Getting Fit For The New Year

Author: Kristen Sutton-Traina DPT, MS, OCS, ATC

Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist

As we enter into the New Year, we may be looking for ways to make healthy lifestyle changes. First, we need to ask ourselves what does it mean to be “healthy.” There are a number of factors that contribute to being healthy, and the importance of each factor may differ for each person. Both physical and mental health must be considered when evaluating our overall well-being. Our mental health involves how we cope with stress and how we manage our emotions. Nutrition, exercise and recovery must all be taken into account when considering physical health. The food we consume assists in fueling our bodies to provide nourishment and energy. Movement and exercise throughout the day strengthen muscles and improve cardiovascular health.  Finally, recovery, especially sleep, allows our body time to heal and prepare for the next day’s challenges. As a physical therapist and athletic trainer, I specialize in movement and exercise. Although this is only one piece of the big picture, it is important, especially for performing artists. Exercising regularly, and in a healthy manner, helps prevent injuries, enhance performance, increase energy levels and even improve mental health. 

As a performer, movement is an essential part of life. However, exercise is different from movement. It is important for performers, dancers included, to cross train in order to maintain a healthy body. Cross training encourages the use of different muscles, which will promote overall stability and strength. There are four main types of exercise: cardiovascular (aerobic and anerobic), muscular endurance, muscular strength and power. Cardiovascular exercise can be divided into aerobic and anerobic training. Aerobic exercise, which is typically known as “cardio”, is anything that can be sustained for > 20 minutes and requires at least moderate exertion; this may include walking, steady running or biking. Anerobic exercise involves shorter bouts of more vigorous activities, resulting in a higher heart rate for shorter periods of time with longer recovery intervals and includes exercises like sprinting. Muscular endurance is a type of strength training, which includes resistance bands, weights or body weight, but is performed with higher repetitions and shorter rest periods. Muscular strengthening is performed with heavier weights, fewer repetitions and longer rest intervals.  Finally, exercises which train for power involve explosive type movements, such as plyometrics. To maximize the benefits, power driven exercises are performed with fewer repetitions, greater intensity and longer rest intervals. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) publishes guidelines to help inform the public on recommendations for exercise. (see images) Based on the ACSM guidelines, muscular endurance or muscular strengthening exercises should be performed 2-3 days per week and cardiovascular training should be performed 3-5 days per week depending on the intensity of the workout. 

Pilates is a form of exercise that has become very popular among performing artists. Pilates typically combines muscular endurance training with flexibility while integrating the concept of core stability. Depending on the equipment available, individuals may use a jump board to integrate low impact power training as well. Pilates is performed lying down or seated using springs as a form of resistance. Performers enjoy the low impact nature of Pilates, and the focus on proper form in combination with core stability. Pilates is a great form of exercise and can be performed using equipment in studios or at home on a mat. To maximize the benefit of this type of training, it is important to progress slowly through each exercise and do not attempt movements that are too advanced.  

Although Pilates is effective, it is only one type of exercise. Other forms of exercise should be incorporated into weekly workout routines to promotes overall strength and body awareness. Exercise videos and programs may be found in Applications or online, especially on YouTube. Circuit training is one great way to combine muscular endurance and aerobic exercise. A circuit may consist of performing any exercise you choose, for example, choose 4-6 of your favorite exercises (example: 15 squats, 8 push-ups, 8 lunges and 10 mountain climbers); then repeat the same exercises 2-4 times with minimal rest between sets to promote cardiovascular endurance. When focusing on muscular strength simply perform exercises using weights to increase the difficulty and perform fewer repetitions. Make sure to integrate adequate rest in between sets while performing muscular strengthening. Circuit training can also involve plyometric training to promote improvements in power. Circuits can focus on leg, arms, core or a combination of different body regions. Alternate days of focusing on muscular strength, muscular endurance and cardiovascular training for a healthy balance. 

Walk-run programs may be used for cardiovascular training. If running is a new activity make sure to start running using a walk-run program. Start by walking for 5 minutes, running for 30 seconds, then repeat for a total workout time of 20-30 minutes. Try to increase the time spent running as your fitness level improves.      

There are countless options of different exercise programs, especially with the use of the internet. The keys to a good exercise program:

  • MAKE IT FUN. Whether you add music or video chat with a friend, make workouts enjoyable.
  • When performing a new exercise, make sure to perform the exercise correctly. Exercises are only beneficial if performed with proper form.  
  • Start simple and progress to more challenging exercises. 
  • Almost every exercise should be a core exercise. Make an effort to actively engage core muscles.  
  • Stop before complete fatigue and only exercise until “form fatigue”. (Form fatigue is when the body begins to deviate from proper alignment and exercise technique due to muscular fatigue with exercise.)
  • Always use supportive foot wear and proper flooring to prevent injury.  

Remember, exercise is only one component of a healthy lifestyle; nutrition, recovery and mental health must also be considered. As you begin a fresh start in 2021, create long- and short-term goals to set more reasonable expectations and ensure success for a healthy and happy New Year.  


About The Author

Kristen Sutton-Traina, DPT, MS, OCS, ATC is an Athletic Trainer and Physical Therapist specializing in performing artists medicine since 2006. Her research interest is in the area of dance medicine; specifically, she has been studying the effects on long bone morphology on lower extremity range of motion and function; and recently took part in data collection investigating conservative treatment for FHL tendinopathy.  She completed her Residency and Doctorate of Physical Therapy at the University of Southern California. Kristen completed her Master of Science in Kinesiology and Athletic Training at Michigan State University. She began her academic career at the University of Florida where she completed a Bachelor of Science in Human Health and Performance and Athletic Training.  Kristen worked with professional dancers in Orange County and Los Angeles assisting with preventing injuries through screening, therapeutic exercises and manual therapy.