Warming Up Is Not Synonymous With Stretching

At mUvmethod, when we talk about warming up we are referring to the portion of class designed to prepare your body to move, to stretch, or possibly both. Warming up brings the body to a condition at which it safely responds to nerve signals. This is important for quick and efficient action as well as safe and effective stretching. Simply put, warm muscles are more responsive meaning– they are quicker to contract and quicker to relax.

Stretching is the portion of class designed to increase flexibility and mobility at a safe and effective rate. At mUvmethod, we generally utilize yoga like postures held in an active static position for 25 – 30 seconds. Warm up prior to stretching to experience maximum benefits and to keep your body safe.

We believe an effective warm-up needs to include the following phases:

  • A Breathing Phase
  • A Mobilization Phase
  • A Dynamic Phase
  • An Active Phase

The Breathing Phase

The fact that breathing is a big component of performance and dance is often overlooked, and therefore under taught. At mUvmethod we believe it’s essential to teach your dancers how to breath properly. In fact, we treat it as a prerequisite to everything we do!

Learning to optimize your breath patterns from a young age has a positive physical, mental and emotional impact on dance and performance. At the beginning of each class we teach our students how to breath into the front, sides and backs of their rib cage while lying in neutral. We refer to this as 3D breathing and we consider it to be a crucial part of the warm up.

Following are 5 areas that proper breathing practices can impact dance and performance:

  • Improved posture, alignment and muscle recruitment
  • Improved spinal mobility, particularly in the thoracic spine
  • Decreased risk of injury
  • Delayed fatigue and enhanced performance
  • Ability to quickly shift into a parasympathetic state

We highly recommend you incorporate 1- 2 minutes of breath work into each class you teach with reclined 3D breathing. To do this invite your students to:

  • Lie down on their backs. Bend their knees and plant their feet on the floor.
  • Find a neutral pelvis and spine. Refer to video, How to Find Neutral Reclined. If you cannot relax your hips or feel discomfort in your back place a small towel underneath your lumbar spine.
  • Place one hand on the front of the rib cage and the other behind it. Inhale for 3 – 4 counts. Notice what direction the chest cavity expanded as you inhaled. Did it only expand to the front? If so, try again and see if you can breath into the back of the chest cavity as well, so that you are breathing both anteriorly and posteriorly. If you find that this is not happening that’s ok, we have some exercises you can do to stretch the intercostal muscles on the back of the rib cage. This will work to free up this area of the spine, increase lung capacity and improve mobility in this area of the back.
  • Next, place your hands on the sides of your rib cage. Inhale for 3 – 4 counts and try to breath into the sides of your body. You should feel your rib cage expand laterally. This, just like the above, helps to stretch the intercostal muscles, increase lung capacity and improve mobility of the thoracic spine. If it’s not happening now again that’s ok, with awareness, practice and some mobility exercises for the thoracic spine it will.
  • Then, place one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Inhale for 3 – 4 counts. Notice what direction the chest cavity expanded as you inhaled. Was it lower in “your belly” or higher in you chest. For this one we want the breath to be lower rather than up in the chest? \ Breathing high in the chest creates tension and feels forced. When we breath lower into the chest cavity it feels more relaxed and less forced. With awareness and practice you can learn to breath lower. This will decrease stress and tension and improve gas exchange.
  • Lastly, place your fingers inside the hip bones (ASIS). Take a slow inhale through your nose, followed by a slow exhale through pursed lips as if blowing through a straw. As you exhale draw your entire waistline in towards your spine. You should feel a flattening and tightening underneath your fingertips. This breath pattern will work to strengthen and tone the transversus abdominis (TA) and is often referred to as bracing.

The Mobilization Phase lasts 2 – 6 minutes and consists of gentle movements designed to “get the kinks out”. It should bring mobility to the joints and feel good. Examples include:

  • Supine Spinal Twists
  • Hip Rolls and Tucks
  • Cat/Cow Variations
  • Gentle Side Body Stretches
  • Gentle Hip Stretches
  • Standing Roll Ups / Downs

The Dynamic Phase consists of dynamic movements and can last anywhere from 4 – 8 minutes. The dynamic phase involves controlled movements that increase blood flow, nervous system activity, range of motion, awareness and performance. Examples include:

  • Sun Salutation Variations
  • Combined Yoga Postures
  • Shoulder Strength and Stability Exercises
  • Core Abdominal Strength and Stability Exercises

The Active Phase lasts 4 – 6 minutes and is recommended to do prior to the “activity”, such as across the floor technique. This phases consists of static holds and conditioning exercises designed to strengthen the body and the mind. You could think of this as the conditioning portion of class. Examples include:

  • Static Standing and Balancing Postures
  • Static and Dynamic Core Work
  • Back Strengthening Exercises
  • Training Turn Out Exercises

However, if moving to stretches, this phase is optional. The Breathing, Mobilization and Dynamic Phases should be sufficient in warming up your muscles and preparing your body to stretch. But if you have time we definitely recommend keeping the active phase.

OK, Just so we’re clear…

  • First, warm – up. This includes your breathing, mobilization and dynamic phases.
  • Second, condition. This includes your active phase and while it’s optional prior to stretching, it is highly recommended if time permits.
  • Third, stretch!

For the love of dance education!