The Importance of Cardiovascular Endurance for the Dancer

Sep 5


Laura Stanyer

Laura Stanyer

  • Share this article on Facebook
  • Share this article on Twitter
  • Share this article on Linkedin

The importance of cardiovascular training for dancers to enhance performance and wellbeing.


There is a misconception that the majority of dancers are physically fit and have strong cardiovascular endurance. Dance activity generally stops and starts utilising the anaerobic system therefore the aerobic system is not engaged. Generally dancers lack cardiovascular fitness this can lead to injury. Ideally cardiovascular training needs to be incorporated into the dance technique class to enhance your dance ability as well as your fitness,The Importance of Cardiovascular Endurance for the Dancer Articles health and wellbeing.

Reasons why dancers do not have cardiovascular fitness:
  • Technique class stops and starts does not engage the aerobic system
  • Dancers are often overworked with too much time spent in class, rehearsal and performance
  • Dancers do not engage in enough rest, leisure time and relaxation
Benefits of Cardiovascular Endurance Exercise for dancers:
  • Improves your posture and health
  • Enhances stamina which improves your performance ability
  • Increases oxygen supply to muscles - efficient functioning Improves your anaerobic ability
  • Reduces the risk of fatigue, enhances concentration and reduces stress levels
  • Boosts your immune system and reduces the risk of injury
Understanding the Cardiovascular System

Cardiovascular endurance depends on the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen to where it is needed and to continue for long periods of time under stress.

In reality most types of dance training involves stopping and starting; performing short movement sequences with intermittent periods of no activity where you observe the next sequence, this way of working only develops your anaerobic system it does not develop your aerobic capacity.

Anaerobic and Aerobic Systems Anaerobic System

Anaerobic simply means without oxygen.
As you begin physical activity there is a sudden demand for energy, the body will use up its first energy store then go onto to use up the stores of glycogen (broken down from carbohydrates) stored in the muscles as the energy is not available in the form of oxygen. This is because the body is working so hard that the demands for oxygen exceed the rate of supply.

Lactic Acid

During anaerobic activity the waste product lactic acid is produced. As there is no oxygen supply to the muscles the lactic acid will build up and can be the cause of muscle soreness and you will be forced to ease of or stop. You will be unable to return to activity until the lactic acid is removed. As you rest oxygen is supplied to the muscles replenishing the energy stores and you soon will be able to return.

When you start any physical activity you will use the anaerobic system, however, if the activity is low in intensity your body will be able to supply oxygen to your muscles and continue as you engage in the aerobic system.

Anaerobic Exercise

Anaerobic exercise is intense exercise lasting approximately one to three minutes (Lactic System) the demand is sudden or large that the heart is unable to pump enough oxygen to the working muscles.

  • Running up the stairs
  • Sprinting
  • Dance - centre work e.g. short jump sequence
  • Dance - short sequence across the room
Aerobic System

Aerobic simply means with oxygen
Oxygen is delivered around the body via the blood stream and pumped by the heart. The aerobic system can only work when the energy demand is low intensity for the heart to provide the muscles with sufficient supply of oxygen. In aerobic activity the body is working at a level in which the supply of oxygen is sufficient to the body's demands for oxygen.

The aerobic system breaks down glycogen (carbohydrates) as energy and if you continue over thirty minutes of aerobic activity at low intensity you will begin to break down fats. The only waste products formed are carbon dioxide and water. These are removed as you sweat and by breathing out.

Aerobic Exercise

The oxygen is delivered around the body; the aerobic system can only function when the energy demand is low enough for the heart to supply the muscles with sufficient oxygen.

Low to moderate intensity, long duration activities:
  • Walking or jogging
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Continuous low intensity dance (such as the five rhythms)
Aerobic Endurance Exercise

This variation is when exercise continues at a low level over a long period of time to build cardiovascular fitness.

Low intensity activities over half an hour:
  • An hour’s walk
  • 30 minute swim
  • 30 minute cycle (stationary bike)
  • Continuous low intensity dance (such as the five rhythms)
Aerobic Endurance Training

Aerobic endurance is developed through the use of continuous rhythmical activity to improve maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max).

VO2 max

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that you can use to produce the energy you require for any physical activity.

It is important for dancers to progressively improve their cardiovascular endurance, training only occurs after thirty minutes of continuous activity where the pulse rate is sufficiently increased to improve your maximum aerobic capacity (V02 max). Aerobic exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, (cardiovascular) system. An aerobically fit dancer can rehearse or perform for longer, more vigorously and achieve a quicker recovery. It is beneficial to participate in cardiovascular endurance activities 3 to 5 times per week.

Aims of aerobic endurance training:
  • Improve the heart and cardiovascular system so blood (and oxygen) can be delivered around the body more efficiently
  • Increase the body's ability to utilise oxygen
  • Increase the body's ability to recover from heavy bouts of intense exercise (dance).
Training Intensity

It is important to work out how hard you are working by measuring your heart rate. During exercise your heart rate goes up; the harder you work, the faster the heart beats. Everyone has a maximum heart rate, calculating how close your heart rate is to its maximum during exercise enable you to check the intensity of your workout.

When participating in cardiovascular endurance training, the most efficient way to strengthen the heart is to aim for a training threshold. This is a percentage of your maximum heart rate, and should be the level your heart is working on for 20-30 minutes at least.

Heart Rate Monitoring Resting heart rate

Find your pulse in your wrist or neck, and count the number of beats for 6 seconds then multiply the number of beats by 10 e.g. you count 12 (12 x 10 = 120) your heart rate is 120 beats per minute (BPM).

Or for 15 seconds and multiply the number of beats by 4

Maximum heart rate

The maximum heart rate is estimated by taking your age away from 220. e.g. 220 take away (your age) 20 = 200 BPM.

Target heart rate for exercise Age Maximum Heart Rate (BPM) Target Heart Rate (BPM) Anaerobic (85% of Max) Aerobic (70% of Max) Aerobic Endurance (80% of Max)

Example: 18

20 – 29
30 – 39
40 – 49
50 – 59


200 – 191
190 – 181
180 – 171
170 – 161


170 – 162
161 – 154
153 – 145
144 – 137


140 – 134
133 – 137
126 – 120
119 – 113


120 – 114
114 – 109
108 – 103
102 – 97

A target heart rate would be at least 60% or at the most 85% of your maximum heart rate. When you first start a cardiovascular fitness programme, your target heart rate, during exercise, should be 60% of the predicted maximum heart rate. It is optimum to build up to 30 minutes working at 75% of your maximum heart rate.

Cardiovascular Endurance in Dance

Ideally cardiovascular training is incorporated within the dance training itself with the later part of a technique class training the cardio vascular system. For example, travel and jump combinations lasting at least 32 to 48 bars in duration and including longer dance combinations dividing the class so the dancers receive adequate rest period to recover from the cardiovascular workout.

In my personal experience I found African dance training incorporates both the aerobic and anaerobic systems with appropriate rest and recovery periods maybe other dance technique classes can learn from this model.

If cardiovascular training is not an integral part of your dance training it is important that dancers find an appropriate cardiovascular routine to compliment your dance training, rehearsal or performance also allowing for adequate rest periods.

Enhanced cardiovascular endurance can enhance you dance skill, fitness and can prevent injury from occurring due to fatigue. With all dance training a warm up and cool down sequence is required to maintain health and well being and enhance recovery. Improved cardiovascular fitness can enhance you dance ability and help you reach your true potential in dance performance.