For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
Here's how to put those four recommendations into practice:
Gently Raise Your Pulse
When your body's temperature increases, your tissues become more pliable and elastic. (You may need to spend more time on this during colder months, like February.)
Start with small, continual movements, such as prancing in place. Gradually increase the range of motion and pace to something like light jogging. Continue for 1-5 minutes until your breathing gets faster and your heart rate increases.
Start every warm up by gently getting the blood moving
Mobilize Your Joints
Gently open up the ankle joints, hip joints, shoulder joints and spine during your warmup so that once you're dancing, they're prepared to move through more extreme ranges of motion.
1. Ankle Circles
Sitting with your legs extended in front of you, circle your ankles through their full range of motion, making your circles bigger each time. Repeat 10 times in both directions.
2. Hip Circles
Lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, open one knee to the side as far as you can while keeping a neutral pelvis. Slide your foot along the floor until your knee is extended and your leg returns to parallel. Repeat 5-8 times on each leg.
3. Arm circles
Lying on your back with your ribcage gently touching the mat, reach your arms toward the ceiling. Circle your arms back and out to the side. Repeat 5-8 times in both directions.
4. Spinal Flexion and Extension
Sitting on a chair, bend your head toward your knees to flex your spine. Then reverse the movement to articulate your spine into extension. Repeat 5 times.
Lengthen Your Muscles
Once you're warm, do some dynamic stretching. Brief stretches that are held for less than 15 seconds and lengthen the muscles by activating the opposing muscles won't negatively affect your performance and can help relive any tension.
Lying on your back, bend your knee towards your chest. Extend your leg by engaging your quad. Repeat 5-10 times.
From a lunge position, slowly engage the glutes to move down into deeper lunge to stretch the thigh. Repeat 5-10 times.
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Build Strength and Balance
Finish your warm up with strengthening exercises and some balance training.
Start by lying on your back with your legs in a tabletop position. Extend one leg while rotating the opposite shoulder towards the bent knee. Alternate legs for a total of 8-10 repetitions.
Stand on the bottom of a Bosu Ball, and bring one leg to retiré. Challenge your balance by adding controlled movement of the working leg. Work up to balancing for 30-60 seconds.