Are You Over Training?

Would it surprise you to hear a dance teacher say that you might be over training? As in, working too hard? We see it a fair bit, particularly among competition-driven West Coast Swing students.

What is Over Training?

Wikipedia defines over training as “a physical, behavioral, and emotional condition that occurs when the volume and intensity of an individual’s exercise exceeds their recovery capacity. They cease making progress, and can even begin to lose strength and fitness.”

In applying this term to partner dancing, some modifications to that definition are necessary. Over training in any style or sport can cause physical symptoms and repetitive injuries, for the most part, the effects we see are psychological. We sometimes witness a dancer taking so many lessons and intensives, watching so many instructional DVDs, in a compressed time frame, that their bodies and minds are incapable of assimilating the information. Their training exceeds their ability to absorb the concepts. The plateau and, in many cases, lose some solid good habits.

Other common results of over-training that we have seen include:

  • Moodiness and depression
  • Frustration and irritability
  • Loss of motivation and enthusiasm
  • Loss of competitive drive

Signs & Motivations of Over-Training

Here’s a quick test to determine whether you’re over training in West Coast Swing:

Yes No
I spend less than 4 hours practicing each new thing that I learn in the dance
I am working on, trying to change or improve, more than 3 things at once
I take more private lessons than I attend social dances
I feel that I have received multiple contradictory opinions, feedback, or advice in the past 6-12 months
I am having difficulty understanding and assimilating the information I am getting from multiple instructors


Add up your Yes and No answers. If you have more than three Yes answers, chances are good that you are over training.

Over-training can be the result of genuine passion. Or, it may be the habit of a compulsive type of personality. Often, it is the result of an urgency to progress quickly in competition. As competitors, we sometimes reach a point of frustration and begin to look for a “silver bullet” or secret key that will unlock the door to always making finals, or always making the podium.

But, we can’t cheat time. The necessary progress will take as long as it takes, and for some, it will happen faster than others. Physical condition may be a hindrance. Psychological barriers may hold one back. One person will have more time, focus, and money than another to apply to the task. In other cases, the form of dance or competition may be a poor fit for the individual, and yet that person may enjoy the dance regardless.

Whatever the individual situation, no amount of training will fast-track a student to success. That’s why every great athlete or competitor will tell you that you have to love the journey as much as you love the competition or the results.

The mind and body need the opportunity to absorb and assimilate new information, new movement, and new concepts. If you do not spend sufficient time on a new concept to first incorporate it, then adjust it to work for your body type and style, and finally to make it a habit, the effort will be wasted.

My Advice

I’ve been there. I think anyone who’s reached the upper levels of any competitive endeavour has at some point likely over trained. I’ve seen my friends and students go through it, too. This is what I can suggest if you think that over-training might be at the root of your current plateau (there are certainly other reasons that we plateau) or frustrations.

  1. Pull back. Reduce the number of lessons you take, and/or reduce the number of different instructors you have. Or, depending on your situation, it may be the number of hours you spend practicing that needs to be reduced. Give your body and mind time to absorb and assimilate through reflection and rest.
  2. Come up with a strategy. In conjunction with a trusted coach, develop a strategy for what you want your dance to become. What is the vision you have for your dance and what do you need to accomplish to fulfill that vision? What are your personal values and how will you translate those into better dancing? Set goals that are not dependent on external forces like judges and other competitors, and have a plan to achieve those goals
  3. Work the plan. Commit to the action plan and stick with it. The more impatient you become impatient with a perceived lack of progress, the more likely you are to have another setback.
  4. Enjoy it again. DANCE! Dance for fun, dance for the love of it, dance for the physical, mental, and social benefits it brings and forget about everything else. If you can’t love the journey – if you can’t discover something rewarding in the process of learning and practicing a dance – you won’t likely find the motivation and positive attitude needed for progress.
  5. Adjust. Be willing to try new things and make changes throughout the process. The plan itself may need to be tweaked as you go – again, a trusted third-party coach can be invaluable in making observations, gauging progress, and suggesting ways to tweak the plan.

Here are some things I personally have done – with success – to maintain my own progress as a dancer and as a teacher, while avoiding over training and keeping things FUN:

  • Stopped taking private lessons (I did this for about a year).
  • Started taking private lessons with only one person at a time for a period of time, to achieve greater consistency and a clear trajectory of progress.
  • Learned other dance styles (I try to learn a new one every year).
  • Started dancing socially a whole lot more than ever before.

Good luck with YOUR journey! And you’re welcome to contact me about it.