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by Sarah Klopp, Feis America LLC intern

Irish dance is an intense competitive art form that requires a high level of endurance to excel in competition. Endurance training will give you the competitive edge you need to fight fatigue as the competition day goes on.  Read on to learn a little more about the science of muscles and aerobics and how you can use high-intensity interval training this summer to step up your Irish dancing 'game'!

Irish dance utilizes mainly fast-twitch muscle fibers and anaerobic (or short-duration) energy systems. Fast-twitch muscle fibers are designed to produce high amounts of energy needed for maximum muscle output, but they can only work for a short time at high intensities before energy runs out. Your anaerobic energy systems power these fast-twitch muscles for short bursts of energy (for example, one hard shoe round), but your muscles can only work for so long before lactic acid builds up and leaves you with a weak finish!

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The best way to increase your anaerobic endurance is to increase your aerobic (or long-duration) endurance. One of the easiest methods is running intervals. First, determine what interval distance you want to run, somewhere between 220 and 880 yards. Half a lap around a typical track is around 220 yards, or one eighth of a mile. Next, find your best time for this distance and add a few seconds to this time to set your goal time for each interval. In between each interval have a recovery period three times longer than your distance time. So if it takes you a minute to run a lap, your recovery time should be 3 minutes. Your total distance for your interval workout should be two miles or less.

Once you have built this aerobic base for 4-6 weeks, the most effective way to work on improving both aerobic and anaerobic endurance is to do “5-4-3-2-1 interval training.”   Three days a week, continue with the above program, but two days a week follow this workout:

• Warm up
• 5 min @ 85% maximum heart rate (MHR)
• 5 min @ 65% MHR
• 4 min @ 85% MHR
• 4 min @ 65% MHR
• 3 min @ 85% MHR
• 3 min @ 65% MHR
• 2 min @ 85% MHR
• 2 min @ 65% MHR
• 1 min @ 85% MHR
• 1 min @ 65% MHR
• Cool down

To determine your MHR, subtract your age from 220. So if you are sixteen, your MHR is 220-16=204. To figure out the MHR percentage, multiply your MHR by the percent; for example, 204x0.65=132.6. So the goal heart rate on a 65% MHR interval for a sixteen year old would be 132 beats per minute.

Whatever you do, don’t overtrain. Exercising too much will make your short-duration endurance worse, not better! You’re looking for a good supplement to dance classes, not to run a marathon. If you work out too much, your body won’t be able to use your anaerobic systems to power you through your competitions. Overtraining can lead to more than just decreasing your anaerobic stamina; it can increase your resting heart rate, general body aches and pains, and likelihood of injury. It can decrease your appetite and your weight to an unhealthy level, and it can also decrease your ability to sleep, concentrate, and make good decisions. Don’t overtrain, it will hurt more than you think it will help.

When done correctly, endurance training improves your overall health in addition to your dancing. Aerobic training increases the amount of blood your heart can pump and decreases your recovery time after a competition round. It also trains you to use oxygen to make more chemical energy which will power you through to the end of your dances. In other words, get out there and start running!

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