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.⁠

Thrilled to be back on the Yallah Raqs podcast, this time talking about shimmies and strength! In this podcast episode, we discuss shimmies and the role strength plays when it comes to shaking those hips. There’s always something more to learn, layer, or experiment with when it comes to shimmies, so give it a listen. 🥰

Listen to the podcast here or click the image below.

Siobhan Camille chats all things shimmies on the Yallah Raqs Podcast!

Happy holidays, dancers!

If you’re looking for something to help you unwind (are you like me? An active relaxer?), take a listen to the latest podcast episode to feature Siobhan Camille of Greenstone Belly Dance!

As many of you know, Siobhan is also an exercise scientist and a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist. She works with dancers and athletes across the globe to help them get the most out of their bodies and optimise their performance! Read more about Siobhan’s work for dancers here.

Siobhan spent some time chatting to Zana on the Advance Your Bellydance Podcast about strength training for belly dancers. Listen to a little preview below, or click here to listen to the full episode!

Enjoy, and Happy New Year!

Siobhan Camille of Greenstone Belly Dance (MSc, BPhEd, BA, CSCS)

In addition to being the founder and director of Greenstone Belly Dance, Siobhan Camille is a Rehabilitative Exercise Specialist and Strength & Conditioning Coach. This blog post was originally written by Siobhan for her Safe Dance Column in the Middle Eastern Dance Association of New Zealand (MEDANZ) October 2019 Newsletter. You can join MEDANZ to access their newsletters and find out more about MEDANZ here.  Photo by Nathan Pigeon.

Knee injuries are relatively common both in and outside the dance world. If you’ve experienced knee pain or knee injuries, you’ve likely been told “move it or lose it” by your healthcare provider or physiotherapist. We know that one of the worst things we can do for an injured joint or body part is to stop moving it.

Why is movement and strengthening so good for our joints? As I’ve touched on in previous columns, muscles are designed to be the main stabilisers of our joints. Ligaments and tendons are part of the system that keeps our joints stable, but these big, trainable muscles that cross the joints are essential for keeping our joints healthy and strong. For example, for the knee joint, we often recommend quadriceps (front thigh muscle) strengthening, because that muscle is important in keeping the patella (kneecap) tracking through the femoral groove (the groove in your upper thigh bone). So strong quads aids in keeping your kneecaps stable, giving you more confidence to dance and move strongly!

If you’re looking for some easy body weight exercises to incorporate into your dance warm ups at home to keep your knees happy and healthy, here are a few good starting exercises.

Bodyweight Exercises to Keep Our Knees Strong

Lunges

These are a classic for strengthening the quadriceps muscle, and they’re also great for general leg strengthening and challenging our balance for level changes in dance. If you’ve got a lot of knee pain, start with low repetitions, keep the movement small, and alternate sides. An example could be 2 sets of 10 lunges, swapping legs on each rep. If you’re feeling stronger, you can stay on one leg for a full 10 repetitions before switching to the other side. Be aware that a fitness lunge is different to a yoga lunge; only step back so far that you end up with both knees coming to 90 degree angles at the bottom of the movement. Remember, it’s fine to make this a mini-lunge, or to hold on to something stable, while you’re starting out with this!

See an example of the lunge below, plus a little option to make it challenging for the arms if you’ve got a couple of water bottles or weights at home!

One-legged bridge lifts

This is a great way to strengthen your hamstrings, the rear thigh muscles that cross the knee joint (and therefore play a role in stabilising that joint!). This one is also nice because it usually doesn’t cause any pain for knee injuries. If you’re just starting out, you may want to do regular bridge lifts to begin (both feet flat on the ground). Otherwise, try 2 sets of 10 on each side. See an example of the one-legged bridge lift exercise below.

One-legged calf raises

As belly dancers, we spend a lot of time in releve, so calf raises are great for making us stronger for dance, and they protect both our ankles and our knees by strengthening the muscles that cross those joints. I generally recommend working up to being able to do 25 one-legged calf raises each side, but you can start with two feet on the ground, with 2 sets of 10 calf raises to begin. Try not to let your ankles collapse inward or outward as you do this, and to ensure that your knees stay aligned, you can squeeze your glutes in the upward movement. See an example of calf raises below.

Femoral neural glide (“nerve flossing!”)

This can be particularly helpful if you experience pain in the knee cap or just above it, where the quadriceps muscle meets the knee. Unlike the first three exercises, this exercise is better as a cooldown, and I advise you to do this very slowly, very gently, and with very few reps to begin. Generally we recommend you start with 1 set of 5-10 reps each side, only bending the knee to the point of slight discomfort. You are literally gliding the femoral nerve through muscle here; a nerve that innervates the quadriceps. Sometimes this nerve can get a bit caught and cause a funny tingly pain further down the front of the leg. Even if you think you have not felt any effects, start easily and gently with this one, and then see how it feels later. If you’ve got a lot of nervy pain around the kneecap and find that this helps you, still stick with just 1 set of 10 gentle “flosses” at a time, but you can repeat this 2-3 times a day. See an example of the femoral neural glide below.

Looking for personalised advice to keep your knees (or anything else!) strong for belly dance?

Siobhan Camille offers personalised strength & conditioning programs for dancers, and periodically runs the Dance Strong 6 Week Fitness Challenge for Belly Dancers. Set up a 15 minute call to chat with Siobhan Camille and see how she can help you feel stronger in your body and in your dance!

Join Siobhan Camille, the director of Greenstone Belly Dance, on Saturday May 23 at 10:00am CEST for a free short strength class designed for belly dancers!

Siobhan Camille is not only a professional oriental dancer, but also a strength & conditioning coach and rehabilitative exercise specialist who has researched injury in belly dance, and worked with athletes and clients of all kinds for over a decade. She’s passionate about helping belly dancers dance stronger and safer!

Join Siobhan Camille on Instagram Live tomorrow, or check out the Dance Strong tab on our website to find out more about how she can help you tune up your instrument; your body.