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Warming up: Absolute necessity or waste of time?

Updated: Dec 21, 2018

Have you ever wondered why some teachers use a warm up and others don’t? So have we!!

Here at The Dance Guru we have experienced many types of dance lessons that have started with or without a warm up. So why is there such a difference, especially across different dance styles?

We remember back to our ballet days and absolutely without fail our classes started with warm up and barre exercises. We were encouraged to start the class clad in multiple layers of home knit ballet wear and invariably would strip down to little more than a leotard by the end of the session.

But fast forward 20 years to our first experience of social dance lessons and the first thing the instructor says is ‘find a partner let’s get started’ and before you know you’re being swung around the dance floor in multiple directions with cold muscles. Now, this wasn’t so much a problem when you are younger, but as we have aged, we can literally feel our muscles screaming at us if we're taken on to the dance floor for a fast salsa dance without so much as a sniff or hint of a warm up, and that is where we believe the injuries begin.

So what happens to our body after an effective warm up?

An effective warm up helps reduce our risk of injury by mobilising our joints, releasing synovial fluid and increasing adrenaline levels. A warm up also helps our circulatory system to pump more oxygen-rich blood to our muscles. Once this happens our muscles become more flexible. By gradually increasing circulation we are distributing more oxygen throughout the body and getting it ready for the increased demands of the exercise we are about to bestow upon it. Our heart is prepared for the increased activity gradually, preventing a rapid change in blood pressure.

Physiologically, cold muscles do not absorb shock or impact as well as warm muscles. All types of physical exercise, not just dance should be preceded by an effective and relevant warm up. What do we mean by relevant? Well relevant for the type of exercise and muscle groups you will be using during your physical exercise; the warm up exercises should be specific for the activities your will be doing later.

Often, we use lower intensity, lower impact and slower versions of the activity we’ll be doing later. For example, you go to a high energy aerobics class where later you’ll be jumping up and down and creating a high energy routine, but first you start with a moderate paced step tap, step knee, small arm movement routine which gradually gets faster, steps higher, moves further and so on. If you’re going for a run you might start with a walk, then a jog and maybe some intervals of each before you burst right out at 10 mph sprint!

Quite often we see people stretching before the activity. This is rarely needed. The purpose of stretching is to return the muscles to the relative length that they were before the exercise, since exercise makes our muscles contract, so we need to stretch them back. Development stretching is different and is done on purpose to increase the level of flexibility and should not be confused with maintenance stretching.

When warming up for a dance activity we should generally stick to the FITT principles:

Frequency: Every time we dance

Intensity: Low to medium in comparison to the actual dance activity to be performed later

Time: 10 to 15 minutes or longer depending on how many muscle groups we need to engage

Type: paying particular focus to large muscle groups first and then anything specific to the type of movements to be performed later, trying to do lower impact, less intense versions.

Whilst we have talked about physical reasons for warming up, there is also the mental preparation for a dancer either for practice or performance and using an effective warm up can help to focus the mind better.

So in our humble opinion, we believe that a Warm up is absolute necessity and never a waste of time.. It’s off to the barre we go!

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