Mar 26, 2021 in DIS-TANZ-SOLO

Warm Up Page Title Photo

Dance warm ups are always a difficult and wide-ranging topic. Especially for freelancers, who even in larger companies often use their own warm-up program to prepare for the day, this work phase serves many different functions. In my experience, the allocated time is used, among other things, to work on the suppleness of movement, to strengthen vulnerable muscles and joints, to improve technique, to awaken creativity and improvisation skills, to run through difficult movement sequences of a choreography, to prepare for the stress of the following rehearsal or performance, and last but not least as a communal ritual for the group.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the actual warm-up part of this individual work phase, I can’ t avoid asking myself whether the activities carried out are really effective and efficient, and whether the structure of this preparation phase might not be improved.

The South-African physiotherapist Craig A. Smith laid out in his article THE WARM-UP PROCEDURE: “Warm-up exercises should be specific to the sport involved. They should promote flexibility and suppleness; exert sufficient effort on the musculoskeletal system to raise the body temperature; and warm or prime the muscles, tendons, and connective tissues. The warm-up should also stimulate the circulatory system, enhance coordination, and promote freer and easier movement due to a more compliant locomotor system.”

Now what I often see in typical dance warm-ups are very excessive and lengthy stretching sessions. The effect of static stretching on maximizing your short-term performance is the subject of lively debate, but more on this in the following section.

Where there is broad agreement, however, is the fact that “mobility has been shown to be improved by an increase in muscle temperature, and so mobility-based activities may be best preceded by activities that raise body temperature.” (Ian Jeffreys in WARM UP REVISITED)

If you haven’t yet seen my conversation with sports scientist Patrick Rump, you should definitely check out the chapter on warm-ups.

“The structure of the warm up will depend on many factors, including the task to be undertaken, the physical capabilities of the athlete, the environmental conditions and also any constraints imposed by the organisation of the event. Furthermore, the athlete’s physical capabilities are likely to influence the physiological and performance responses to the warm up. […] Passive warm-up techniques may be important to supplement or maintain temperature increases produced by an active warm up, especially if there is an unavoidable delay between the warm up and the task, and/or the weather is cold.”

David Bishop
Warm Up II: Performance Changes Following Active Warm Up and How to Structure the Warm Up (2003)

“Although the warm-up is a key part of an overall session, typically the main aim of any given session comes in the main body of the session. In this way, warm-ups should be planned to achieve their key goals in as time and energy-efficient a way as possible. This requires a careful consideration of every activity included in the warm-up and evaluation of whether it contributes to performance, either in the short term, the medium term or long term. This should involve a careful analysis of the efficiency to effectiveness ratio, and its impact upon the subsequent session.”

Ian Jeffreys
RAMP warm-ups: More than simply short-term preparation (2017)

Discussions about Stretching

Before we get into the question of whether stretching should be part of our warm-up, we have to differentiate between different types of stretching: static stretching, dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching, and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF).

Static / Dynamic / Ballistic / PNF

Static stretching doesn't involve motion. It refers to stretching a muscle (or group of muscles) to the furthest possible point and then maintaining or holding that position. Some people make a distinction between active static stretching and passive static stretching, where a person is relaxed while an external force (either a person or a device) moves the joint through its range of motion.

Dynamic stretching involves moving parts of your body and gradually and gently increasing the range of movement, speed of movement or both. It is the most common method to increase dynamic flexibility.

Ballistic stretching uses the momentum of a moving body or limb to force it beyond its normal range of motion. It's practically stretching by bouncing into (or out of) a stretched position. This type of stretching is no longer considered useful and can even lead to injury.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is currently the fastest and most effective known method for increasing static-passive flexibility. Most PNF stretching techniques work with isometric agonist contraction/relaxation, where the stretched muscles are isometrically contracted and then relaxed. Some PNF techniques also work with isometric antagonist contraction, where the antagonists of the stretched muscles are contracted. In all cases, it is important to note that the stretched muscle should rest (and be relaxed) for at least 20 seconds before performing another PNF technique.

Should Stretching be part of the warm-up?

From the Second World War until the 1990s, it was widely agreed that stretching was an important and unmissable element of the warm-up. Since the 1990s, there has been a growing body of research suggesting that excessive static stretching can have a negative impact on power production, power output, power endurance, reaction time, running speed, etc. This stretching-induced effect is thought to be related to a decrease in neural activation, reduced musculotendinous stiffness, or a combination of neural and muscular factors.

