ASK THE PHYSIO … Warm Up & Cool Down

The Importance of warm up and cool down

The warm up……….
Warm up and cool down are essential parts of any class and pre / post performance routine. An adequate and tailored warm-up / cool down are also integral for injury prevention and muscle recovery.
Cast your mind back to your last class, self directed session or pre audition period. How did you warm up? For how long? Was it specific to the activity to be undertaken?
So what is the purpose of warm up?
There are numerous benefits of warming up properly before we exercise, some of which are listed below:

  • Increase in blood flow to the muscles (more energy to the muscles)
  • Mental preparation, focused and mentally ‘in the zone’
  • Improve flexibility of joints, muscles and fascia ( we are more elastic when warm)
  • Neural mobility and excitation ( body is ‘ready for action’)
  • Specific strengthening / rehab exercises

Warm up can be general or specific, or ideally a mixture of both. An example of a generalised warm up would be to incorporate large movements to raise the heart rate and body temperature such as jogging, gentle jumps and large fluid movements involving all of the joints in all 3 planes of movement.
A specific warm up would be to do the task at hand at a lower intensity, in the gym setting this would be to do some repetitions at a low weight of the exercise to be undertaken, and in dancing maybe seen in marking an exercise or routine. Working on Isolation exercises and rehab are also an example of specific warm up work. For example, we may be working on turnout control or specific hip openers and this should be done at the time of warm up before we integrate this movement into class.
It is important to remember that warming the body thoroughly and incorporating large movements at the joints is essential before we then continue to stretch and limber. Stretching is not a warm up!! Muscles need to be warm with a good blood flow before we commence stretching. Stretching on cooler muscles can increase the chance of micro tears due to reduced elasticity.
It is also important to remember that mobiliser style stretching is preferable before we dance as opposed to sustained held stretches which has been shown to decrease the power in the muscle.
The cool down……….
Cool down is probably one of the most underrated and underperformed part of any class or performance. Is it common place to finish class and rush off to the next one/ to the canteen/ bathroom or home, just as common place as it is to return to the dressing room/ off home/ out for a cigarette after curtain down! It is in this time however that should be utilised to lower heart rate, normalise breathing, perform energy building exercises and focus on the ever important stretch! Stretching at the end of class/performance is the most important time to focus on this area. The muscles have been worked hard and are in a shortened state with slight increase in tone. It is now that we need to release this tone and lengthen the muscle back to resting state and maybe further. We can also focus here on regaining symmetry , especially if the class/routine was focused in one area (kicks with 1 leg for example).
Cooling down with movement will prevent pooling of blood and facilitate removal of waste from the muscles thus aiding in reduction of post training soreness.
High intensity exercise is also energy depleting (catabolic) so it is advisable to add energy building exercise (anabolic) at the end of the days’ classes/ evening performance. Even 10 minutes of breathing with the eyes shut can help.
Next time you take class / audition or perform have a think about how you cool down, and feel the difference in your body the next day.
cool down