Success as a running back in the NFL requires strength, stamina, speed, and fancy footwork. Players spend countless hours strengthening their legs and improving their footwork, but few of them do it the same way NFL running back Alex Collins does. He swears by traditional Irish dancing as part of his workout regimen to strengthen his legs and refine his footwork.
Collins was introduced to the sport by his high school football coach, whose daughter participated in Irish dance. And, he took it up when training for his first NFL draft. In a Sports Illustrated article, he explained the virtues of both the cardio workout and the strength training resulting from repeatedly jumping and landing on his toes. Irish dance is performed with motionless arms and places a premium on minimizing body movement, so the power for every jump must come only from the legs. The performing art/sport features high kicks and rapid-fire footwork, not unlike those used in football.
For many young people, Irish dance is a celebration of culture, as well as a competitive sport, but as it turns out, it’s a phenomenal workout for adults as well. Irish dancing is a fast-paced cardiovascular exercise that improves overall heart and lung health, and it also builds strong bones, tones and strengthens muscles and provides a workout for the mind as well, as dancers learn ever-changing steps and formations.
Collins was initially skeptical about how Irish dance could impact his fitness, but he quickly saw how it helped strengthen his lower body and become more explosive on the field. The detailed footwork, rhythm, and timing also helped him quicken his feet, which is crucial for a running back. And, the leaping, jumping, and extended time on the toes builds lower body and calf muscles.
So, if you’re looking for a fun way to liven up your cross-training routine and maybe even shed some weight, consider Irish dancing. It burns up to 400 calories an hour, plus it offers physical benefits such as increased stamina, core strength, and improved balance, posture, coordination, and flexibility.
Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center
Sports Illustrated, “Happy Feet and and Alter Ego,” April 26, 2016.
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