Baby, It’s Cold Outside
(but really, we should be warming up all year)
by Julie Ferrell-Olson
Summary: Warm-up should be an integral part of every dancers’ routine, but often we don’t know what a warm-up should look like or why it’s important. This month we dive into the RAMP protocol, and how it can help us maximize performance every day.
Warm-up. It’s one of those things we all know we should do. We show up to class early with the best of intentions, but more often than not we end up on the floor or throwing a leg up on the barre. Other than focusing on the mental preparation for class, are we really doing everything possible to help us perform at our best for that day?
In the most basic format, a warm-up is a preliminary exercise done in preparation for the main activity—similar to preheating a pan before cooking. A warm-up should elevate your heart rate, gently activate the large muscle groups, and increase movement and range of motion through the joints.
But why does it matter? What are we supposed to do in a warm-up anyways? Why doesn’t stretching count as a warm-up? Can’t I just lay on the floor and roll around (ahem, modern dancers)? Won’t a warm-up just make me more tired by the end of class?
Although the body naturally “warms up” throughout class, without putting in a little prep work at the very beginning it takes longer to reach our maximum performance, and leaves the body susceptible to injury—especially if the teacher does not incorporate a warm-up into their class and pushes the dancer to too intense of a movement too soon. Increasing heat and blood flow to the muscles allows a quicker and more efficient uptake of oxygen—or, a faster exchange of energy (for more info on how heat really helps, check out the difference between an active and passive warm-up). With heat, muscle fibers become more elastic, meaning they are able to be stretched further and still safely rebound compared to a cold muscle. Additionally, athletes that start their workouts with a warm-up are found to have a faster reaction time, more efficient breathing, and a correlated decrease in injury-rate compared to athletes that did not begin with a warm-up.
But what about stretching? Static stretching may actually be detrimental to a dancers’ immediate performance. Morrin and Redding found static stretching caused a reduction in jump height compared to dynamic stretching—but this study only looked at short term effects, taking measurements immediately after the stretching protocol. Although there is some speculation that static stretching may have a negative impact in some sports (such as running speed or the amount of force a muscle can produce), several styles of dance require a very large range of motion and flexibility demand. While popping into the splits the moment you enter the studio isn’t the best idea, it is still important to include stretching towards the end of your warm-up regiment to prepare the body for those extreme movements.
Warm-ups should move from general to specific. One of the easiest ways to design a warm-up is following the RAMP protocol:
Raise (heart rate and sweat)
Activate (muscle groups)
Potentiate (get specific to the activity)
First and foremost, get your heart rate up! This could be an easy jog or jumping jacks or incorporate it into your commute by biking to class. Five to seven minutes of this light activity should be enough to increase your heart rate. While you want to be sweaty, you shouldn’t be so out of breath that you can’t talk.
Once you’ve got a nice glisten, start activating the major muscle groups. This could be bodyweight squats for the glutes, planks for the core, and pushups for the arms and back. Keep everything nice and easy—you’re still trying to wake up the muscles, not wear them out! (Looking for ideas to add into your warm-up? Check out some of the personal training certification websites, such as ACE).
Mobilize the joints, and really think of adding fluidity to your movement. There is fluid within the joints—called synovia-- that the body naturally increases with movement to help the bones glide across each other. Again, keep it simple and do what feels good. Now is the time to start circling wrists, ankles, shoulders, hips, and incorporate some easy leg swings. One of my favorite things to do is to hold my arms straight overhead and alternate my legs turning in and out, stepping behind into a lunge between each side. This keeps my heart rate up, activates the thigh and core muscles, and starts working through a larger range of motion.
Finally, we’re at potentiate - here’s where you finally get to shift towards more dance-specific work. While you want to incorporate stretching, you do want to keep the body moving instead of just sitting in a position. To me, barre exercises or a center floor warm-up are the perfect transitions between generalized movement and the dance-specific work you’re preparing to do.
All athletes should incorporate a warm-up before every single class, workout, or performance. With the weather getting colder, it’s even more important to keep muscles warm and safe. I highly suggest adding layers that won’t interfere with your movements, such as the K-Warmer Shock or a light, long-sleeve jacket. If you have a break between classes, throw the layers back on and try to keep some movement going. If the break is longer than 30 minutes, leave yourself time to warm up again before you start dancing.
Let’s keep our bodies safe and warm so we can dance longer and stronger!
Daily Dancer Takeaway: Incorporating the RAMP protocol into your daily pre-class schedule can help improve performance and reduce injury risk.
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