Warming up before dance class or a performance prepares the body for the movement demands to come. There is a nearly immediate positive correlation that dancers can easily recognize – “If I warm up now, I dance better in 15 minutes.” However, the negative correlation between not cooling down after dancing and feeling sore 1-2 days later may not hit home as much due to the delayed effect. Dancers’ time is limited with other things demanding attention like eating, schoolwork, spending time with friends and family, etc. so the cool down period after dance is often skipped.
Why is a cool down so important?
A quick change from dancing to not dancing causes the heart rate and breathing to slow too quickly, leaving blood that was just circulating throughout your body to pool in your limbs. This allows metabolic waste products (accumulated by the muscles when dancing) to stick around rather than be flushed out. This can contribute to muscle soreness 1-2 days following your dance activity. So, before you sit in the car on the ride home, make sure you end your dance session with a cool down.
A good cool down should last 5-15 minutes with the goals of muscle relaxation and progressive return of the heart and breathing rates to normal resting rates. This is done by continuing to move at a decreased intensity (i.e. gentle running, leg swings, etc.) and safe stretching. By continuing to move, your muscles will pump the waste products out and help your body recover faster. Moderate intensity static stretches can be performed during the cool down – NOT during a warm-up! Target the large muscles groups used most during the preceding dance activity and hold approximately 30 seconds, 3-5 repetitions each. Contract-relax stretching can be great during this time as the muscles are warm and able to safely elongate during the relaxation phase with the added benefit of pumping the waste products out during the contraction phase. The length of a cool down will vary depending on time of day, intensity level of activity performed, and environmental temperature. It is important to still be mindful when cooling down to avoid poor postural habits and potentially stretching joints rather than muscles. This can be a great time to reflect on the dance session and any new insights or positive changes noted.
If you would like more information on how to incorporate a cool down into your dance training, email me at email@example.com or connect with me on Instagram @head2toe_physical therapy!
I recently spoke to a dancer who told me 4 fellow dancers in her competition company were injured within 2 months. She believed it was related to discontinued or shortened warm-ups before rehearsals. I think she could be right…
Dancers usually take part a warm-up at the beginning of class because dance teachers understand its importance. Sometimes the dancers themselves know injuries can happen if they don’t warm up and know they perform better when warm. However, I sometimes find that students don’t understand the importance of warming up and go along with it simply because it’s part of class. So, what actually happens during a good warm-up? How it can positively affect dance performance?
First, let’s get clear about one thing… Sitting on the floor to stretch before class is NOT A WARM UP!!! Static stretching has its place at the end of a class or rehearsal during the cool-down phase (also very important and will be discussed in a later blog).
The goal of a warm-up is to warm the body and prepare it for the dance demands to come. This means warm-ups should look different for different styles and levels of dance. Regardless of type of dance, every warm-up has the same goals: increase the heart rate with general movement, mobilize the joints, dynamic stretching of large muscle groups, and increase the heart rate with dance-specific movement.
What really happens during an effective warm-up?
The benefits are clear, but how long should you be warming up?
A warm-up should last approximately 15 minutes. However, there are certain factors that can influence this timeframe. A longer warm-up duration is needed in the mornings and evenings (as compared to middle of the day), as we age, and in cold or wet environments. Keeping in mind that a warm-up prepares the body for what is to come, a longer warm-up may also be necessary in preparation for advanced classes with increased intensity and activity demands compared to beginner classes.
It is super important to warm up before every class, rehearsal, performance, competition, and audition in order to prevent injuries and keep you dancing your best. If you would like warm-up recommendations, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Instagram @head2toe_physical therapy – I would love to help!