Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Should Runners Learn to Dance? Physical Therapy and Performance Implications (Part 1)

Runners and dancers -- two completely different types of athletes, right?  Think again.  Although formal dancing often occurs in an upstairs studio and running is performed anywhere from treadmills to trails, the two disciplines share some startling similarities.  Personally, I do not have any formal dance training unless you count the 5th grade ballroom dance lessons...thanks Mom and Dad!  I have much more experience working with and treating runners.  But as a physical therapist, I have worked with several dancers over the course of my career thus far, and I have made the following observations involving both sports:

1.) Dancing is a form of exaggerated running.  Running is an activity in which an individual is always in single-leg stance (one leg on the ground at a time) on one extremity.  In other words, one leg is on the ground while the other is in the air.  Dancing commonly involves leaping from one foot to the next; therefore, like in running, development of functional single-leg stance (see pictures below) is an extremely important element of a physical therapy plan of care for a dancer.

Front View                                                       Back View

2.) Development of the foot and ankle musculature and proprioceptors is vital to success.  A dancer who is weak in her foot and ankle complex will not be able to safely land while leaping.  Sports physical therapists see a fair amount of dancers with ankle sprains as a result.  The same principle applies to runners, particularly those who compete in off-road/track events like cross country and trail running.  Those readers who regularly run on trails can identify with this statement...strong and agile ankles can mean the difference between navigating that rock on the trail or sitting down on it afterwards with a bum ankle.

3.) From a performance standpoint, runners and dancers are always attempting to develop more powerful strides or leaps, respectively.  For runners, a powerful stride combined with an effective metabolic system is a deadly weapon.  Have you ever seen a professional dancer leap across the stage?  What a graceful display of true athletic power.  Should you be performing exaggerated running aka bounding as a part of your comprehensive training program?

Just a few casual observations to consider.  Runners can learn from dancers and vice versa.  Actually, I have known a few individuals who have excelled at both disciplines throughout adolescence.  In addition, I will go one step further and state that a common paradigm exists for treating running and dancing injuries.  Will the final stages of rehabilitation be different?  Absolutely.  But many similarities will exist in the earlier stages in terms of functional exercise.  In my next post (Part 2), we will explore how some of these observations and concepts relate to the treatment of running and dancing injuries.  These implications will be useful for all runners who desire to decrease their incidence of future injuries.  Check back for more!

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