Try getting fit… Minus the trebles!

Growing up, I had my “moments”! I’ll probably tell you all a lot about these moments over time but the most vivid attitude stricken moment was probably the hot Australian summer when I was 17. Most of the top Aussie Irish dancers persevere through the tough 40C degree heat to put their best foot forward on to the grand World Irish dancing stage. Going to the All Ireland’s this particular year however, my priorities were some what, elsewhere, I suppose you could say. Corona’s and Chips came ahead of anything remotely Irish dance practice related. Upon my arrival in the UK just 10 days before my, at the time, sluggish self was to do my 2-5 rounds, the thought of me getting though my new double time Downfall of Paris was a great deal too much to handle. At the always reliable but more often than not difficult to get to Gleneagle hotel, my resources consisted of a swimming pool, a gymnasium and those god awful concrete based carpet hallways.

Gleneagle Hotel Gym!

The Downfall had to be at 76, and I wasn’t going to be able to pull that out of somewhere undiscovered, so I guess to the gym it was! Jumping on the treadmills, and putting myself through some of the most grueling training I have ever done not only made the Downfall feel great, but my Reel effortless. Interval training at the time was a relatively new concept to me and although difficult to begin with, over time it became extremely practical. Interval Training can be defined as: Training in which an athlete alternates between two activities, typically requiring different speeds, degrees of effort etc.

Theoretically, if a dancing bout is, let’s say an average of 2 minutes in length using an average of 80% of a dancers functional capacity, then it would be common sense to use this same formula when training without shoes on. Obviously if a dancer is running with cushiony trainers on grass, as opposed to belting out a floor with shoes on, they are going to have to run a lot harder and take slightly more time to get there body up to that 8/10 energy level output. Just so you can get a more accurate understanding in relation to you using your energy output, a sprinter would use almost 90-100% of their functional capacity, where as a marathon runner may use 30-40% spread out over a long period of time, thus we would use approximately about 80% throughout a dance, however it would be us giving 100% for the needed time frame. This differs with every individual on any given day, however you have probably heard your teacher say, ‘they came out like a bomb in their lead around, and now they’ve just died.’ This is a perfect example of a dancer using too much energy too soon.

I will however explain energy systems and how they’re used in Irish dance in a later blog. Of course I did not hang around in the gym for 12 hours and do 5 intervals over that period as I would have done back 10 days later on the day of the Championship. I did however, refuel with fluids and allow my body to go back to resting heart rate, before beginning another bout of a 2 min 30 sec interval.

My intervals looked something like this for example: 

After beginning with a 5 mins warm up...

Time to get heart rate to 80%, assuming I dance for 2.12 (length of set dance) at 80%: 3 mins

Time working at 80% of functional capacity consistently: 2.30 mins

Interval time (time taken to get the body back down to resting heart rate): 6 mins

This would be counted as one interval!

So the way you can do this is simple. As I have done before, I will break down this exercise for you so you can try yourself. You can also record the heavy/dead feeling in your legs (out of 10) at the end of each dance and this can allow you to mimic that feeling in the Gym by using functions such as resistance and incline to build up your resistance to this possible lactic acid build up or muscle weakness.

In the dance studio…

Step 1: Begin in a dance class or dance practice by measuring your resting heart rate (bpm).
Step 2: Complete a full solo dance, whichever you are struggling with your fitness in.
Step 3: As soon as you finish your dance, measure your finishing heart rate (bpm) and record this result. Also record the dead/heavy feeling in your legs out of 10.

Onto the gym…

Step 1: Warm Up 

Step 2: Jump on a piece of cardio equipment, I use the treadmill for best results.

Step 3: Begin watching your heart rate, and push yourself so that it reaches the finishing heart rate which you measured after the dance. 

Step 4: Use the equipment functions so that if you choose, you can mimic that feeling in your legs from the end of said dance. 

Step 5: Once your body reaches the finishing heart rate, begin counting the time that you have set yourself. So this can be either the length of a dance, or it could be longer if you so choose. Eg. Adding 16 bars or so.

Step 6: Push Yourself!!!

Step 7: After time is up, stop the equipment, and measure how long it takes you to reach your resting heart rate.

Step 8: Once at resting heart rate, have a few minutes to allow the legs to recover and repeat as many times as you like

Each interval theoretically counts as one dance! I highly suggest that if you are going to give it a go, you keep records of things like your heart rates etc. A good measure of whether your fitness has generally improved could be your resting heart rate. Remember at his peak Lance Armstrong had a resting heart rate of 32-34 bpm. So remember, the lower the better.

Air conditioned gyms have now become to best way for me to increase my fitness leading up to majors. Sorry Scouts but your halls just don’t cut it. A sticky hot Australian summers day, leading up to the World’s in a stuffy Scout Hall is more likely to cause agitation as opposed to any actual result. Training really has to be replicated in the same environment as you would be dancing in. Weather and environment are probably our greatest variables when it comes to energy and functional capacity. So I suppose in a small way, Belfast locals might have a slight advantage this year.

4 thoughts on “Try getting fit… Minus the trebles!

  1. Thanks for this Brent! Was interesting and motivating to read, have never thought about Interval training this way before. Will certainly be trying this out at the gym, especially as I’m going to my first Worlds this year where I’ll be doing 3 whole treble jig steps eek! all the best for your dancing

  2. Thanks for this post. I love how practical and useful this was to read. It makes complete sense and it’s a wonder I’ve never thought about approaching interval training like this before and calculating it to fit a dancers needs precisely down to the exact timing of energy needed.
    My only concern would be to make sure that dancers don’t stop abruptly after pushing themselves to 80% of their energy level. Your heart really needs a moment to ease out of such vigorous activity, so it’s probably best to slow to an easy walk to bring your heart rate down.

    • I appreciate your concern there Silpa. However, in a sport such as Irish Dance, one cannot cool down once coming off stage from a performance. There is very little ability to actually jog off stage etc… so this is why the exercises I have done in the past did not have any “cool down/blending time” to slow the heart. After each interval – just as each round is done in a dance competition, the dancers walk off the equipment. Remember that this is what I have done in the past! It is all from personal experience. If dancers choose to use my exercises then they can tailor it anyway they like to suit or best mimic their performance. I trust this explains everything well.

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