Often, when we consider a dancer to be physically fit, we’re impressed by how they can get through a full performance without any signs of slowing down or dropping off at the end.
How is it possible to maintain such speed, sharpness, and power? And more importantly, how can you train your fitness so that you can achieve the same thing for yourself?
This is where heart rate training comes in.
Heart rate training is a great way for you to not only train hard but also to train smart. When it comes to dance training it's not enough just to work out, because we must workout in the specific type of exercise that is directly going to improve the type of fitness that we need for stage (no point training for a marathon if you're going to sprint right?).
On top of this, your heart rate doesn’t lie and is a great indicator of how hard you are willing to work. So you may think you're working hard, but if your heart rate is telling a different story then when you’re on stage you are not going to be able to sustain that speed because you have skipped over the hard training sessions that you needed to do to get accustomed to it.
But don’t worry. You’re not too late!
Today, we’re sharing everything you need to know about heart rate zones and how it relates to your dance fitness. Taking advantage of each of these zones can help you improve your performance and bring your dancing to the next level.
Why Should You Focus on Heart Rate Zones?
It’s well understood that the best training routines vary each workout in terms of frequency, duration, and intensity. Switching things up is one of the best ways to keep your fitness high without hitting any plateaus.
As a dancer, it is easy to know how often you have gone to class (frequency) or how long you stayed for (duration) but the only way we know how intense the training was is by how you feel after it, which only you know if you have worked to the best of your ability.
Looking at your heart rate gives you a second way to measure how hard you’ve worked, especially during those fitness-based classes our outdoor fitness training that you may (should) be doing outside of class and holds you accountable more than you would without it.
As your classes and training vary depending on what you are working on for that week (such as technique or learning new steps) so too will your heart rate depending on the difficulty level and duration.
The Five Heart Rate Zones
We all have a resting heart rate that’s unique to us. We also have a maximum heart rate when we’re pushing it to the edge. Between these rates is where you’ll find your heart rate zones. You might also think of heart rate zones as percentages of your maximum heart rate.
In other words, your heart rate zones are essentially aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. How much can you take? or how long can you take it for? This is what looking at your heart rate can tell us.
What are the five heart rate zones?
Each zone corresponds to an intensity level and percentage of your maximum effort:
Your training should include sessions within each of these five heart rate zones.
Heart Rate Zone 1: 50-60%
Zone 1 is very light activity. This is great for your active recovery days for things like walking, stretching, along with rehab work for any injury you might be coming back from.
Heart Rate Zone 2: 60-70%
Light intensity exercises such as light jogging and learning new steps. You should be able to perform these exercises for longer durations. This heart rate zone improves oxidization which means burning fat, better low-level endurance, and better technical skills.
Heart Rate Zone 3: 70-80%
Zone 3 is perfect for our off-season training. It allows you to develop that solid foundation and get aerobically fit through longer cardio-based running improving your heart, lungs, and recovery functions.
Heart Rate Zone 4: 80-90%
Zone 4 is best for our pre-season training because it develops the speed endurance that we require on stage. You have to move fast enough to achieve this zone but maintain it long enough to last full stage timing meaning we can replicate the speed and ‘lactate’ acid heavy leg feeling that we will get on stage!
Heart Rate Zone 5: 90-100%
This zone is reserved for our in-season training where speed, sharpness, and power are the ultimate focus of our training preparing us to step on stage. As we are in the red zone here this heart rate zone is so intense that you’ll only be able to perform at this level for up to a couple of minutes before requiring a longer break and so it’s best placed where we want to perform at our best before taking a rest after the majors are done.
How to Calculate Your Heart Rate Zone
Now that you have an understanding of what heart rate zones are, it’s important to understand how to calculate your personal heart rate zones. This starts by knowing your maximum heart rate.
Your maximum heart rate is the beats per minute (bpm) of your heart when you’re pushing yourself to the limit. You’ll be puffed, sweating, and totally spent after reaching max effort and finding your maximum heart rate.
It should also be noted that your maximum heart rate might fluctuate as your fitness increases or as you age and your body changes. Stress and certain medications can affect your heart rate too.
A common starting point for calculating your maximum heart rate is subtracting 220 minus your age. For example, if you’re 19 years old, an estimation of your maximum heart rate would be 220 - 19 = 201 bpm. Again, this number is just an estimation but a decent starting point.
However, dancers are generally more fit than the population at large. So, if you want a more accurate calculation for your maximum heart rate, it’s best to get out there and test it!
How to Use Your Heart Rate Zone in Fitness Training
When it comes to dance training, learning your steps early in the year and then increasing the effort level in class with those steps will allow you to naturally increase your heart rate as you come closer to the competition.
When it comes to fitness training starting with some light jogging far out from a competition and increasing the speed/reducing the distance as you get closer will allow you to naturally increase the heart rate as you come closer to the competition too.
This is a simple method and great for beginners and those who are new to this type of training.
For those dancers that already have that base level of fitness and practice then we can get more specific about the type of training we include so that we can continue to keep progressing each year.
On the RNH on-demand platform we have several programs that will take you through this tiger level type of training. The 6-month RNH senior academy follows strict heart rate training across all 3 phases of training, and the RNH Junior Academy and RNH outdoor will follow the same pattern but is more suitable for younger aged dancers too.
Heart rate training may sound complicated but it can actually be quite simple. By working up the heart rate to higher zones the closer you get to a competition it can be very very beneficial for all Irish dancers, especially those who struggle to go the distance at speed on stage!
Grab a monitor and give it a try!