We all know that Breakin can take a serious toll on your body. Training endlessly can leave your body worn down and the risk of damaging impact with the floor, strains and pulls always increases when you are drained. As a younger Bboy, I was constantly recovering from injuries. Common afflictions like a bruised shoulder from windmills and jammed fingers from footwork plagued my practice to the point that dancing through pain became normal. As I grew older and began teaching, I realized that I would never have a sustainable dance career if I didn’t learn how to take care of my body and avoid such harm.
Unfortunately, I learned to avoid injuries late in my dance journey. Today I live with chronic pain from problems that could have been avoided. However, I have built some habits that have helped me continue dancing and steer clear of more injuries. Here are 5 tips I find help me to prevent physical damage while staying active as a Bboy.
A limber body is much more likely to absorb a fall or awkward contortion than a stiff one. When a baby takes a tumble they are rarely seriously hurt, because their little bodies are incredibly pliable. As we grow our bodies become increasingly stiff if we do not actively work to keep our flexibility.
You need not be a yogi to dance well, but it definitely wouldn’t hurt. Focus on stretching regularly outside of your dance practice. Find a routine that works well for you. We all have unique bodies and hold tension in different parts. Make sure you start with some type of warm up like jumping rope or going for an easy jog. Stretching cold can do further damage. Stretch after your dance practice as opposed to before (see tissue prep for before practice).
Focus on areas of the body that get put under the most stress when you dance. For Breakers this is often our groin, hips, back, neck, wrists and shoulders. Don’t neglect the other muscle groups. Often the muscle that feels tight is compensating for some other muscle that needs stretching. For example, if you have back pain you will likely find relief by stretching your hip flexors and Psoas.
In my experience, tissue prep is perhaps the single most important factor to reducing injuries. Tissue Prep is a key part of warming up for physical activity. Just as stretching cold can lead to injury, so too can dancing without preparing your body.
Before we get into movements that “loosen” your muscles, you will want to prepare muscles and ligaments by rolling them out, also called “myofascial release.” Foam rollers are great to roll IT Bands, groins, hamstrings and the spine. You can get more direct pressure by rolling on a ball to release knots and tension points. A tennis ball works well to start, but as you get comfortable, try something harder like a baseball or lacrosse ball. This will help you directly pinpoint tension spots in your Psoas, Glutes, Lats and Lumbar. A handheld roller is great for Calves, Quads and the muscles in your neck.
Once you have rolled out, continue to warm up by getting your heart rate slightly elevated and loosening your joints. Jump rope, jumping jack or a jog are all great. Try twisting your spin from side to side with your feet spread past shoulder distance or doing big circles with your hips with you feet shoulder distance. High knees, over under steps and even burpees are all other great ways to get your blood pumping.
Movement Progression has to do with the order in which we learn moves. This is where I messed up and hurt myself many times as a young Breaker. Of course we all want to learn the exciting moves like windmills and headspins. For many of us, these are the moves that drew us to the dance. However, you have to have a foundation of movement to prepare your body for those moves.
Think about moves like levels in a game. You can’t get to level 5 without finishing 1, 2, 3 and 4 first. There’s levels to this. Skipping levels will not only increase the likelihood of hurting yourself while trying to do something you’re not ready for, it will also create bad habits that you will have to go back and fix (I know, because it happened to me).
Always learn the progression to whatever moves you are trying to achieve. To learn a windmill, first you have to learn your backspin, your coindrop and how to get from you backspin over to a baby freeze. Without understanding those elements, you will just be throwing your body, hoping and praying something cool happens. Odds are you will hurt yourself and never truly master the move.
Understand the progression of each move. Find a mentor who can show you the levels to each move and don’t race ahead. Practice slowly and each level will go by faster than the one previous.
Rest, Hydration, Nutrition and Self Care
Nourishment is essential. You have to take care of yourself if you expect to perform at a high level without injuries. Self Care is different for everyone. However, there are a few key components that everyone needs.
Rest is crucial. A lot of Breakers challenge themselves to practice every day. This might be possible, but ill advised. Your body needs time to recover after strenuous activity. Sleep, relaxation and even vacations are very important. Some of my best progress has come after weeks or even months of not training.
Hydration is also a must. Your body is primarily water. When you exert yourself and sweat you are losing water. If you don’t replenish it and stay hydrated it is like losing oil in an engine. You will be less flexible, have less energy and ultimately burn yourself out.
Equally, nutrition is vital to recovery. The age old saying, “you are what you eat” is completely true. If you eat crap, you are likely to feel like crap. After physical exertion you need protein to recover from muscle fatigue and tearing. Potassium and Magnesium are also lost with sweat and vital for physical recovery. Invest in good nutrition and you will feel more energy and recover faster.
Lastly, find other Self Care habits that work for you. Perhaps epsom salt baths to help soothe aches or more extreme ice baths to relieve inflammation in your joints. Massage therapy is another great way to relieve knots and stress from the body. Chiropractic treatment and Yoga can help realign any structural issues that can occur during rigorous activity. Whatever it is that makes you feel great, make it a habit.
Exercise goes hand in hand with Self Care, however I want to emphasize the importance of working out regularly outside of dance. A strong body is less likely to break, period. There are many types of strength and many ways to achieve it. For dance, long lean muscles are ideal. For Breakin specifically, fast twitch power is also important for dynamic movement.
I recommend a lot of body weight activities such as Calisthenics and Plyometrics. You can add some power building exercise such as power lifting or kettlebells. However, be sure to avoid building bulk with these, as that will slow your dance and make many moves harder not easier.
Conditioning is extremely important. High heart rate activities like running, swimming, biking and hiking are all very good. You can also incorporate high intensity interval training into your strength training to get both affects simultaneously. This is when you alternate short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with short recovery periods, thereby maintaining an elevated heart rate and increasing cardiovascular strength.
In my experience, I dance as well as I feel. When I feel great my dance reflects it. When I am worn out and injured my dance reflects that as well. As much as I have practiced to excel in the dance, I spend more time maintaining a healthy body so that I am able to perform well and without pain. Take care of your body, you only get one. Pushing through pain is not sustainable. In the long run, you will go further by knowing how to preserve your body. There are many more elements you can use to stay healthy and injury free, but these are the ones that have really helped me. I sincerely hope these tips help you stay healthy and Break, free of pain.