Quick Warm-up Exercises for Everyone
The athletic world has changed so much over the past 20 to 30 years it is sometimes staggering to take in. I started my journey to become a certified athletic coach in 1991 and remember writing my final thesis on the subject of muscle strains, pulls and tears.
It might seem amazing that I tell you I chose that topic because, at the time I knew so little on the subject, realized that it was information that might come in handy later and simply wanted to learn more. Many people probably hate the thought of Research papers, however I always found them to be a useful tool when put into the proper context.
For my younger readers, an athletic coach was the precursor to what we know today as Personal Trainers. Today’s advancements in both knowledge and application in this field of study have made much of my initial training obsolete. However there are a few things that have remained consistent in what is being taught, and that includes the importance of a good muscle warm-up before beginning any type of exercise.
As a dancer, a good warm-up can mean all the difference in the world between cutting a rug and being an observer. Even something as harmless as hitting the dance floor at a wedding reception can result in injury if you do not take the correct precautions. Learning to warm up certain parts of the body properly can make all the difference in your dancing enjoyment.
Why Warm Ups Matter
Warming up properly is very important to dance, or any exercise, because it helps the body become prepared to move faster, make larger movements, jump, and bend. Simply stated, a warm-up causes the temperature of your body to rise, which in turn pushes blood to your muscles and helps lubricate your joints. All of this contributes to a reduction of injury due to your body being revved up and ready to move.
I include a basic warm-up in every class though it is generally masked as an introduction of basic dance elements or a review of previous class information. As most of my students are older, I understand more than most the importance of making sure my students do not over exert themselves before they are ready.
A Basic Warm Up for everyone
The following list of exercises are designed to help anyone at any age quickly and adequately warm up your muscles from head to foot. Some of these exercises can be done standing or sitting. Some people may have limitations that keep them from doing certain movements. Always remember that if you feel pain doing a certain type of warm-up or moment, you should stop immediately. The old adage “no pain, no gain” has been outdated for well over 20 years.
- Neck and shoulder Isolation
Isolation is a term used to describe a series of warm ups in dance class that help your body to feel more agile. This warm up is usually performed with the feet shoulder-distance apart and the toes facing the front of the room. Bend your knees slightly and make sure that your spine is upright.
The point of isolations is to focus on one body part at a time. With your hands placed on your hips and the rest of your body perfectly still, begin looking to the right for a beat and then left. This warms up the muscles of the neck. You can also slowly circle the head by dropping the head down, to the right, back and left. Repeat this circling motion to the opposite side. Once you have completed your neck rotations move to the shoulders. Slowly rotate your shoulders forward then back in large circular motions.
- Hip Swings
The hips are another part of the body that you can warm up during isolation. Holding the same stance as in the neck and shoulder isolation, move your hips to the right and then left. Be sure to keep the rest of your body as still as possible. You can also circle the hips by pushing them to the right, to the back of the room, to the left and then front. Reverse this motion to the opposite side.
- Ankle Isolation
Continuing with our isolation, we move to the ankles. Start in a seated position, extending your leg and pointing your toes. Hold for a few seconds, then return your foot to the normal position. Repeat the process with one foot several times and then switch to the other foot.
Next, slowly rotate the foot so that the ankle receives a wide range of motion. Remember to rotate both clockwise and counter-clockwise to give the muscles and ligaments a chance to expand and contract in multiple directions.
- Heel Raises
Our last isolation take us to the calves and hamstrings. Place your feet together with the toes facing the front of the room. You can also do this warm up with the heels together and the toes turned out, which is more commonly done in ballet. With a perfectly straight spine, raise your heels off of the floor, balancing yourself on your toes. Then lower your heels to the floor. Repeat this movement until your calves feel warm.
- Leg Swings
To warm the entire leg, stand on one leg with the toes facing the front of the room. Lift the other leg off of the floor and bend it slightly as you swing the leg toward the front of the room and then toward the back of the room. Repeat this for a dozen repetitions on each leg. If you find that you have trouble keeping your balance, hold on to a chair or a wall.
- Lunge Stretch
Lunge stretches, commonly called running stretches, are useful for stretching the muscles of your lower body. Find a solid surface that you can use for balance like a chair or desk. Start with your feet together and push one leg back behind you. Your front knee should be bent. Your back leg will be as straight as possible. Hold for a count of 20 to 30 secs, then repeat the process for the other leg. To prevent injuries, always be sure that your front knee is in line with your foot and not too far forward.
Following these simple yet important exercises can quickly change your flexibility and range of motion in these important areas. Remember that these exercises can also double as stress relief exercises for a quick pick me up at work.