Dancers! Learn to warm up and stretch the right way!

by Danielle Hernandez on March 28, 2019


Dancers, like any serious athlete, need to begin their dancing session with proper warm-up routine. Warm-up exercises help to raise body temperature, increase blood flow, and make your muscles ready for the demanding dancing ahead.

Dancers need to prepare their bodies for more extended and global movements. They also need warm up to ease tension in the muscles and joints. By preparing muscles, dancers can move without stress or strain during dancing and avoid the risks of injury.

Often, dancers neglect warm-up session or rush through a few stretches way too fast. It is a wrong practice, as every dancer's body craves a slow, gradual wake up session. An ideal warm-up will have you covered in sweat even before you start dancing.

Your Ideal Warm-Up Routine - Simplified

Your Ideal Warm-Up Routine - Simplified

The primary purpose of the "warm-up" is to warm up and wake up your body's muscles to improve performance. By warming up, we increase our body's core temperature, which loosens muscles and lubricates joints. This prepares the body for more intense and strenuous movement.

When we warm up our body's, we improve nerve conduction. This is important for dancers because nerve messages travel through the body faster at higher temperatures.

You may be asking yourself "So what does this mean"? It means that the warmer we are, the quicker our nerve responses which result in faster reflexes and muscular reactions. This, in turn, reduces the risk of injury.

Irrespective of the dance form you passionately follow, for the most part, any dancer’s warm-up consists of sitting on the floor and stretching their legs in various positions. But it works against them, as it negatively affects strength, endurance, balance, and speed.

According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a great warm-up has four parts:

  • A gentle pulse-raising section
  • A joint mobilization section
  • A muscle lengthening section
  • A strength/balance building section There are a few ways dancers can create their warm-up routine through a mix of these exercises to "get the kinks out."
  • Roll down the spine
  • Practice isolation exercises like head, shoulder, rib, wrist, pelvis and ankle rolls
  • 5-10 minutes of brisk walking, jumping jacks, light jogging, marching, prancing, skipping, Lunges, Pushups
  • Lengthening and full body movements like reaching and bending up, over, forward and sideways, large arm swings or circles with twisting, dynamic series of bridges or other yoga poses, torso swings, leg swings,
  • Core and stability workouts that include Pilates or Yoga

Warm Up and Stretching Technique for Ballet Dancers

Warm Up and Stretching Technique for Ballet Dancers

Ballet Dancers need a warm up and stretch routine unique to the dance style. For ballet dancers, a warm-up can be considered in terms of two phases: A dynamic warm-up followed by static stretching.

Dynamic Warm Up

A dynamic warm-up is simply moving before you perform stretches. Remember that sitting down to stretch before you have done your warm-up does more harm than good because stretching cold muscles can lead to injury. Dynamic warm-up ensures that blood is flowing through your muscles, loosening and preparing muscles, ligaments as well as joints. The heart rate is gradually raised

A dynamic warm-up typically consists of some of these workouts:

  • Jogging in place
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Leg Swings- holding the barre or a chair

Static Stretches

Static stretches, different from cool-down stretches, are performed right before dancing to prevent muscle injuries.

Ballet dancers apply this technique by keeping their body still to the point of tension and holding the stretch for a few seconds at a time. The stretching helps lengthen and loosen the muscles and increase overall flexibility.

Some of the most common static stretches include

  • Toe Touches
  • Split stretches
  • Leg Stretches

Warm Up for Ballroom Dancers

As a ballroom dancer, quite often you would find no or decidedly less warm up before the class. Therefore it is essential that you do some basic warm-ups with your partner or alone to get your body ready. Remember to do them in the order suggested working through your tired muscles progressively.

Leg Exercises

  • Walking knee to chest or standing knee to chest for balancing
  • Lunges- walking or static
  • Calf Stretch with partner or pushing against the wall
  • Quad stretch with a partner or holding a barre
  • Forward Bend

Neck, Back and shoulder exercises

  • Shoulder rolls
  • Neck Stretch
  • Shoulder Activation on Wall
  • Shoulder Stretch with partners
  • Partner chest opener
  • Partner Back bend
  • Side body stretch

Warming up for Jazz dancers

The warm-up for jazz dancers is slightly different. It starts with a stretch routine to gently increase flexibility. Following the stretch routine, there are isolation exercises to warm up specific body parts.

