Friday, 11 January 2013

Periodisation Training and Dance

I came across periodisation training being used with dancers for the first time while I was studying for my Masters. My supervisor was really interested in it's application to dance and advocated it being used across various forms of dance training. It's used by coaches of pretty much every sport or physical activity you can think of and it makes perfect sense for dancers.

The physical abilities a dancer needs to possess are many and varied; we need power, strength, aerobic fitness, flexibility, agility, musicality... we need to possess all these at once and we need to perform at our highest levels according to specific schedules and deadlines. A training methodology that maximises peak performance, ensures constant physical adaptions are made and actively works to avoid burnout and overtraining would then seem a no brainer. It makes sense to use periodisation as a method of managing your supplemental training. You're always going to be in technique classes and rehearsals, but it can be used as a means of organising your training outwith the dance studio.

It means being seriously organised, and having the discipline to stick to your training plan but it's effectiveness has been repeatedly proven across a range of disciplines and if you're serious about performing at your best having a well thought out training schedule should be an absolute priority. This is a brief outline of the basic premise of periodisation and how it can be applied to dance training.

What is Periodisation?
To put it simply, periodisation is a way of manipulating your training schedule to bring about peak performance at a specific time, by consistently and frequently changing your training workload. This could be used in a number of ways in dance; whether for an audition, a major performance or a full performance season. It is a method of long term planning which focusses on developing numerous aspects of physical and psychological performance, so that no area is neglected.

The effectiveness of periodisation will depend massively on how long your period of training is, do you have a year to prepare, or 4 weeks? Your initial level of fitness will affect the results too, if you have had 3 months off over the summer and have done little to no training, you'll see huge gains, but only because your fitness levels had dropped in the first place. Your training schedule will be entirely specific to you, however the general idea is to get as much from the time you have to train as possible.

The 3 Phases of Periodisation:

1. Preparation 
The longest phase which is subdivided into several shorter phases (mesocycles) lasting 2-6 weeks. For a dancer working on a specific production, this would typically be the rehearsal stage; for a student dancer this may be the training stage before a performance or exam.

2. Competition
The competition phase, or performance phase, is built around the performance calendar. This would be the actual performance run, once the rehearsal phase was complete. Special attention must be taken during this phase to avoid injury and overwork.

3. Transition
The Transition phase is a period of regeneration and recovery. After a performance run this may be a week off before rehearsals on the next production begins, or it may be the summer after a full Sept-June performance season. While it is a period of recovery, it should be seen as a decrease in training load, not a full cessation. You should be careful not to allow yourself to lose all the gains you made during the previous phases.

Training Cycles in Periodisation:

  • Macrocycle - The macrocycle is typically the over-arching plan which can be anything from 3 months to one year in duration.
  • Mesocycle - A phase of training within the macrocycle usually lasting between 2-6 weeks in duration (longer in preparation phase, shorter in competition phase) focussing on a specific aspect of training. The aim of this is to ensure the body peaks at a specific point.
  • Microcycle - typically a week, so your weekly training programme. The microcycle is based on the objective of training, and can be used more than once (although not concurrently) in a mesocycle.

Workload and Recovery

You need to be aware of the workload you are setting yourself, it should be suitably difficult without overloading you. The training stimulus must be considerable so as to promote positive development - therefore the workload must be significantly difficult. If the workload is too easy, no changes will result and you'll become frustrated or disillusioned. Equally however the workload should not be too heavy, as exhaustion, burnout, injury or illness may result. 

Recovery is essential in each cycle, in a microcycle 1-2 rest days is sufficient, in a mesocycle recovery needs can usually be met by the rest days within the microcycle, however in the macrocycle, the transition period is absolutely essential and should be proportionate to the macrocycle as a whole. If your macrocycle is a year, your transition could be 1-2 months; if your macrocycle is 3 months, your transition could be around a week.

Scheduling Periodisation Training for Dance
Like any decent training schedule, a peroidisation plan is specific to the individual, however if needed they can be tailored to suit a class or company. A simplistic approach would be this:

If each mesocycle lasts for 4 weeks, then each 4 week cycle will have a different focus, looking to build the overall physical performance of the individual. Focusses for the dancer could include strength, aerobic fitness, speed or power. Each mesocycle looks to improve one of these aspects, while maintaining the current levels of the others. This would mean in a mesocycle training for strength you would strength train 3 times a week, and do one training session a week for each of aerobic fitness, speed and power, and schedule 1 rest day. 

Within this mesocycle you would have 4 microcycles, so 4 different weekly training programmes where you tailored your strength training each week to consistently challenge you. This would allow your strength to improve while maintaining your existing levels of the others. At the end of the 4 week mesocycle you would then move on to train one of the other areas 3 times a week, and drop strength training down to once a week, at a suitable level so as to maintain the gains from the previous mesocycle. 

In the preparation phase, if your mesocycles are 4 weeks, drop them to 2 in competition phase so that you are working each aspect more regularly and so after the prolonged period of preparation are reaching your peak level during competition, or performance, phase. 



Using Periodisation in your Existing Training

If you really want to look into it, there's a whole lot more to it than what I've written, but it's a basic guide. A host of sports science, S&C and coaching books and websites will detail the further complexities of the method.  There are so many ways in which to use periodisation and there are no rigid rules. The way it is used in different sports and by different coaches all vary, so equally in dance it will depend on the type of work you do, your schedule and your existing training load. The idea is to constantly challenge yourself and maximise performance within a specific time frame without  damaging your health or burning out. It may take considerable planning on your own part to find a schedule that will work however if you're serious about your performance it's worth making the effort to properly organise your training load.

In an ideal world all dancers would have access to supplementary training and all dance teachers, coaches and trainers would be suitably versed in how to safely maximise dancer performance. Unfortunately that's not the case, but there is plenty you can do to take control of your own training. If you are lucky enough to have S&C included and periodisation is incorporated into your company's S&C programme then so much the better. If you're a teacher, trainer or director, periodisation training can be a valuable method of training with your dancers. If you are looking to use periodisation training to supplement your own technique training be careful of overloading yourself.  For those who are either freelancers or whose company does not provide any S&C training and  are having to supplement  training themselves, it's crucial that you don't overload yourself; quality half hour sessions will be enough, and schedule yourself sensible rest time. 

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