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Warm up wars…what actually makes a good warm up?

In my personal experience, and it may not be the same for everyone, both during my time in vocational training and hearing and seeing other students vocational training experience- dance classes can be very intense. Warm-ups have become a cardio-challenge including many different jumps and even burpees, followed by more intense routines. And what’s more, the students would then start to determine a “good-class” by how knackered they were coming out of it.

Is this the case? Should we be tired after our warm-up?

The purpose of a warm-up is to gradually prepare the body for dance/ exercise/ movement… first key word here being gradually, rather than being thrown into intense exercises we aren’t ready for. The second key word being prepare, our bodies are not necessarily ready for the movement and dance coming up in the session and we need to get them ready, warm, mobile and activated.

If the warm-up is just as intense if not more intense than the rest of the session, then our bodies are not ready for that and we could experience fatigue or overwork (known causes of injury). If the warm-up is ineffective in preparing our bodies for the session then muscles may not be warm enough, joints may not be mobile enough and we might not be mentally ready for the session, whether that is a class, rehearsal or a performance.


In the second national study into dancer’s health and injury in the UK (Fit to Dance 2002), participants reported what they thought was the cause of their injury:

16% insufficient warm up

32% overwork

28% fatigue

Fit to dance 2, 2002


Building the perfect warm up

When putting together a warm-up there are a few things to think about:

Gradual increase in heart rate and temperature- this is still a light intensity where performers should start to perspire but should still be able to hold a conversation

This will increase blood flow to the muscles, stimulate the somatic nervous system and aid mental preparation.

Mobilisation of the joints- this is important when thinking about the range of motion a dancer’s joints are required to go through in performance

You need to consider the range and type of motion at each joint and make sure it is prepared for loading. Mobilisation work will also help to lengthen the muscles connected.

Flexibility/ lengthening of the muscles- mixture of dynamic and shorter static stretches to ensure muscles are at their optimum length for movement.

Moving the muscles through a stretched and shortened state and gradually increasing the amount of movement will help to safely reach the range of motion required in the session.

Activation of the muscles- Potentiate! This is the part of the warm up specifically designed to wake up the muscles you need to be working in the up-coming session by using more basic, broken-down and less intense versions of the movements. For example using abdominal bracing to ensure the performer is aware of their core engagement or incline press-ups where there is a lot of pushing or getting up of the floor.

How long should a warm-up be?

Any warm-up for exercise should be, at the very least, 3 minutes long. However, depending on the up-coming session a thorough warm up can be as long as 30 minutes. When thinking about how long you are going to warm up for you should consider the length, intensity and movement of the session and be able to adapt the warm-up accordingly.

Whether you are about to move in a class, rehearsal or a performance, the warm-up is integral for your safe practice and personal preservation.

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