  • Small, continuous movements, followed by light jogging in place
  • Mobilizing joints to open up ankle joints, hip joints, shoulder joints and spine with exercises like ankle circles, hip circles, arm circles, spinal flexion, and extension.
  • Lengthen muscles using hamstring stretch, thigh stretch
  • Build strength and balance with oblique criss-cross, balancing on one leg exercises.

    A Quick Note on Isolations:

    As you use warm-ups and stretches to get ready for your dance class, try doing isolations. Isolations are a series of warm-ups that help the body feel more agile. Isolations let you focus on one body part at a time. The correct posture and alignment are fundamental while practicing isolations, and so is the need to focus on the isolated part entirely while leaving the rest of the body completely still.

    Some common isolations are Neck isolations, hip swings, heel raises, leg swings, and lunge stretch.

    Isolations should initially be performed in supervision and once mastered, and the dancers can enjoy these workouts as part of their warmup routine to prep the body in a better way.

    What Should an Effective Warm-Up Do?

    An ideal warm-up should help you in these ways:

    • Prepare dancers- both mentally as well as physically
    • Increase coordination and proprioception
    • Increase heart rate and gradually increase blood circulation
    • Increase body temperature
    • Permits freer movement of the joints
    • Improve neuro sensory perception and impulse
    • Improve performance and reduce the prevalence of injuries.

    Remember, a warm-up not leave you feeling tired, and it should always have simple and low impact movements which are controlled, continuous and with correct alignment to reduce the risk of injury. By the end of the warm-up, you should feel warm, relaxed and ready to start dancing.

    Professional performers often conduct a warm-up routine of minimum 30-40 minutes every time.

    Stretching and Cool Down

    Stretching and Cool Down

    Cooling down is just as important as warm up, and must be done after dancing. It helps to reduce muscle soreness and speeds up the recovery process after the activity.

    The best time to gain flexibility is after your body is sufficiently worked out. Using static stretches to help cool your body down after a long dance class helps in increasing flexibility. The stretches should be performed more slowly, and dancers must concentrate on breathing.

    Dancing increases hormones adrenaline and endorphins, in circulations which can lead to restlessness and sleep. Stopping the activity suddenly would lead blood to pool within the muscles rather than returning to the brain, causing dizziness. All the dancing will also lead to toxins like lactic acid getting accumulated which is the reason for all the stiffness and soreness as well as gives you cramps and muscle spasms.

    Through stretching, you can bring the breathing rate down slowly, and reverse the warm-up process.

    Recovery Stretches After Dancing

    • Stretching your back, hamstrings, buttocks, and calves with ankle stretches and side stretches.
    • Hip flexors, preferably while involving a partner to ensure an increased range of motion.
    • Abductor stretch for your shoulders.
    • Stretching your inner thighs using the butterfly position

    Tips For Dancers

    • Ensure you move into the stretch slowly, hold it still and ease yourself out of the stretch gently Make sure you move into the stretch slowly, keep it still, and move out of the stretch slowly.
    • Remember to breathe normally and emphasize the stretch when exhaling.
    • Stretching with your friend or dance partner provides more resistance, and your body can also have some recovery time while you assist them in stretching themselves. It also increases your stretching options.
    • Pay attention to your body and don’t push it too far. Don't ignore any pain you might be feeling and discuss with your instructor or medical practitioner.

    Most dance teachers go right to grand plies to commence warm up. This is very hard on the knees and hips when the muscles and joints are tight. I like to begin my warm up with a combination of exercises that heat the muscles and joints before going into any deep stretching.

    I combine elements of yoga, pilates, and light resistance exercises to warm the muscles up. Once warm, I then go into stretching bigger muscle groups first, like the quads and hamstrings. I then graduate to smaller muscles like the inside thigh and Iliopsoas.

    In my classes, I want to make sure I am ready for that first plie. For those of you that perform and compete, it is essential to keep moving around between stage times to keep your body warm and ready for peak performance.


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