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Interview with Nikita Johal- training styles and how prioritise are allowed to change

I knew Nikita (@nikitajohal) from our time at drama school, being in the year above her I was able to witness her amazing talent and her very kind nature. Since school I have seen her grow both as a performer in many productions including Spring Awakening at the Hope Mill Theatre and Broken Wings both at the Theatre Royal Haymarket and then at the Beiteddine Festival while also qualifying as a Personal Trainer and now starting her new online training business Re.Move Fitness.

You have had a lovely career so far, performing in shows such as Spring Awakening and Broken wings, and between, or alongside, performing you also qualified as PT. So what got your into training outside of dance and going to the gym?

My experience is actually the reverse, I was totally into my sports and fitness, mainly competitive sports from when I was really young. I remember being part of sports clubs from about the age of three and I don't ever remember a holiday where my dad didn’t made me get up at 5:00 AM to play tennis with him as the sun was coming up before breakfast. I did netball, football, all of that stuff when I was a kid and that, for me, was my childhood. I started performing seriously a lot later. I did theatre train for fun when I was young and a lot of acting when I was 14/15 at school, then didn’t get into the singing until I was about 16/17. It kind of happened by accident, I auditioned for a company who asked me if I could sing and I thought I’d have a go, so then I started doing musicals and trying to take it more seriously. I had done some Tap when I was young at school, but it was interesting to start properly dancing at 16/17 and realise that it’s such a skill and I didn’t have that type of foundation.

What then made you want to qualify as a PT?

I realised when I went to drama school and I had to drop all of my activities back home and I felt like I was missing a part of me. Although the training was so intense it wasn't the same and I still really missed the team sports and I missed the team practice. So I started going to the gym because my principal said to me it was probably a bad idea for me to keep playing football on the weekends with the boys because I would always hurt myself, I’m really clumsy. So I started going tot the gym and I loved it. I realised when I left college that it was something I had really fallen in love with and I wanted to develop further. It was something that would assist my training and work, but was something entirely different.

What’s your preferred style of training outside of dance and performing?

It's changed massively. When I first started fitness I didn't really have any information from somebody who had been in the industry. I had the science materials, I had the courses and I had the environment to work in but all I really had to go on for inspiration and advice was Instagram, which probably isn’t very healthy but that was really the only place that was accessible as someone who was quite young with not a lot of experience. So, I copied what I saw and got really into a body building style of training.

I’m a small girl, I’m 5 foot 1 and I was squatting 80-100kg and I was deadlifting 100kg but now I realise my body wasn’t enjoying that at all. I was constantly tired and feeling like I was running on empty, not my usual energetic self. I was super strong I just don’t think it suited my body very well. Whereas now I train completely differently. I train in more of an athletic way in order to keep my stamina super high but also keep my strength there and I think that helps my performing. I also fell in love with running over lockdown, I run once or twice a week because that gives me the mental headspace. I often do it really early, so tomorrow I’ve got an office day so I’ll be up at 7am and out for a run because I know I don’t cope very well sitting at a desk for a day. It really gets that energy and tension out of me. And when I’m not running, I’ll be doing weight-based circuits. So I’ll still lift weights but will also work on calisthenics and things that get my heart rate up but also test my balance and challenge it. I find it works really well with my lifestyle. it keeps me active, it keeps my heart rate up and it gives me that adrenaline rush but it doesn’t mean that I spend days unable to walk or sit on then loo because my legs are too sore! I can do it more often and its more sustainable.

How do you feel, especially going from the body building style of training to the combined styles of training you doing now, how do you feel the different kinds of training effected your dancing or performance, if at all?

I don’t feel like the body building side of things was really beneficial for my training at all, although it made me “look” like a dancer. I can dance but I’m not a dancer, you’re not going to find me in Cats, I haven’t done ballet training since I was four. I looked super strong, I looked like I had been training my whole life. And when you can’t quite match up to that, I almost felt sometimes I was quite disappointing. I would walk into the room feeling unconfident and would compare myself to others. I know you shouldn’t compare yourself, but sometimes it can’t be helped and that doesn’t put you in a very good headspace. I was being seen for jobs that I don’t think that I was suitable for.

Now that I work with my body I feel like I’m in the room for the right stuff, I‘m getting seen for the right stuff and that makes me feel more confident. Training hard did give me a strong foundation though. Things like my pirouettes and barre work was improved because I had the strength to hold myself in that way. It was great for things like Children of Eden where I was lifted a lot, and I didn’t have any fear because I had the core strength to keep myself safe. But now I’m doing combined styles of training I feel like I’ve got that strength as well as so much more stamina, energy and confidence. I’m not walking into dance calls with super sore legs, super tight hamstrings and not being able to give it everything. Now I think my dance is better because I can give it 100%. I’ve got the energy, I’ve got the strength in the right places and I’m not aching and prioritising something completely different.

So it was finding that balance, not training using really heavy weights for strength and allowing the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) to sneak in and effect your work.

Yeah, there's nothing worse than being on stage and having to hold a position and give every routine 100% and you’re thinking “my body doesn’t want to do this today because I decided I was going to hit a max squat yesterday”. My priority is my work, and somewhere along the line I felt pressure to hit certain numbers in the gym. Maybe that was external pressure, but I do think there was also internal pressure. I mainly put that pressure on myself because I expect a lot of myself. But in reality what makes me happy is performing and to do that to my best ability I need to be working with my body, not against it.

What would be your top tips for performers out in the industry, or performers in training, who are looking to start cross training outside of dance?

I would say, don’t be afraid to try new things and don’t let people tell you what is going to work for you. You know your body better than anyone else. If you are a dancer and you want to work on your strength, work on your strength, if you’re not a dancer and you want to get fitter, work on your cardio. I think the most important thing is to listen to your body and how it responds to different things, because we put ourselves under so much pressure as performers. Not just physically, but mentally as well. It’s an exhausting job. You can come offstage some nights and feel like you have relived trauma and that can take so much effect on your body. You can wake up with sore shoulders or a sore back because of tension you hadn’t noticed the night before.

So don’t put any pressure on yourself. Wake up in the morning, assess how you’re feeling, and if you want to go and train, go and train but if your body is saying you need that rest and you need that energy for stage tonight then that is what you need to focus on.

What we do is already so physically demanding. We are athlete and we train like athletes, whether we are singing or dancing. We forget that the voice uses muscles too and we are constantly working it. So you need to listen to how you are feeling.

Lastly, if do you want to try new things, approach someone who is qualified like a trainer or teacher and PLEASE don’t go to Instagram for solid advice. If you are going to Instagram for advice, make sure those people are qualified to be giving the advice. If someone has has won a bikini competition, it does not mean they are qualified to tell you about your anatomy. They are people who have been trained by top coaches for years and years. So, make sure that there is verification that they are qualified, and they know what they are doing.

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