Before asking our bodies to do the physical demands required in dancing, we need to adequately prepare. A proper warm up will enhance your performance but it will also prevent injury. Sometimes, we feel rushed or pressed for time, and we hurry through a warm up, only to find later that we are sore or tight. Our bodies crave a quality warm up. In other words, before you start dancing... you should be sweating! Let's talk warm up!
Coming into the dance studio and dropping into the splits or throwing your leg up on the bar or next to your face is not the best way to approach warming up. It's important to understand the different types of warm up, and what you are trying to achieve during each phase of your warm up. Also keep in mind, our bodies are all different. You may need more or less of any phase, or may need to re-work the order. Since everybody's bodies need different things, it is important to take note on what feels good and what works for you.
Note: Every dancer should have their own "personalized" warm up to do for themselves by themselves at auditions, before class, or just in the mornings before starting their day! We suggest writing down exercises you love from your classes and create your own flow and routine.
Now, let's talk movement. A complete warm up will feature all types of warm ups listed below.
Jumping straight to stretching can potentially harm a muscle that is not ready to move. A "dynamic warm up" will get the blood flowing, and it warms up all of your moving parts - muscles, joints and ligaments. It prepares the body for big movement, by starting small.
For example, start with jumping jacks or running around the studio to get the blood pumping. Then, start opening joints. Pay close attention to the hip joints, spine, feet and ankles. Remember your posture throughout the warm up. Tighten those abdominals by thinking "belly button to your spine." You are strengthening your core while sending blood flow and warmth to your muscles, joints and ligaments.
Static stretching means you are holding a stretch for a certain length of time. This stretching will help maintain flexibility, and correct muscle imbalances. Holding a stretch will return a muscle to its normal length, after contracting during lots of movement. Static stretching also releases stress and tension within the muscle. This is best used at the end of a warm up, as well as at the end of dance class when your muscles are warm and open to stretching.
After a lot of major and quick movement, the body enters the recovery phase. During activity, your core body temperature rose, your heart beat is faster, and your blood pressure increased. If you simply walk away, the high levels of adrenaline can cause sleepless nights and you may feel restless for the rest of the day. You will also feel sore, because you didn't work out the fluid and waste products (lactic acid) produced by your muscles during high activity. In order to return to normal, the body has to make changes to move from full, heightened physical ability, to its regular-activity state. The cool down helps aid the body through this process.
Research is showing that self massage techniques are helping prepare the body for warm ups and high intensity movement. Fascia is soft tissue in our connective tissue which provides support and protection to our muscles. The soft tissue can become tight due to overuse or injury. When this happens, the soft tissue becomes tense and there is diminished blood flow throughout the muscle. Releasing this tension will help increase the blood flow to the muscle, which will aid in a better warm up and less restricted movement.
If you haven't danced in awhile, start off slow. Don't stress your body out by jumping into a dynamic warm up. Just get your heart beating a little, and focus on static stretches for awhile. Work your way up, safely! Remember that warming up will make you a better dancer. You'll perform better and be safer! Plus, you'll feel better afterwards!
Tell us: What is your favorite warm up exercise/stretch?