Duane Knudson argued in 1999 that "Most of any decrease in muscle stiffness (improvement in dynamic flexibility) from warm-up can be attributed to the increase in temperature within the muscle, not to the stretching." He goes on to describe that the existing literature does not conclusively suggest that improving passive flexibility through static stretching can prevent injury, and that therefore exercises that increase muscle temperature (and hence reduce muscle stiffness and increase the maximum load the muscle can withstand before injury occurs) seem to be a more important warm-up tool.

However, when it comes to dynamic mobility exercises, things look different. "In contrast to static stretching, support for dynamic stretching prior to performance is growing. The acute effects of dynamic stretching have been shown to enhance many aspects of sports performance, such as lower leg power, vertical jump performance, agility, and strength. These findings should promote the use of a dynamic stretch routine prior to engaging in sport or dance." (Niamh Morrin & Emma Redding)

Accordingly, the most common view today is that a warm-up should consist of low-intensity aerobic activity to engage the cardiorespiratory, muscular and nervous systems, followed by activation of all relevant muscle groups and dynamic mobility exercises, and finally a phase in which the intensity and specificity of the required sport or dance style is approached.

Static stretching can of course still be a useful working tool, e.g. when it comes to improving flexibility in general or as a corrective measure for shortened muscles. But in these cases it should rather be used outside the warm-up, as a stand-alone session.

One should note that Chaabene et al. argued in a more recent study that "when performed as a single-mode treatment or when integrated within a full warm-up routine including aerobic activity, dynamic-stretching, and sport-specific activities, short-duration static stretching (<60s per muscle group) trivially impairs subsequent strength and power activities (∆ 1–2%). Yet, longer static stretching durations (>60s per muscle group) appear to induce substantial and practically relevant declines in strength and power performances (∆ 4.0–7.5%). Moreover, recent evidence suggests that when included in a full warm-up routine, short-duration static stretching may even contribute to lower the risk of sustaining musculotendinous injuries especially with high-intensity activities (e.g., sprint running and change of direction speed). It seems that during short-duration static stretching, neuromuscular activation and musculotendinous stiffness appear not to be affected compared with long-duration static stretching." They therefore concluded that short-duration static stretching should indeed be included in a warm-up for recreational sports activities, but that it should be applied with caution for professional athletes who aim to reach their maximum performance.

It is safe to assume that research and discussion on this topic will remain controversial.

The RAMP Protocol

This section is intended to clarify a little more how a warm-up can be structured, and this is exactly where the strength of the RAMP protocol lies: It is an extremely useful system that focuses on structuring warm-up exercises rather than suggesting specific methods, making it easily transferable to all kinds of sports and dance styles. The RAMP protocol was developed by Ian Jeffreys, an internationally renowned coach, educator and author, Professor of Strength and Conditioning at the University of South Wales and a founding member of the United Kingdom Strength and Conditioning Association. It has proven to be the most efficient and effective warm-up system for athletes and is used by many elite coaches around the world.

The acronym RAMP stands for three distinct phases of the warm-up programme: Raise, Activate & Mobilize, Potentiate.

1. Raise

The first part of a warm-up should focus on raising important physiological parameters, such as blood flow, muscle temperature, core temperature, muscle elasticity and the quality of neural activation and conduction. Although this has always somehow been part of a general warm-up, in the RAMP protocol there is a focus on selecting exercises that are already more specific for the following training session. This combines short-term benefits with long-term development.

Raise phase exercises should progress from low intensity to moderate intensity, from simple movements to complex movements and from low cognitive challenge to high cognitive challenge.

Typically, this part of the warm-up should take about 5 minutes. Light sweat onset is a sure sign that you have raised your core and muscle temperature to their optimal working state.

2. Activate & Mobilize

The two main goals of this phase are to activate the key muscles and mobilize the key joints. The focus here is not on flexibility, but on actively moving the body through the movement patterns and ranges of motion that it needs to master for its discipline. Again, this is an important distinction because it is not uncommon for athletes with excellent static ranges of motion to be unable to use them in a dynamic movement pattern. This is because mobility is not only based on flexibility, but also requires elements of stability and motor control.

A major advantage is that the dynamic nature of this approach helps to maintain the beneficial elevation effects of the raise period. It can also be very time-efficient because, unlike static stretching, you are not limited to working with individual muscles, but by focusing on movement patterns, many muscle groups can be activated and mobilized at once.

This second warm-up phase should roughly last 5 minutes as well.

3. Potentiate

In this phase of the warm-up, a gradual shift towards the actual work requirement takes place. It should therefore largely involve sport or dance specific activities with increasing intensity.

