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Warm Up!

By Erik Whitney

Dance is art, no argument, but it is also athletic. A dancer, like any athlete, must prepare her/his body for the demands of performance. Everyone is an "expert" on exercise, though well intentioned, misinformation can lead to chronic injury.

Exercise advice should come from a qualified professional. With that in mind, I asked Erik Whitney who holds a Bachelor of Science in Applied Exercise and Sports Science is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a Massage Therapist, and a Certified Personal Trainer to share his thoughts on what constitutes a safe and effective warm up.

Salome: Why warm up?

Erik: Warming up increases the blood flow to large muscle groups. The increased blood flow makes the core body temperature go up. When the body temperature rises the muscles and tendons are warmer and therefore more pliable and less likely to tear or break.

Think of your muscles like a rubber band- if you put a rubber band in the refrigerator, got it cold and then tried to stretch it, it wouldn't stretch far before it broke. On the other hand if you set the rubber band in the sun, warmed it up, it stretches much further and is unlikely to break. You can actually do this experiment- it works- and the material that makes up muscles and tendons is really similar to rubber! Stretching will actually lengthen a muscle over time, just like if I stretched a rubber band between 2 points and left it there for awhile it would be all stretched out.

Salome: What should a warm up include?

Erik: The first section of your warm up is cardio. It needs to be an activity that uses large muscle groups and movement specific to your application. Actually, lightly doing and gradually increasing the intensity of the specific movements you are going to work on is optimal.

Salome: So I can gently go through dance movements, gradually increasing the intensity of execution and that will fulfill the cardio requirement of my warm up?

Erik: Exactly, but walking, jogging, or calisthenics will do. The activity needs to last approximately 10 minutes and the goal is to break a LIGHT sweat.

Salome: What's next?

Erik: After this do ballistic- bouncing type stretches- for 2 sets of 10 each. All you're trying to do is prepare your body for real life movement.

Salome: What are ballistic stretches?

Erik: Ballistic stretches are just like regular stretches. The difference is you don't just hold the stretch, you lightly bounce in it. By bouncing, the stretch is ballistic by definition BUT be clear that I advise a light bounce, I'm not asking for hard core, explosive, ballistic movement. There is a big difference between the two.

People who think ballistic stretching is inadvisable are going old school - they would have been right in the 70's, 80's, or 90's. But thoughts, research, and technology have evolved rapidly in the last 5-10 years. Ballistic movements could hurt the muscles if proper warm-up was skipped or if their idea of ballistic is doing everything full strength and speed.

It's the principle of specificity. You practice like you play. Normal sporting activities, dance included, are mainly ballistic by nature and you must prepare your body for that. How many poses do you really hold for 30 seconds in a routine? Not many. Mostly you do a lot of very quick "ballistic" type movements.

Salome: What comes after cardio and ballistic stretches?

Erik: The next activity is your dance (class/rehearsal/performance). After dance is your best opportunity to make improvements in flexibility. Stretches should be done in sets of 3 and held for 30 seconds- not a 30 count- but actually 30 seconds. These stretches need to be performed at least 3 times a week to see improvements- and improvements will come faster the more its done- it can even be done several times a day every day!