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  • Writer's pictureDr. Carrie Skony, DC, CCSP

Ready, Set, Dance: Understanding the Importance of Warming-Up for Dancers

For optimal performance in dance and to prevent injuries, it's essential for dancers of all ages to engage in a targeted warm-up routine before each class or performance. While many dancers include stretching into their pre-class routine, stretching alone is not considered a warm-up and does not effectively prepare a dancer’s body for class. In fact, static stretching alone can actually inhibit a dancer’s performance by temporarily limiting strength and power output. Read on to learn more about proper warm-ups for dancers.


What are the Main Goals of a Warm-Up in Dance?

Goal #1: To Get Your Body WARM!

This happens through elevating your heart rate, which raises your core body

temperature. It’s surprising how many dance warm up routines miss this main goal! An

increased heart and body temperature prepares your muscles, tendons, and ligaments

for the demands of dancing that will follow. An elevated heart rate also increases your

breathing rate, which supplies more oxygen to your muscles, and means you’ll be able to

generate more strength in class with reduced risk of injury.


Any pre-class, or beginning of class, routine that does not increase your heart rate is not

considered sufficient for a warm-up. Good news though, increased heart rate and body

temperature may be part of your class warm up already! But if you ever notice that your

heart rate or body temp is not increasing within the first 10 minutes of class, you may

need to consider warming up prior to class.


Getting warm also involves activating any and all muscles that will be used in class. A

favorite way to do this is through whole body complex movement patterns, like squats

with arms overhead, lateral or walking lunges with spinal rotations, or skipping with arm

swings, to name a few.


Goal #2: To Mobilize Your Joints

Joints are lubricated with fluid that helps them move freely and optimally. During a warm

up, a dancer should gradually mobilize and increase the range of motion in any and all

joints that will be used during class to help increase lubrication of the joint.


Easing into these positions is imperative to prevent injury. This does not mean starting

out in your biggest stretch, straddle or split before class. Also, warming up your range of

motion does NOT involve popping your hips, neck, back, or toes, a common practice

among dancers.


Most commonly we think of mobilizing the hips, feet and ankles, but the neck, back,

shoulders, and knees also need the same attention in your warm up. Things like

shoulder circles, hip circles, or rolling through your spine are ways that you can mobilize

your joints.


Goal #3: Dynamic Stretching

Unlike static stretching where you hold a stretch in a stationary position for a period of

time, dynamic stretching is stretching through active movements. An example of static

stretching is sitting in the splits or straddle, which generally should not be part of a

proper warm-up routine. Whereas dynamic stretching is the process of gradually

increasing stretch through controlled movements, like a battement.


Dynamic stretching is typically regarded as the most effective stretching method for

warming up. It allows for the safe transition of muscles from full contraction to full stretch.

Besides improving flexibility and preparing muscles for activity, dynamic stretching also

helps keep the body temperature elevated, compared to static stretching which is better

suited for after class cool-downs.


Goal #4: Prepare Your Nervous System

Often overlooked is the goal of getting your nervous system ready to dance too. When

you warm-up, you stimulate your nervous system and increase blood flow to the brain,

which promotes alertness and cognitive readiness. It’s an important transition from sitting

in school, or other activities of your day. Your nervous system is responsible for

coordinating muscle activity, and for controlling your balance and reflexes. When you

start dancing without a warm-up, your nervous system is likely not functioning optimally

and you may be at increased risk for injury as a result.


Goal #5: Mental Clarity & Focus

Warming up is not only about physical readiness but also about mental preparation. A

proper warm-up allows dancers to transition from a state of rest or inactivity to an active

and alert state. Going through a warm-up routine triggers a psychological switch,

signaling the brain that it's time to focus and perform. It helps dancers mentally prepare

for the demands of their training and can help reduce anxiety before performances.

The warm-up phase also increases the mind-body connection. It encourages dancers to

connect their physical movements with mental cues and strategies.


This whole process will improve your concentration by shifting your focus away from

external distractions and towards class instruction, alignment, technique and

choreography. The mental readiness achieved through warm-ups helps dancers perform

their best.


How long should my warm-up be?

Generally, it should take about 15-20 minutes to gradually increase temperature, heart

rate, stretch appropriate muscles, and mobilize your joints.


Do I need to warm-up before or as part of EVERY class or performance?

Typically, yes. Once both your body temperature and your heart rate have returned to

normal, then you should warm-up again before you begin dancing full out. If you’ve

already been dancing in the last couple hours, your subsequent warm-ups may be able

to be shorter in duration to get the same desired results.


The need to warm up can sometimes depend on other factors like how cold or warm is

the temperature in your classroom/backstage? Are you able to wear warm-up clothing to

help raise the temperature of muscles and joints? Or did you just run into the studio with

shorts on in the middle of January? (this is NOT doctor recommended by the way, I see

you teenage dancers!) Also, keep in mind that in general, the time between the end of

the warm-up and the start of class should be kept to a minimum so the body does not

cool down.


In summary,


A Warm Up IS NOT:

  • Sitting in a straddle or the splits for 3 minutes.

  • Cracking all of your joints before class.

  • Running into class at the last minute and jumping in.

  • Foam rolling or using a massage gun for 10 minutes.

  • Chit-chatting casually with your classmates about your day while you wait for your

A Warm Up IS:

  • Increasing your heart rate and body temperature through movement and exercise at the beginning of, or prior to class.

  • Gradually mobilizing all of your joints into full ranges of motion.

  • Dynamic (active) stretching of muscles like your hamstrings, hip flexors, and calf

  • muscles that you plan to use in class.

  • Mentally preparing for class by setting your intention and focus on class instruction,

By being consistent with a proper warm-up routine, dancers of all ages and abilities

systematically prepare their body for dance, optimize performance, reduce their risk of injury,

and enhance their overall readiness for practice or performance.



 


Looking for more dancer health and injury prevention tips? Follow us over at @drcarrieskony on Instagram and Facebook, find us at www.performactivewellness.com, or reach out to us anytime at hello@performactivewellness.com.



Dr. Carrie Skony, DC, CCSP

Dr. Carrie Skony is a Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician®, Dance Medicine Specialist, and the owner of PERFORM Active Wellness + Dance Medicine in Lisle, IL. Utilizing physical rehab, functional exercise and a holistic approach, Dr. Skony has been treating dancers throughout the Chicago area since 2006. She provides one on one, personalized and dancer-specific injury assessment and treatment in addition to injury prevention programs and education. She particularly enjoys educating and empowering young dancers to learn how to care for their whole bodies well to inspire long term health and reduce the risk for injuries so they can dance safer, stronger, longer. 


Dr. Skony serves as a consulting physician for several pre-professional and professional dance companies throughout Chicagoland. She has been a contributing writer on dancer’s health and injury prevention for Dance Informa magazine, Irish Dancing Magazine, and Pointe magazine. Dr. Skony was a nominee for the International Association of Dance Medicine & Science “Dance Educator of the Year Award” in 2020, is on the Advisory Board for Doctors for Dancers, and one of the Founding Members of DanseMedica, a collaboration of dance specialists committed to the health of dancers everywhere. 



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