It’s the time of year when dancers take flight and escape their normal lives to attend numerous events. It’s really easy to run ourselves ragged over a long weekend and stumble into work feeling seriously swungover. Like clockwork, I used to get a very bad cold either at an event or in the days afterward. In last half year, I’ve been making lifestyle changes to better take care of myself and prevent future injuries (see related post). In addition, I’ve significantly decreased the amount of times I’ve been sick (fingers crossed). I wanted to share some of the things that I’ve done that have helped prevent sickness, increased my energy, and helped my body run at maximum efficiency during a long dance week or weekend.
My muscles become sore really quickly when I’m on my feet all day and dancing most of the night. Taking a little time for fascial release and self-massage brings much needed muscle relief. I wish that I could bring my foam roller to every dance event, but it can be cumbersome to carry around in a carry-on suitcase. Instead, I bring a tennis ball and my prickly ball (or a golf ball works great). There’s a lot of information in my previous blog post on fascial release and foam rolling; this section covers techniques I use to limber up specific muscle groups.
There are four major muscle groups in our lower legs: gastrocnemius, soleus, peroneus longus, and tibialus anterior. The gastrocnemius and soleus are usually considered our calf muscles. The peroneals and ant tib are usually forgotten in typical self-care routines, which can lead to shin splints. My calfs are naturally tight and need regular maintenance to feel pliable. Therefore, I spend a lot of time massaging my calfs and peroneal muscles using my hands or a small ball.
This video is a good example of massaging your calf muscles. I like to use my prickly ball when I work on my lower legs.
This is a GREAT video for peroneal muscle massage:
Self-massage of the ant tib; if you have any pain from shin splints, this is especially for you:
I use a tennis ball or my prickly ball to massage my gluteus and hip rotators. This video demonstrates the basic motion; I also sit on the ball for 30 seconds or so on particularly tight spots.
Frequently, I sit on the floor and use my hands and elbows to massage my IT band. The Iliotibial band is actually a large ligament that runs from the hip to the shin on the outside of the thigh.
I also massage my feet before putting on my dance shoes and after taking them off. I’ll use my prickly ball, my hands, or a tennis ball.
More tips on self-massage here.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the prickly ball that I carry around everywhere. It is definitely my favorite type of self-massage tool. Here’s a link where you can buy it on Amazon.
After class or a dance, I like to take some time to stretch. Stretching improves joint range of motion and decreases injury risk. Make sure to stretch after your muscles are warmed up; our likelihood for injury increases when we stretch our muscles while they are cold.
Stretches are most effective when held for 30 seconds. I like to stretch one side of my body, switch sides, then repeat. Always use gentle movements and breathe into your stretch. There should be mild discomfort, not blinding pain.
Mayo clinic has a great guide to basic stretches here.
See a close up of this image here.
Some basic stretches:
There are many muscles in our feet that are often neglected in stretching routines. If you have any pain in your feet (the ball of foot, arch, cramped toes), these stretches will be very helpful to alleviate discomfort.
Big toe and plantar fascia stretch. I suggest to do this with your shoes off:
Stretch the top of your feet:
Don’t forget to stretch your peroneals as well. Jump to 2:10 in the video for my favorite stretch:
Feet take a huge beating every day and could use a bit of daily pampering. Alternative medicines use foot massage and reflexology to promote well-being and good health. Numerous benefits include improved blood circulation, natural anti-depressant, and ache relief.
At the end of a long day, I like to treat my feet to a mini massage. I spend about 5-10 minutes massaging along my arches, heels, and the ball of my foot. I like to bring a little jar of pure organic coconut oil with me. Any type of massage oil or lotion could work as well. I like to do this right before going to bed; it helps me unwind, improves blood circulation, and relaxes the nerves to encourage restful sleep.
I am a firm believer in the “you are what you eat” statement. In general, I’ve been sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet (see my previous blog post for more details) and I really do feel more energetic eating this way. This section is not to tell everyone to eat the way that I do. I think the idea is that when we travel, we are more likely to change our regular eating habits. Our bodies become stressed in order to process the different types of foods that we consume during an event. I think that trying to eat healthy or at least, choosing some healthier alternatives, will help you stay fit and feeling perkier.
I have no problem admitting that I love food and it’s really hard for me to stick to a strict diet. It’s ok to cheat a little, but it’s easy at a dance event to eat junk food that we don’t eat in our normal everyday diets. I feel your pain and pressure to eat all the available processed food and all the sugary snacks at late night. When you are running on empty during the late night dance, try to stick with things you normally eat instead of consuming a bunch of fat and sugar. I make some very conscious choices on the snacks I bring and buy so that I have healthy choices readily available.
