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!