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I am a computer nerd. I spent every waking moment of my life sitting perfectly motionless in front of a computer screen. (Hell, I'm doing it right now!)

...except that once a week I spend an hour leaping around a dance floor like a crazy person. And you know what? It turns out I am absurdly unfit. Shocking, I know.

Anyway, there are 168 hours in a week. Doing a piffling 1 hour of extreme exercise and then spending 167 hours utterly motionless just doesn't cut it. I need to do more. Somehow.

So, my question is: How do I increase my stamina?

The obvious answer would seem to be "do something tiring, and do as much of it as possible". But do I want the highest possible intensity, or the longest duration? Do I want one continuous block of exercise, or lots of short bursts with rest in between? I'm not really sure where to start with this...


A little background, in case it helps:

  • By "dancing", I do not mean a casual waltz. (Although if you do it properly, a waltz actually uses far more energy than you might imagine, just so you know.) I'm talking about jumping up and down, kicking your legs above your head, waving your arms in the air, at devestatingly high speed. Sometimes I even get to lift my dance partner clean off the ground.

  • I can do all of this - just not for very long. So it's not that I need more strength or flexibility or coordination. The only thing I am missing is stamina.

  • I have been dancing for over 3 years now. When I say "I'm not getting fitter", I'm not saying that after just two sessions. I'm saying that after years of effort. After all that, there are people twice my age dancing rings around me.


In case I was whaffling too much:

My question basically boils down to "do I want a small burst of intense activity, or a large burst of moderate activity?"

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Is there a specific type of dancing you are referring to? –  Matt Chan Feb 2 '12 at 15:17
    
Rock & Roll / Jive. –  MathematicalOrchid Feb 2 '12 at 15:19
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6 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Strength

Let's take 3 different people, give them a 10lb dumbbell and tell them to lift it over their head until they are too tired to keep doing it:

  • a 10 year old girl
  • a marathon runner
  • a strength trainer who can overhead press 200lbs

In what order do you think they would fail to be able to continue lifting the dumbbell? Unless the 10 year old girl was herself a power lifter, more than likely they would fail in the order I listed them. The difference is in their strength, not their endurance. 10 lbs is a mere fraction of 200lbs, so the lifter has an advantage. He can do much more of that kind of work than the other two.

The stronger you are, the longer you can do work that is less effort than you are used to.

Conditioning

If you spend 15 minutes each day laying out in the sun, how dark do you think you will be after a month? The sad truth is, assuming the same amount of sun rays each day, you will be no darker than you were after a week. The reason is that you never asked your body to adapt to longer periods of sun radiation, so it never had to get darker. There is a direct application of that to your situation. You have only been doing dance class for an hour a week. As such, you have never increased the demands on your body past the the initial adaptations your body did.

I highly recommend this article by Matt Reynolds on conditioning called Death by Prowler. Pay special attention to the information on energy systems and the logic behind programming the prowler. The point isn't to go out, buy a prowler and start puking your guts out. It's the fact that unless your conditioning matches the type of effort you want to be able to do on demand, you will always be disappointed with your results.

Suggestions

  • Get stronger, this will help you in every area--including resisting injury. You don't have to squat 400lbs in a year, but get stronger than you are now. Wendler 5/3/1 with the 2 day a week program is very flexible, allows for proper recovery and slow improvements. It also requires the next point below.
  • Do conditioning and mobility work. Get outside and run sprints. Dance like a fool. If you can work on technique and conditioning at the same time, more power to you. But maintain some flexibility while you do it.

Doing 1 hour a week of any type of exercise will only cause you to adapt to one hour a week of exercise. It's not going to get any better until you start doing more.

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It depends.

Are you trying to get better at dancing? Or are you trying to be more fit? Your "increased stamina" could fall into either category. Or both.

Better at Dancing

If you want to get good at a thing, you need to do the thing a lot. So: dance more. Practice solo at home, preferably in doses similar in intensity and duration to the group class. Practicing longer or harder will make you better able to handle the shorter or easier demands of the one-hour class.

At a certain point, you will get diminishing returns from this approach. If you're a really efficient dancer, it may be hard to expend enough energy to get tired quickly.

Better at Fitness

You say you're plenty strong, flexible and coordinated. I'm not saying I don't believe you, I'm just saying you could be mistaken. (I used to believe the same thing about myself in my sport, and I was mistaken.)

Being stronger makes everything easier. If you're able to lift a partner off the ground, great. But after three or four lifts, you're tired. What would happen if you were twice as strong? Lifting your partner wouldn't be such a big deal, would it? You'd probably be able to lift them twice as many times or more, since the difficulty of doing so is much less.

You might benefit from getting stronger, which is most efficiently done by lifting weights. Squats, deadlifts, and chin-ups make you stronger very, very quickly. My recommendation is to get strong enough so that you can safely pick up a barbell weighting 1.5 times as much as yourself, and squat with a barbell weighing as much as yourself on your back, and do five or ten dead-hang no-kip full-range-of-motion pull-ups. You'll then be in a good position to decide whether being stronger is helping or not.

You also might benefit from improving your metabolic capacity. Short, all-out bursts of effort like sprints, shorter CrossFit metcons, or kettlebell swings will make you very tired in short order. By making you more capable at handling very hard exertion, they will improve your ability to exert yourself on longer, slower activities like dancing.

Side benefit: heavy lifting and sprint-type activities are also highly recommended for overall health and fitness.

Recommendation

If I were you, I would:

  1. Get as strong as my totally-made-up minimum strength standards above by lifting two or three times a week
  2. Do sprints or similar all-out effort once or twice a week to get my wind in order
  3. Do a solo or at-home dancing workout that's just a little longer and a little harder than the dancing classes, once or twice a week

Getting stronger would make each individual movement dramatically easier. Improving my short-term metabolic capacity would make every song-length dance dramatically easier. Improving my long-term activity-specific endurance would help me survive the class. All three together would form like Voltron.

