day after day.
For me, lately my meal plans fall into two categories: a muscle building plan, and a body sculpting plan. When eating to build muscle, I have to eat a lot to fuel my cells to work hard and build back bigger. Even right now, when I am just trying to maintain my weight, I eat as if I am building muscle. My calories break down per day to roughly 25% Proteins, 60% Carbohydrates, 15% Fats.
When I finish up a phase of training and I want to burn off any excess fat accumulation to really give me that more defined look in my musculature, for a short period of time I will cut back on the calories to fuel my workouts (down to about 200 calories rather than 600) and change up my breakdown to 50% Proteins, 30% Carbohydrates, 20% Fats. This is only a short term change, usually no more than a month.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, wait a minute – you’re currently eating 3,000 calories a day, and 60% off that is carbohydrates? I can’t imagine that you eat 1,800 calories worth of bread a day! That’s nuts!” Well, you would be right. The thing is, carbohydrates has to be further broken down into the major food groups that give you carbohydrates – obviously there are starches like bread, but this also includes legumes, fruits and vegetables.
These four categories should all be included in your calculations when you plan out your meals. If you only eat starches for carbohydrates, you will miss out on a lot of the dietary vitamins and minerals that your body craves! If you look at that 1,800 calories of “carbohydrates” I am eating per day, it’s actually more like 35% starches, 30% legumes, 25% fruits and 10% vegetables.
(I know that having only 10% vegetables seems really low, but if you realize that 2 cups of raw spinach, or 1 cup of raw carrots, or 1 cup of raw bell peppers is only roughly 25 calories, then you’ll see that I am actually eating a lot of plants just to hit that 10% mark every day!)
So how does this all work for you? Well, in all of the good diet plans I’ve used over the years to help fuel my workouts, the constant recommendations have always been that if you want to lose weight you want to eat a higher protein, lower carbohydrate and fat mix, and if you don’t need to lose weight and need energy to fuel your body through all your daily activities you need a higher carbohydrate, lower protein and fat mix.
If you are just starting out and have some fat to burn while you build strength, try starting off with a 40% Protein, 30% Carbohydrate and 30% Fat mix. That is a pretty safe starting range that will help you learn what how you feel. I would highly recommend going back and reevaluating your plan every 30 days. As you burn off the fat that you wanted, start converting to more carbohydrates instead of proteins. Don’t forget to recalculate your calorie intake if your weight has changed as well!
Of course, going back to my first point, that 40/30/30 mix only works if the food you’re eating is good. If you are still eating crap, even if you manage to fit the crap into the mix calorie-wise, you are not going to get the results you desire. Yes, that bag of chips on your counter is TECHNICALLY a starch, and thus a carbohydrate, but you don’t need all the extra salt and grease that’s also included in that bag! Just get rid of it!
Think about how much more satisfied you would be if you took that 300 calories from the bag of chips and instead made a salad with chickpeas (for your legumes servings) and spinach and some apple slices, with an ounce of shredded cheese thrown into the mix for a protein serving. If you’re feeling super fancy, you can sprinkle a tablespoon of crushed walnuts on top for one of your good fat servings for the day. 300 calories of a salad like that is a lot more food, so you will definitely feel more full when finished, and there will be less food regret afterward!
Sorry for making this so long again. Hopefully some of this information was useful for all of you out there. If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask me! If I don’t know the answer, I can usually at least point you in the right direction. I’ve been living this lifestyle for a decade now, so I’ve learned a thing or two in that time.
I’ll get back to talking about specific dance things next week, I promise. Until that time, <Insert the motivational workout tagline you like here>!
-stay with the fight
-don’t stop until you’re proud
-you don’t get the ass you want by sitting on it
-do your best, forget the rest
-whatever it takes
-you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great