Why your traditional warm-up routine may need updating...
Posted: Apr 09 2020
For Blog Post 2, we’re discussing WARM UP. Is it really as clear-cut as it seems? And are old traditions actually the safest way to go?
In our experience, when a teacher asks students to ‘warm-up’, most will immediately sit down and begin a lengthy static-stretching routine. But hang on, isn’t warm-up supposed to get your heart beating faster? YES! Static stretching is actually far better suited to the cool-down, which we will discuss in our next blog post. During this tricky period of working-out at home, we thought we’d help to keep you safe by giving you some great tips for how best to get ready for your daily exercise.
What is warm-up for?
A warm-up is supposed to happen before you move into your main body of exercise, and you should aim to achieve the following;
- Get your heart pumping faster (to pump all-important oxygen around your body)
- Loosen and lubricate your joints (so that you’re ready for those grands battements!)
- Get your nerves firing faster (so that you’re on top-form 😉)
All of us can read that and say ‘OK none of that is going to be achieved with static stretching’. In fact, if you static stretch when you’re cold, your muscles may actually get TIGHTER in order to protect themselves, and even more importantly, scientific research has proven that static stretching WEAKENS the muscles for the next 30 minutes, which is not what you want just before ballet barre or contemporary class. (For any who are unsure, static stretching is where you hold a stretch for longer than 6 seconds.)
And by the way, warming-up does not mean ‘put on loads of extra layers until you are nice and cosy’. This might feel lovely but it’s not actually going to help prepare your body for exercise 😉
So how should we warm up?
If you can achieve all of the above then you’re sorted. How about:
- A yoga sequence done at an increasing pace until your heart is beating fast and you are slightly out of breath (we wouldn’t recommend running or jumping because this is high-impact and you need to be warmed up already to do this safely)
OR a few minutes on a cross-trainer or exercise bike (impact-free)
- Dynamic stretching such as leg swings, lunges, hip circles, shoulder and ankle rolls etc to get your joints mobilised, but never holding positions for longer than 5 seconds.
- Your own sequence of pliés, tendus, port de bras and rises (no jumping!)
Stick on your favourite tunes and go for it for between 2 and 5 minutes, or maybe even up to 10 minutes if you’ve got the time. Now you’re ready for class.
Do dancers ACTUALLY do all this?
To help us understand warm-up habits better, we spoke with Dan Baines (20) who trains at Rambert, London, and is also an apprentice with Balletboyz. Dan arrives at least half an hour before every class in order to put his body through a proper warm up (yeah, he’s that dedicated!). Or, sometimes in the middle of the day he’ll spend some time in the gym to get his body nice and warm for class. He says that all the students at Rambert are this devoted and "it’s a really important part of taking responsibility for your own body-health". Moreover, he stresses that "a good warm-up is also about being mentally prepared for the class or rehearsal ahead, and for getting yourself centred in the space". Dan adds that over time you learn what your body needs from a good warm up, and it’s worth taking some time to analyse how your body is feeling on that particular day – are there any tight or sore areas? Is an old injury playing up? Do you have a new injury? Then you can spend some time working on that area in a safe way.
We also spoke to Dan Lane (21), who is training in Musical Theatre at Trinity Laban, London. Dan says that in most of his classes the teacher will lead a warm-up at the beginning of class, and this means it’s really important to arrive on time. Students arriving late will miss the warm-up and it’s vital for staying healthy and uninjured. He adds that it’s important to match the warm-up to the style of the class. We think Dan has a great point here! For example, warming up for a tap class will focus on mobilising the knees and ankles, while firing up the core and quads… whereas warming up for a ballet class will include a lot more hip and foot mobilisation, amongst everything else.
If you have questions about how to best warm up for your specific class, then we suggest contacting your dance teacher to ask. You never know, you may even be able to convince them to make a warm-up video for you to use at home.
What do the experts say?
For a professional viewpoint we spoke to Tasha Danischewsky, who is a physiotherapist at Addenbrookes hospital Cambridge, and teaches Pilates. She wanted to add how important warming-up is for providing oxygen to fire your muscles. Getting your heart and blood pumping around your body is important not just for oxygen but also for delivering nutrients such as electrolytes to your muscles, which helps with endurance.
Tasha added that the warm-up itself doesn’t need to be high intensity because you’re just aiming to get “your heart beating at a rate that is able to sustain your exercise”.
Even more importantly, Tasha says: “If you’ve been sat down, this doesn’t prepare your body well for dancing e.g. sitting on the bus or waiting around for class. It’s therefore much better to warm-up upright because then you’re retraining and getting your body into a position of readiness. A standing warm-up helps you to prepare from your centre out, so that your balance and coordination is lined up from your centre point. You’ll be more ready for dancing because you’re getting feedback from the floor, plus training your balance systems and inner ear.”
So, the moral of the story is: when you’re warming up, don’t sit down!
If you found the information on the disadvantages of passive stretching in a warm-up interesting, then take a look at this article from the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/sports/playmagazine/112pewarm.html
(remember by clicking on a link you will navigate away from our website)
It also includes information on a good warm-up routine and some helpful suggestions, with diagrams, for dynamic stretching. We’ll go into stretching in more detail in a future blog post.
If you’ve got anything to add to this post, such as useful links or extra information, then please join the conversation below 😊
Finally, we’d love to hear from you about ideas and themes that you’d like us to explore in these blog posts, so please drop us an email if you have any requests: hello@boysdancetooUK.com