How do the dancers on Strictly Come Dancing look that good? Well, it may have something to do with all that dancing they do. Former Strictly pro Natalie Lowe, reveals why dancing is the best way to keep fit
Strictly Come Dancing has returned to our screens – *happy dances around the room*.
Other than the glitz, the glam, the dancing, the music – there are the bodies. The perfectly sculpted (not to mention tanned) bodies that make you want to call your nearest gym and hand over your life savings in return for a hot bod.
If you have ever watched Strictly Come Dancing and wondered how the dancers look that good then we can promise, you are one of many – Healthista team included.
So, when Healthista was offered the chance to speak to former Strictly Come Dancing pro dancer Natalie Lowe, we said ABSOdancingLUTELY.
The 40-year-old star – who has danced alongside the likes of Ricky Whittle, Ainsley Harriott, Scott Maslen and Greg Rutherford, left Strictly in 2017 to concentrate on starting a family, and the Sydney-born star did just that.
In April 2019, Natalie and her husband James Knibbs welcomed a healthy baby boy named Jack, just a week before the 2019 Strictly Come Dancing final in December. Ten months later and the mum-of-one looks fitter than ever.
After starting dancing at the age of just three, Natalie has never looked back, admitting that she ‘wouldn’t even know herself without dance.’
In fact, to add another dance string to her bow, in 2013, Natalie formed FitSteps with former Strictly Come Dancing Celebrity contestant Mark Foster and former Strictly pro dancer Ian Waite.
FitSteps is a programme full of fun, upbeat and energetic, 45-minute exercise classes that allow you to perfect your Strictly Come Dancing, ballroom and Latin moves while also improving your fitness. You can learn everything from the Cha Cha Cha, to the Rhumba, to the Waltz and much more.
And now with Fitsteps on Demand, you can do this all from the comfort of your own home without the need for a dancing partner – which is ideal in the current Covid-19 climate.
You can literally watch Strictly Come Dancing on a Saturday night, see a dance that you like and then learn it on FitSteps the next day – you’ve learnt a skill and you’ve done a workout.
you’ve learnt a skill and you’ve done a workout
Plus by learning all the basic steps yourself, you can watch Strictly and know what footwork to look out for and be a judge from home!
The dance classes are becoming an increasingly popular way to get fit. According to the MailOnline, more than 1,500 new FitSteps accounts were created since the announcement of lockdown back in March.
So, we asked Natalie, ‘why is dancing the best way to keep fit?’ and does she have any other diet and fitness tips for us?
Here’s what Natalie had to say…
#1 Dancing is a FULL body workout
Despite what people think, dance isn’t all about cardio. Yes it’s cardio heavy, but it also incorporates toning, conditioning and strengthening.
For example, if I were to teach you how to dance the Waltz for 40 minutes, I can promise you that by the end you would feel more tired and sore from dancing than you would from an hours run.
Why? Because of the way you have to hold your frame and core muscles. Not to mention the lunging, pressure through the floor, extension through the arms and the rise and fall.
Despite what people think, dance isn’t all about cardio
Holding those positions, transferring your weight from side to side, foot to foot and moving in different directions as well as the constant cardio that comes with dancing – talk about full body workout!
Yes, dances like the Jive are fast-paced dances that really get the heart rate up, but even the slower dances are hard work as you have to really focus on your balance and core strength.
The male dancers do weight train alongside their dancing as they need to be strong enough to lift the female dancers, but the professional female dancers rarely weight train, they don’t need to.
Instead they engage their core through dancing and sometimes will do some stretching, Pilates, yoga or breath work.
#2 Dancing is the best workout for a stronger core
Speaking of core strength, nothing beats the benefits that come from internal strength and conditioning of your core.
When you have a strong core, you stand taller, hold your head higher, find exercise easier, can run faster and are less prone to injury.
Anyone that does some form of Pilates, yoga or dance will have a poise about themselves – thanks to their core strength.
Even if you were to go to the gym, do some cardio and lift some weights, I can guarantee you that your core would not have been as engaged as if you were to have completed an hour of dancing instead.
See when it comes to dance, as soon as you take your head weight outside of your shoulder line you are engaging your core.
nothing beats the benefits that come from internal strength and conditioning of your core
If you watch the dancers on Strictly Come Dancing, you’ll notice that our head weight is constantly held outside of our frame. In order to hold our head in that position, we have to have a strong core and keep it engaged throughout the dance.
Whenever I take FitSteps classes across the country, I often do a core exercise whereby I get the class to simply stand in one position and engage their core.
They are told to stand as tall as they can, flexing their legs slightly with their hands in a ballroom position for at least two whole minutes. But often before those two minutes are up, everyone is saying ‘Natalie OMG can we drop our arms now?’ and I crack the whip and say ‘no two minutes isn’t up yet!’
To this day, people I teach can never believe that just being stationary, engaging your core and standing tall is a workout in itself.
#3 Dancing burns more calories than a HIIT workout
You can easily burn between 600 to 800 calories per dance class.
However, if you were to attend a HIIT class or an online ‘jumping around your living room’ class, then you would probably burn around 300 to 400 calories a session, which is still really good but nowhere near as intense as dancing.
You can easily burn between 600 to 800 calories per dance class
As I mentioned before, dancing is the perfect mixture of cardio and strength and conditioning where you engage the whole body, core, butt, thighs and hamstrings. The more you work all these things simultaneously, the more calories you burn.
That’s why all the celebrities on Strictly Come Dancing drop so much weight, especially for the ones who go really far in the competition, their whole body composition can change due to the weight loss as well as the toning and sculpting of their muscles through engaging their core.
