One of the biggest mistakes I see dancers make when it comes to training is ignoring the concept of progressive overload.

What the heck is progressive overload!?

Progressive overload refers to gradually (the key word here!) increasing the amount and/or difficulty of your training over time. In both the rehabilitation and athletic performance spheres, we use progressive overload to safely and effectively improve strength, mobility/flexibility, and conditioning status (cardiovascular fitness).

Learn more about progressive overload, and how to tell if you’re increasing your (dance) training load too quickly!

I see dancers make two big mistakes when it comes to progressive overload:

Not acknowledging (or perhaps understanding) where they currently are NOW.

I see so many dancers injure themselves (or just make themselves so sore that they NEVER want to train again!) because they set a goal that is too lofty for their current fitness levels. Lofty goals are fun, but you need to progress towards that goal over time. Just because someone else can run 5km right now, doesn’t mean you can right away, especially if you’ve never run before!

The next most common problem I see is:

Building up to a certain level…. And then never changing anything!

You don’t need to always aspire to stronger, faster, more flexible (although, I truly believe that stronger is better in lots of ways for our bodies – but that’s a discussion for another time). But our bodies are REALLY good at adapting to stressors. Exercise is a stressor. We need a certain amount of consistency for our body to adapt, but once the body is used to something, we need to change it up to keep ourselves seeing the same benefits of training. This can be as simple as changing the type of exercises you do every 4-6 weeks, or adding weight or resistance to the exercises you’re doing.

Progressive overload is not just important for our strength, conditioning and mobility work. It’s also important to consider when planning our dance practices.

Consider this common scenario:

You’re going to a belly dance festival for the first time in a long time (especially after the last 2.5 years of most things being online!). You’re usually dancing for 45 minutes, three times a week. But you’re so excited to dance again, and all the workshops look SO good (sound familiar?). So you’ve signed up for 8 hours of workshops this weekend!

Jumping from 2.25 hours of dance in a regular week to 8 hours (or 10.25 if you also did those standard regular classes) is a big jump in load for our bodies. This can be one of the reasons you might be more likely to sustain an injury at a dance festival – it’s a huge jump in loading that your body is not used to.

But don’t just take my word for it – let’s use a simple method to assess this jump in dance volume:

The acute-to-chronic training/workload ratio (ACWR)

Sounds complicated already, I know! But I promise it’s not, and for this simple method, you can even find a calculator online. I use a slightly more involved version of this method, but this basic method is a great way to get a snapshot of whether you’re increasing your dance and/or training volume too much.

The acute-to-chronic training/workload ratio (ACWR) compares your mileage (for activities like running, cycling, and swimming) or duration (for activities like dance) from the last week to your average weekly mileage/duration for the last four weeks. Week 4 is last week, Week 3 is the week before it, and so on.

When you do an ACWR calculation, you’ll end up with a number at the end. Here’s what the numbers signify:

<0.8 = danger zone; undertraining which can lead to injury risk (yes, we also don’t want to DROP our training amounts too much from week to week if we want to avoid injury!)

0.8-1.2/1.3 = sweet spot; optimal workload and lowest relative injury risk

1.3-1.5 = increased injury risk

>1.5 = danger zone; significantly increased injury risk, highest relative injury risk

So let’s revisit our dance festival example:

ACWR Example: Dance Festival

Week 1 = 135 mins (3 weeks before the festival: your standard 3 x 45 minute dance sessions)

Week 2 = 135 mins

Week 3 = 135 mins

Week 4 = 615 mins (The week of the festival: Your standard 3 x 45 minute dance sessions, plus your 8 hours of workshops at the festival!)

To calculate your ACWR, add up the minutes from each week:

(615 + 135 + 135 + 135) = 1020 mins 

Then, divide that number by the number of weeks (this is standardly measured in 4 week blocks):

1020 / 4 = 255

Then, take the amount of load (in our example, in minutes) from the most recent week, and divide it by the average of the last four weeks (the number we just calculated above):

ACWR = 615 / 255 = 2.4

In this example, your ACWR would be 2.4 → You’re currently in the “danger zone,” the highest risk category for injury because of how fast, and how unevenly, the load has been ramped up.