Here are some of the healthy snack options that I really love:
- raw nuts
- protein shakes
- whole grain bread with nut butter or coconut oil
- raw vegetables
I try to find a good grocery store once I’ve arrived at my destination. My shopping list usually consists of these basics:
- bread (I try to find my favorite sprouted grain bread)
- fresh fruit such as apples, bananas, and berries
- pre-cut or pre-washed raw vegetables (such as carrots, celery, snap peas, green beans)
I take so many vitamins on a daily basis that my friends equate me to an old lady (I’m totally ok with that). If you normally take vitamins, pack them with you; it’s one less change your body has to deal with. I bring mine in a small container or one of those daily pill packs. When traveling, I also recommend adding extra vitamin c and elderberry, which are both great immune boosters. Elderberry is my latest obsession and I swear by its benefits since I have yet to be sick when I take elderberry.
Airport eating can be a challenge. I always feel much healthier when I stick with my anti-inflammatory guidelines and resist the urge to eat junk food. There are a few specific things that I buy in the terminal to supplement the food I have packed with me. I look to buy whole grain bagels; I eat these with a small packet of almond butter or coconut butter that I’ve packed in my carry-on. I bring protein powder that I can mix in a disposable coffee cup; after I drink my coffee, I’ll save the cup and use a sugar stirrer to mix a protein drink. I also do this on the plane; I’ll ask the stewardess for a cup of water with no ice and a few straws. I’ll bring some raw nuts and no sugar added dried fruit. Although, if I have time, I’ll eat a hamburger; these aren’t that bad for you in moderation without cheese and no mayo or ketchup (slightly guilty pleasure but they taste so good!).
This is my favorite vegan protein powder. I have found it in travel size packs at my local health food store, but it’s more economical and less wasteful to buy in bulk and pack in reusable baggies.
Lean muscles are composed of 75 percent water. When we are dehydrated, our muscles fatigue faster and lose their range of motion. Staying hydrated also helps oxygenate your blood, flush out toxins, and aids white blood cell circulation.
It’s really easy to forget to hydrate – especially after a night that involves sweating and drinking. I always make sure to drink a giant cup of water before I get ready for bed. At an event, I try to drink a large glass of water when I wake up. I also try to drink a few sips of water after every few dances. It’s not the most convenient thing to leave the dance to use the restroom, but if you are dancing for hours, sweating, and haven’t used the restroom…you need to drink a LOT more water.
During a sweaty dance event, it’s important to maintain a healthy level of electrolytes. I eat a lot of bananas or drink coconut water to replenish my body. Most sports drinks are full of sugars and high fructose corn syrup which will spike your blood sugar and create disruptions in your endocrine system.
I know that I function best with 8 hours of rest. As much as I want to stay up all night and be in class all day, I can’t do everything without sacrifices. When I give up sleeping, I’m not as responsive on the dance floor, I can’t retain information I’ve learned, I don’t perform at my best, and my sense of balance becomes a mess. It’s tough to run your body ragged and try to compete at a high level if you are tired and hungover. Now, I consciously make a choice to get 7-8 hours of sleep at an event, sometimes 6 if it’s one of the last nights and there are no contests the following day. I have discovered that the quality of my dances have increased since I have more energy for them instead of spreading out my energy into 5 hours of dancing and socializing. If I get rest, I’m alert in class and I get the most out of the experience. When I take care of myself, I feel calmer in contests and any anxiety disappears.
Every person needs a different amount of rest. It’s worth figuring out what works best for you, which is usually somewhere between 6-8 hours for adults.
Basic hygiene practices will always help your body avoid sickness. I hesitated to put this part into the blog post, since I hope that it’s common sense. However, I’m including this section because if everyone was more careful with their basic hygiene, there would be a significantly fewer germs floating around the dance floor.
Wash your hands often and carry hand sanitizer with you! Please DO NOT sneeze into your hands or blow your nose and then continue dancing. Everyone will feel better and the germaphobes (me!) will thank you when you wash your hands immediately after doing those things.
Not only is is polite to change a completely sweat soaked t-shirt, it’s unhealthy for our bodies to sit in damp clothing once our body cools down from a work out. Minimizing immune system risk helps each of us remain healthy; change a damp shirt after class or before socializing to avoid giving yourself the chills. I always pack at least two shirts per day (not including my evening outfit). This includes late-night dancing; please change your shirt/dress/outfit if you have sweat through it.
The big take away is to take care of yourself! Our bodies are amazing self-repairing machines; with the right amount of love, we can feel and dance better for many years to come.
Do you have any healthy travel tips? Please comment below.