After various injuries and surgeries, I have strong feelings about dance warm ups. It’s the number one reason I avoid going to classes that aren’t my own or taught by someone I trust. I would venture to say it is a major reason for injuries. So, let’s talk about the importance:
Stretching is so important for dancers, as we rely on flexibility for many moves. So how should stretching be done? NOT BEFORE YOU HAVE GOTTEN YOUR BLOOD FLOWING! I could rephrase that as:
Rule #1 – Don’t stretch before you have warmed your body up cardiovascularly
Rule #2 – Refer to Rule #1
Rule Infinity – REFER TO RULE #1
Why am I so passionate on this?? Well, it’s this: Muscles without a warm, strong blood flow are pretty stiff, and so when you stretch them you are much more likely to stretch tendons and ligaments instead. Tendons and ligaments do not have the blood flow that muscles do, so when you injure them, they don’t really like to heal very much. Some dancers don’t notice this stiffness until after age 25, so when you get these young whipper snapper teachers in a classroom, they just pop into a stretch like it’s nothing, and I look at them, shake my head, and know they will pay for it later.
2-How to Cardio
Please please please please please don’t start with jumping jacks. Or any jumping. Jumping involves SO much jarring and impact, and on a body that isn’t already warm, that is so hard on your joints throughout your whole system. Start with large movement, use the core as much as possible (a warm core warms the rest of the body faster than anything), and be aware and careful of joints and connective tissue. Do at least 3-5 minutes of this large movement.
3-Stretching part 2
If you are going to stretch after warming your body up, start with the larger muscles first. Larger muscles are quads, calves, obliques, and arms are also fine in this. Smaller muscles such as hamstrings and inner thighs need to wait until after larger muscles are stretched. HOWEVER, in an ideal world the major stretching is done at the end of class, as there is better guarantee that the body will be sufficiently warm, and it can be counter-productive to stretch and in effect, relax, the body before trying to amp up for jumps, turns, and choreography.
That’s really it for now. Don’t over-stretch the hamstrings. Be smart, don’t push the body beyond what is healthy, it will eventually push back. And remember that I am not a doctor, so any exercise should be done under the supervision of a physician.