The potentiation phase can be designed to address a range of skills including speed, agility, strength, and applied dance skills. Essentially, this phase is a sequence of activities aimed at maximizing performance in the upcoming session, but it can also be used as a stand-alone session to work on a specific skill or issue that will lead to optimal performance in the short, medium and long term.

This last phase of the warm-up should typically last around 10 minutes.

The Warm Up by Ian Jeffreys Book Cover

By Ian Jeffreys

Publisher : Human Kinetics
Language : English
Paperback : 192 pages
ISBN-10 : 149257127X
ISBN-13 : 978-1492571278
Dimensions : 17.53 x 1.78 x 25.15 cm

Additional particularities and facts

  • There are natural fluctuations in body temperature. Under normal conditions, over the course of 24 hours, body temperature reaches its minimum in the morning hours and its maximum towards the late afternoon. Although this difference is minimal, a morning warm-up should arguably be a little longer and less intense than a warm-up in the afternoon.
  • The positive effects of the warm-up do not last indefinitely. The myth that a warm-up in the morning is enough to be able to work all day just isn't true. If there is too long a break between the warm-up and the following activity, e.g. during stage rehearsals or after an extensive lunch break, then a re-warm-up must take place to ensure that the body is sufficiently prepared.

Guidelines for Dancers

Here are some of the "official" guidelines or information materials that have been made available specifically for the work of professional dancers. I am deliberately not making any specific recommendations of my own, but rather try to provide the resources and encourage people to inform themselves as broadly as possible and develop their own warm-up routine based on the available literature and research.
Andrea Kozai & Brenton Surgernor
Helen Laws, Caroline Marsh & Matthew Wyon


Frontiers in Physiology

Acute Effects of Static Stretching on Muscle Strength and Power: An Attempt to Clarify Previous Caveats

by Helmi Chaabene, David G. Behm, Yassine Negra & Urs Granacher
(Frontiers in Physiology, November 2019)

The effects of static stretching (StS) on subsequent strength and power activities has been one of the most debated topics in sport science literature over the past decades. The aim of this review is (1) to summarize previous and current findings on the acute effects of StS on muscle strength and power performances; (2) to update readers’ knowledge related to previous caveats; and (3) to discuss the underlying physiological mechanisms of short- duration StS when performed as single-mode treatment or when integrated into a full warm-up routine.

Journal of Dance Medicine and Science Cover

Acute Effects of Warm-up Stretch Protocols on Balance, Vertical Jump Height, and Range of Motion in Dancers

by Niamh Morrin & Emma Redding
(Journal of Dance Medicine & Science 17/1, March 2013)

The aim of this study was to examine the acute effects of static stretching (SS), dynamic stretching (DS), and a combined (static and dynamic) stretch protocol on vertical jump (VJ) height, balance, and range of motion (ROM) in dancers. A no-stretch (NS) intervention acted as the control condition. It was hypothesized that the DS and combination stretch protocols would have more positive effects on performance indicators than SS and NS, and SS would have negative effects as compared to the NS condition.

Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport Cover

Acute Muscle Stretching Inhibits Maximal Strength Performance

by Joke Kokkonen , Arnold G. Nelson & Andrew Cornwell
(Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport 69/4, 1998)

It is widely conjectured that increasing flexibility (in creasedjoint range of motion) will promote better per- formances and reduce the incidence of injury (for re- view see Shellock & Prentice, 1985; Smith, 1994). Con- sequently, stretching exercises designed to enhance flex- ibility are regularly included in both the training pro- grams and the pre-event warm-up activities of most ath- letes. Notwithstanding the widespread use of stretching, research documenting the performance benefits of stretching is limited. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to determine the influence of acute-stretching activities on maximal strength performance. Specifically, we investigated whether acutely stretching the hip, thigh, and calf muscles would alter the performance of a one-repetition maximum lift (lRM).

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research Cover


by Andrea J. Fradkin, Tsharni R. Zazryn & James M. Smoliga
(Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24/1, January 2010)

The value of warming-up is a worthy research problem because it is not known whether warming-up benefits, harms, or has no effect on individuals. The purpose of this study was to review the evidence relating to performance improvement using a warm-up. A systematic review and meta-analysis were undertaken.

Professional Strength & Conditioning Journal Cover

RAMP warm-ups: more than simply short-term preparation

by Ian Jeffreys
(Professional Strength & Conditioning 44, Summer 2017)

One of the greatest challenges facing any coach is time. It is rare to hear of a coach who has sufficient time to dedicate to all the potential areas for performance enhancement. Indeed, even if a coach had all the time he or she required, the amounts of work that they can do will be limited by the athletes’ training capacity. Training prescription is therefore always a matter of choice, and coaches are making daily decisions as to how best to allocate the time and athletes’ energy available to them. It can be argued that we can do anything, but we can’t do everything and that decisions as to training priorities are essential to the work of a strength and conditioning coach.