This is just one of the reasons why we want to progressively overload all of our training – dance, strength, conditioning, mobility or otherwise. We want to progressively build up overtime to reduce our chances of injury.

Have you got any questions about progressive overload for me? Leave me a comment below!

Want to create the strength, mobility, and metabolic conditioning you need to be the dancer you dream of? Siobhan Camille writes personalised strength and conditioning programs for dancers, and regularly hosts online and in-person dance-specific workshops. Find out more about what Siobhan has to offer here, and sign up for semi-regular newsletter here to get all the knowledge delivered right to your inbox!

In addition to being the founder and director of Greenstone Belly Dance, Siobhan Camille is a Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist and Strength & Conditioning Coach. Siobhan Camille has an extensive background in exercise science with postgraduate level degrees in Exercise Prescription and Rehabilitation Science. She takes a particular interest in the safety, strength, and performance of dancers, and has conducted formal research on injury incidence in belly dancers. She draws on this background to emphasise safe dance technique and teaches her students how to find and activate muscles to create clear movement.⁠

I spoke to Aziza of Montreal, an internationally reknowned dancer and superstar – and a huge inspiration to me as both a person and a dancer.  We chatted practice, consistency, stage presence, cycling and more!

Join us for online belly dance workshops and a hafla featuring Aziza of Montreal on February 5, 2022!

Watch the interview with Aziza on the Greenstone Belly Dance IGTV below!

I’ve adored Aziza for a long time. Not only for her extremely elegant, poised technique, but also because she’s just a darn lovely person.

Aziza is a teacher who cares about you and your dance development.

She’s had a huge impact on my dance over the years, which is why I had to host her for our Online Workshops & Hafla this February 2022!

Join us for online belly dance workshops and a hafla featuring Aziza of Montreal on February 5, 2022!

YES! Recordings of the workshops will be available to stream for 2 weeks after the event.

For a long time, I didn’t publicly state this because it felt performative. But I’ve realised that being more vocal about what we believe in also helps ensure we attract the students and collaborators who also share the same core values.

To that end, I want to tell you what inclusivity looks like to us, and what we’ll be doing to do better as we go forward.

💚 Modifications are always offered in classes to accommodate injury or illness. You are always allowed to take a seat if you need a rest. On the rare occasion I don’t offer you a modification and you need one, you are always welcome to ask.

💚 There is no shame in leaving your camera off during online classes. I do often acknowledge it and invite you to give me feedback if you have a question (as I can’t see you and give feedback), but there is no shame here.

💚 There are no body type requirements and no body shaming in our classes.

💚 There is also no tolerance for whorephobia, fatphobia, racism, homophobia or sexism in our classes. I, Siobhan Camille, acknowledge that as a white female in our society, some of these things are ingrained and unconscious. I invite you to call me in if you hear me slip up.

💚 We make multiple donations per year to anti-racist organisations, and causes supporting dancers of MENAHT origin and MENAHT peoples in general.

✨ The important part – how will we continue to do better? ✨

💜 We will be more transparent in our donation processes. Currently we’ve been providing the donation overview amounts only to those who request it, for no real reason other than it felt “showy” to publicly post our donations. These will now be public. We hope this will also help highlight some awesome organisations and initiatives doing good in the Black and POC communities, MENAHT communities, dance communities and beyond.

💜 We will continue to teach on cultural relevance and significance in all dance classes; you cannot divorce this dance from its roots and context.

I also want to give a huge shout out to Eshe of Mahasti Creative Emporium who inspires me to stand up for what is right even when it’s uncomfortable. I truly appreciate you.

Let’s make the world a kinder place together.

I was delighted to be invited back again to talk with Tiffany on the Yallah Raqs podcast last month!

We chatted about Middle Eastern rhythms, and, especially for dancers like me who are guests in this culture, how we can train our ears to better hear and understand Middle Eastern music and rhythms, in order to better interpret the music with our bodies.

Click the image below to take a listen!

Click the image above to listen to Siobhan Camille on Yallah Raqs podcast episode 62, or click the button below!