#4 Dancing is so fun you won’t even realise you’re exercising
I don’t like going to the gym, but I do love to dance and that has always been my main form exercise. I never need to go to the gym, or go for a run or attend a spin class because my workout is dance and I do that everyday for at least 20 minutes.
The thing is though, even though dance is my form of exercise, I have never felt like I am exercising because I am always having so much fun.
I am often creating content for FitSteps and seven years on, I’m still not bored. When it comes to dance, you will always find something exciting to learn and take part in.
Another fun thing about dancing is that you don’t have to do it solo. It’s great to do with the family or friends, get the kids involved too – they’ll love it.
Don’t take yourself too seriously or you will never learn to dance
Oh, it’s also important that you don’t take yourself too seriously in order to have the best time. I always used to tell the celebs on Strictly, ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously or you will never learn to dance’.
People are often so invested in learning the steps that in the process they never learn to actually have fun and enjoy dance.
If you tell yourself repeatedly that you can’t dance, you never will. So forget about the self consciousness and just see where your feet take you.
People that let lose and apply themselves go from zero to hero in no time. Everyone can dance in the end even if you think you have two left feet.
#5 Dancing is great for your confidence and improving mental health
I love the performance side of dance, as well as connecting with, meeting and helping people to feel good about themselves all through dance. When I was on Strictly Come Dancing, I loved teaching all the celebrities, and I loved watching them fall in love with dance.
There are so many different elements to dance, the form of expression, creativity, dancing to great music -there are unlimited positives to dance that I simply couldn’t live without.
proven to reduce stress, boost your mood and lower the risk of depression
You smile, sweat and dance to great music and not only that, you are learning a skill too. Dance really does tick all the health and fitness boxes.
Dance is also excellent for mindset and mental health as it gets the endorphins flowing and has been proven to reduce stress, boost your mood and lower the risk of depression.
Even if you know you are dancing like an idiot, it doesn’t matter because nobody can see you if you’re dancing for fun at home.
Any other healthy tips Natalie?
Eat clean and avoid processed foods
I always watch what I eat, us dancers usually do. I am a real advocate for healthy eating. You really are what you eat and nutrition plays a huge part in your overall health and how you look.
When it comes to my diet, I cut out as much of the cr*p as possible. That includes caffeine, processed foods, alcohol and refined sugars.
Refined sugars and processed foods are terrible for many reasons, but mainly because they can be addictive. My husband and I do love chocolate but sometimes we have to just stop buying it because it is so addictive!
I make all my own sauces from scratch with fresh and dried herbs, chili, garlic, basil, coriander and rosemary
I am very lucky to live in the countryside with a farm shop right at the end of my road, so I always eat food that comes straight from the ground in it’s purest form.
I feel really grateful that all of my produce is fresh however, I know a lot of people don’t have that opportunity, but I think the more you can eat less pre-packaged or pre-made foods the better. I rarely eat food from a tin or jar, you won’t find any of that in my pantry.
I make all my own sauces from scratch with fresh and dried herbs, chili, garlic, basil, coriander and rosemary to create the tastiness in my foods. I even make my sons food from scratch and then blend with a food processor.
Being a little bit conscious about your food choices is a good way to be. Don’t obsess over your food choices, but if you realise your clothes are a bit tighter than usual, then change a few things or be more conscious about what you are eating.
Sure, us dancers have muscle memory and it may not take us a long time to get back into our fitness, but if we didn’t watch what we eat, we would absolutely put on weight at the drop of a hat, especially if you love food and are a foodie like me!
Try not to drink your calories
I always advise not to drink calories, I stick to water and I rarely have soft drinks.
When it comes to alcohol, I do enjoy a glass of wine with my husband on the weekend, but other than that I try and minimise my wine consumption and I don’t often drink during the week.
Prioritise your sleep
Sleeping is really important, if I don’t get enough sleep I find myself chomping into anything the next day and not making the best food choices.
Before bed, do what you need to do to relax and unwind. Listen to some music, go for a nice walk, take a bath or read a book.
There is nothing better than a bath, a good book, lavender spray and I am good to go. I used to be a beauty therapist for over ten years, so I have relaxing down to a T. Candles, essential oils, switching off, lights out, meditation and breath work – I do it all.
Other than dance, I really enjoy cycling and walking. I love to just get on my bike and experience the freedom of being outdoors in the fresh air.
I also love walking, I always go on nice long walks with my cockapoo Cooper, with my son on my back – which is a few extra kilos to carry around. I walk miles and miles with 15 kilos on my back most days.
I think keeping as active is so important not just for fitness reasons but for mental health too, I do 20 mins of exercise a day, at least five times a week.
That’s why when I left Strictly I was super thankful to have FitSteps to focus on, not only to itch that creative scratch and come up with routines and ideas, but also to keep moving and have that emotional, physical and mental relief.
Don’t be so hard on yourself
Don’t be hard on yourself, it’s OK to not feel like you want to exercise all the time, but the key is to try not to stop all together.
I always say, ‘if you don’t do something for two days try and do something by day three’, because if you don’t do something by day three, day four will be even harder and so on.
Once you get yourself into an exercise rut, it can be really hard to get out of it. Even if you attempt a ten minute walk, push ups, some lunges, a bit of breath work, or even FitSteps, just try and do something for your own piece of mind.
if you don’t do something for two days try and do something by day three
It’s all about little and often than not at all, any form of exercise is better than nothing at all. But don’t regret the things you don’t do, because you will feel worse for not doing it.
I always find that some people don’t like feeling uncomfortable or self conscious, so I tell them to get out there and forget how you’re feeling and what others think.
Life is hard, don’t make it harder. So what if you spend a day in bed in your pyjamas eating cake, just don’t do it everyday.