The guiding principle here should be "fix your weakness". All three approaches will help, but fixing the area you're worst at will provide outsize benefits.

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To be clear: I love dancing. It frustrates the hell out of me that I pay to go dancing and then spend half the class sitting down gasping for air. I agree that the way to get better at dancing is to do more dancing. My question is whether I want to do a small burst of high activity, or a long sustained burst of lower activity. Which one will affect my endurance most positively? –  MathematicalOrchid Feb 2 '12 at 15:41
    
@MathematicalOrchid I added a Recommendation that summarizes my answer to that question. –  Dave Liepmann Feb 2 '12 at 15:56
    
I'm not seeing how I can do weight lifting without joining a gym. Sprinting requires a suitable running space. But finding somewhere I can do some dance steps ought to be possible. So what do you think? Do one dance as flat out as possible, and (on another day) do a gentler dance that lasts as long as possible? –  MathematicalOrchid Feb 2 '12 at 16:10
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Those would both be dramatically sub-optimal in my view. (Sorry, I don't make the rules.) If you refuse to do anything other than dance, then I would do two 75-minute dance workouts aiming to replicate the group class exactly, and two "dance interval" workouts that involved three to six bursts of all-out, 100%, want-to-puke dancing for five or ten minutes. Alternatively, you could join a gym or look into the numerous resources for gymless strength and conditioning workouts. –  Dave Liepmann Feb 2 '12 at 16:18
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Conditioning, like all exercise is specific. If you condition yourself for low intensity long periods of activity--that's all you will be able to do. If you condition yourself for reasonable bursts of activity and corresponding amount of rest as you have in your class, you can get your wind up. But if you don't do anything hard, you will live groundhog day. –  Berin Loritsch Feb 2 '12 at 17:05
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For increased strength / endurance the internet will point you at a program like Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe. If you follow such a program you won't lose flexibility or the ability to dance. You may need to do hip flexibility / other assistance work if you run into issues. You may not be able to dance as much when you first start out.

I'm currently working on SS and have done similar programs in the past. Love it. It is how I have fun after a stressful day. It is also a very limited time spent in gym. But not helpful if you don't have the time or money resources.

My younger sister did jive/swing/lindy competitively in college. She crosstrained successfully with more power focused versions of yoga. She still does both. Although more yoga than dancing now. This doesn't help you if you aren't interested in yoga.

NOW TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION... Diet has more to do with fitness gains as an adult than anything else. Look at what you are eating and how you are resting before you start taking crap loads of advice from random internet bros. I'd cite sources... is there an FAQ on this website? Or do I need to point at something like http://www.reddit.com/help/faqs/Fitness and say read all the "Diet" stuff.

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fourmilab.ch/hackdiet/e4 also that. not allowed to put more than one link in my post because apparently i'm new here. –  FIRD Feb 2 '12 at 16:24
    
Posting a link is alright, but it is better to summarize the key points you are trying to make and citing the link as a reference. If the linked website changes or disappears, there is no context, and then the answer doesn't help anyone. Consider editing your answer to incorporate information from that link. –  Matt Chan Feb 2 '12 at 17:18
    
There is an faq but it refers to what it on-topic, off-topic, and how the site works and functions. The whole site itself is meant to be a Q&A site for fitness and nutrition experts. –  Matt Chan Feb 2 '12 at 17:25
    
to summarize my link... it is "the hackers diet". a fairly useful outline of how to diet which should be relevant for an office done like OP. from my reading of his activities... he either isn't eating enough, isn't resting enough, or is eating and resting incorrectly to meet the level out output he describes. this expands a bit more on my answer and provides a useful resource for further exploration. –  FIRD Feb 2 '12 at 17:46
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Here's a link to a previous and similar question: What's the most effective way to improve cardio endurance?

Tabata (aka High Intense Interval Training) provides great endurance improvement over a minimal amount of time - roughly 15 to 30 minutes 3-5 times a week. I would recommend including some weight training/strength training (aka free weights) so you can look good as you dance...

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I don't think Tabata is a really good choice for someone who spends "167 hours a week sitting". If you do decide to do it, remember to start slow - eg. just with bodyweight squats, then slowly phase over to squat thursts, add the jump, and finally the pushup. I do think they're a good idea in general, just not for someone who is otherwise very inactive. –  VPeric Feb 2 '12 at 20:51
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"...except that once a week I spend an hour leaping around a dance floor like a crazy person. And you know what? It turns out I am absurdly unfit. Shocking, I know. [...] I have been dancing for over 3 years now. When I say "I'm not getting fitter", I'm not saying that after just two sessions. I'm saying that after years of effort. "

One hour per week is very little time. In total one hour per week for three years is something like 150 hours. Ask the other people in your dancing class about how long they are dancing and for how many hours per week. I would bet that most of them have at least double your hours.

The solution is simple: Dance more than you are doing at the moment.

Do some social dancing in addition to your classes.

Take 5 minute dancings breaks during your computer work. Take some foodwork and do it as intense as possible. Afterwards you return to your computer work.

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I've been dancing since i was 3 years old and have been on competitive teams for 4 years. Dancing 4 hrs 5 days a week. finnally for my 4th year on a team i quit just cuz. i lost lots of stamina and did'nt get much better at dancing. the next year i came back to dance. a month before the next team year I wanted to practice all the time. It was hard and i got winded fast. To get better i practiced nonstop 2 hrs a day and did many push ups and situp at home. - do pushups - do situps - jog

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Can you bring an elaborate answer that helps not only the questioner but everyone who is into dancing? –  Freakyuser Jun 24 '13 at 10:21
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