Stretching and Warming Up
Dancing of any kind is physically demanding, exposing the muscles and joints to a variety of unfamiliar positions and movements. Nothing takes away more from the fun and enjoyment of dance than an injury, which is why stretching and warming up should be the most important part of any dancer’s routine. After all, no injuries means more time in the studio becoming a better dancer!
Get There Early!Allow yourself enough time to fully prepare for the dance class ahead. It is each dancer’s responsibility to ensure they have sufficient time to warm up before class. This is different for each individual, depending on age and fitness level, however arriving 20-30 minutes before class will allow you to prepare your mind and body to get the most out of your dance class. Don’t rely on the warm up provided by your teacher at the beginning of class, which is often only a couple of minutes. Your teacher will expect that you have prepared your body fully to take on the many challenges of the class and the best way to do this is by taking your time.
Warm your Core…The first step of an effective warm up routine involves raising the body temperature. Walking briskly around the room, or marching on the spot for a few minutes are effective ways of increasing the body’s core temperature, which will encourage blood flow to the muscles, and lubricate joints. Increasing your heart rate delivers more oxygen to the muscles, preparing them for high levels of activity.
Stretch it Baby!Stretching the muscles before dancing allows greater flexibility and keeps injuries at bay. Start by targeting the large muscle groups, such as the quads or hamstrings, with long, slow stretches held for 10-15 seconds and repeated a couple of times on each side. Approach your stretches as you would a dance routine - in other words, focus and breathe.
Continue the warm up using isolated movements, like rotating the shoulder, elbow or hip joints. Target key areas that are specific to the class you are taking that day, for example the ankles and knees for a tap class, or the inner thigh and quad muscles for ballet. This will allow you greater movement and flexibility in the areas that will be required most. You need your muscles to be warm and stretchy to support the joints and bones to prevent injury. Try these:
- Lunge stretch - to stretch your quads and hamstrings.
Ensure your hips are facing the leading leg and the back leg is straight. Place hands either side of the leading leg, flat on the floor. The front leg should be bent at 90 degrees, with the knee directly above the foot. Rock back, lengthening the front leg, ensuring hips are square. Gently press the stomach towards the knee whilst maintaining length through the spine. Hold for a minimum of 10 seconds in both positions and repeat 2-3 times on each side.
- Inner thigh stretch
There are a few ways to stretch the inner thigh muscles, but try sitting on the floor with the knees bent. Bring the feet together and allow the legs to gently fall out to either side. Ensure the spine is lengthened and gently press the knees toward the floor with the elbows. For a more intense stretch, bring the stomach towards the feet, keeping the back straight and the neck in alignment with the spine to avoid straining. Inhale and exhale deeply four times in this position, bringing the upper body closer to the floor on each exhalation.
Cool DownSo you’ve had a fun and injury-free dance class? Fantastic! Reward your body’s efforts with a cool down to gradually return it to a resting state. Slow, fluid movements and soft stretches will relax the body, maintain flexibility and prevent stiffness and pain the following day.
Dancing is challenging enough, without having to contend with injuries. Preventing them requires dedication to warming up, stretching and cooling down. A good warm up is an effective one, so always allow enough time and stretch according to the muscles and joints that will be put under the most amount of strain that day. Create a warm up routine that develops your weaker areas, to ensure balanced strength within the body, which will reduce the chance of injury and allow you to become the dancer you want to be!