Strength And Conditioning Journal Cover

Should Static Stretching Be Used During a Warm-Up for Strength and Power Activities?

by Warren B. Young & David G. Behm
(Strength and Conditioning Journal 24/6, December 2002)

Although the need for a warm-up before maximum effort strength and power exercise is rarely questioned, the precise protocol leading to optimum performance is not well established. The purpose of this article is to discuss warm-up and, in particular, to review recent research that questions the traditional use of static stretching in a warm-up before strength and power activities.

Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance Cover

Stretching during warm-up: Do we have enough evidence?

by Duane Knudson
(Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance 70/7, September 1999)

In prescribing conditioning, physical educators face many issues that have insufficient or conflicting scientific evidence to inform practice. One example is stretching during warm-up for activity. The traditional use of stretching in the warm-up phase of conditioning to improve performance or prevent injury may be the profession's largest "stretch" of the scientific literature. This article reviews recent biomechanical and clinical studies that are beginning to show that stretching during warm-up may be contraindicated for many activities.

scandinavian journal of medicine and science in sports cover

Temperature and neuromuscular function

by Sébastien Racinais & Juha Oksa
(Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 20/3, October 2010)

This review focuses on the effects of different environmental temperatures on the neuromuscular system. During short duration exercise, performance improves from 2% to 5% with a 1 °C increase in muscle temperature. However, if central temperature increases (i.e., hyperthermia), this positive relation ceases and performance becomes impaired. Performance impairments in both cold and hot environment are related to a modification in neural drive due to protective adaptations, central and peripheral failures. This review highlights, to some extent, the different effects of hot and cold environments on the supraspinal, spinal and peripheral components of the neural drive involved in the up‐ and down‐regulation of neuromuscular function and shows that temperature also affects the neural drive transmission to the muscle and the excitation‐contraction coupling.

ournal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy Cover

The Warm-up Procedure: To Stretch or not to Stretch. A Brief Review

by Craig A. Smith
(Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy 19/1, January 1994)

Stretching exercises are either performed alone or with other exercises as part of the athlete's warm-up. The warm-up is designed to increase muscle/tendon suppleness, stimulate blood flow to the periphery, increase body temperature, and enhance free, coordinated movement. The purpose of this paper is to review the literature regarding stretching, with the aim of defining its role during the warm-up.

Sports Medicine Cover

Warm Up II: Performance Changes Following Active Warm Up and How to Structure the Warm Up

by David Bishop
(Sports Medicine 33/2, February 2003)

While warm up is considered to be essential for optimum performance, there is little scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness in many situations. As a result, warm-up procedures are usually based on the trial and error experience of the athlete or coach, rather than on scientific study. This review attempts to summarise and draw conclusions from the many disparate studies that have investigated changes in performance following active warm up and how to structure the warm up.

Professional Strength & Conditioning UKSCA Cover

Warm up revisited – the ‘ramp’ method of optimising performance preparation

by Ian Jeffreys
(Professional Strength and Conditioning 6, Summer 2007)

While some elements of the strength and conditioning portfolio have yet to achieve acceptance in the preparation of athletes in all sports, one area of practice which is almost universally accepted is the principle of the warm-up. Today, few athletes at any level train or compete without some attempt at a warm-up. However, while the general principles surrounding the need to warm-up remain valid, a large body of evidence is building up which both questions some of our current practices, and provides possible opportunities to improve practice. This article looks at current practice, and presents a model around which to construct effective warm-ups.

Journal of Motor Behavior Cover

Why Professional Athletes Need a Prolonged Period of Warm-Up and Other Peculiarities of Human Motor Learning

by Robert Ajemian, Alessandro D'Ausilio, Helene Moorman & Emilio Bizzi
(Journal of Motor Behavior 42/6, 2010)

Professional athletes involved in sports that require the execution of fine motor skills must practice for a considerable length of time before competing in an event. Why is such practice necessary? Is it merely to warm-up the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, or does the athlete’s sensorimotor network need to be constantly recalibrated? In this article, the authors present a point of view in which the human sensorimotor system is characterized by: (a) a high noise level and (b) a high learning rate at the synaptic level (which, because of the noise, does not equate to a high learning rate at the behavioral level). They argue that many heuristics of human skill learning, including the need for a prolonged period of warm-up in experts, follow from these assumptions.

Header photo by Lena Nester on Shutterstock


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