Are you optimizing your performance?

Warming Up – Why is it Necessary?

Guest post by fellow blogger and dance educator, Diana Harris of The Healthy Dancer blog.

A little vocabulary before we begin…

ATP: Adenosine Triphosphate, it is our fuel source for all activities from doing homework, to typing, to doing laundry, to dancing, to running.   What we eat has a direct impact on how much ATP our bodies are able to produce.

Synovial Fluid: A liquid that is present in our synovial joints (shoulder, elbows, knees, ankles, etc.) which allows for the smooth movement of our joints and keeps the connective tissues that form the joints healthy.

Dancer Jera Wolfe. Photo credit Shawn Simpson.

It’s time for the rehearsal to begin, and there is only a short amount of time so it may be tempting to skip the warm-up and just jump right in.  What happens during the warm-up that makes it so important anyway?

We are given one body and our job, as dancers, is to make certain that we care for our bodies and insure that they are working at an optimal level. A warm-up not only prepares us mentally by focusing our thoughts, it also leads our body through steps to prepare for the demands we place upon it.

When we begin to warm-up, our muscles are able to use phosphate that is stored within them as ATP and phosphocreatine molecules to create energy immediately.  The energy that is created by this system will, however, only last for 8-10 seconds.  After those ten seconds, the muscles begin to use the glucose, or sugar, that is readily available to create energy for the next few minutes of exercise.  Our muscles are able to create energy for this brief period of time without having to rely on oxygen.

As this energy is created and the warm-up continues, the autonomic nervous system receives a signal to stimulate the nerves around the heart.  The heart receives a signal to contract, or beat, faster and stronger.  The stronger the heart’s contraction, the stronger the release, resulting in more space in the heart for a greater volume of blood.  This greater volume of blood means that, when the heart contracts, more blood is pumped out and circulated through the body with each heartbeat.

At the same time, the nerves that control the blood vessels are activated and signal the vessels to constrict, or get smaller, meaning there is less blood flow to all parts of the body.  Concurrently, the energy creation, or metabolism, that is occurring within the muscles overrides this signal, and the blood vessels in the muscles get wider, or dilate, which results in greater blood flow to the muscles.  Therefore, blood flow is diverted away from the organs so that the working parts, the muscles, may receive an optimal amount of nutrients and oxygen.

As all of this is occurring in the circulatory system, the brain stem, which controls our breathing, is receiving signals to stimulate and increase the activity of the respiratory system.  As a result, our breathing speeds up to supply more oxygen to the blood, which is being rapidly delivered to the muscles.

This oxygen is used for the next step in creating energy as the warm-up ends and more rigorous physical activity begins.  This process is called aerobic glycolysis and allows the body to continue to breakdown stored glucose to create energy for a sustained period of time.

As a result of all this activity, the temperature of the muscles has increased, leading to increased flexibility.  Additionally, the heat that is generated during the warm-up also serves to liquefy the synovial fluid that is in our joints.  While we are resting, the fluid becomes jelly-like, but as heat is generated, the jelly breaks down into a liquid form that is able to lubricate our joints and keep them “well-oiled” and moving smoothly.

Our bodies are amazing machines that are equipped to do so many things. However, much like a computer, the human body is wired to complete tasks in a series of steps. In order to be able to provide the optimum physical performance required for a class or a rehearsal, the body needs to be able to sequentially go through the above steps.  We, as dancers, demand so much from our bodies.  Our bodies will definitely respond, but we need to make sure we are going to let them.

 

Author Diana Harris: Holding a BA in Dance Education and an MS in Exercise Science, Diana has been a dance educator for the past 19 years.  She has studied ballet, modern, jazz, tap and musical theater dance.  She believes in creating healthy, thinking dancers and believes that dance can be beneficial to all and should be accessible to all.

 

 

Feet, feet, feet, feet….what do you do with a pair of feet?

This weeks blog post is from the physiotherapy team with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, focusing on the importance of taking care of an essential tool for dance – our feet!    Dancers of all ages and teachers should consider the following when searching for just the right fit.  The search may be lengthy, but the health of your feet is worth it in the end.

 

 

Foot care:

As a dancer your feet are your most important “tool”.  Proper foot care is vital to avoid injuries and painful feet so that you have an enjoyable dance experience.  And while there is no way to completely avoid irritation or injury, there are a number of things that you can do to minimize the risk.

1)      Dance shoes-

  • Make sure your shoes fit properly, no matter what type they are. Remember too, that your feet continue to grow even when the rest of our bodies stop growing so the size of shoes you wear at age 16 may not fit at age 20. Tip: If the material at the back of your pointe shoe extends more than an inch beyond the end of the shank of your shoe, your pointe shoe is probably too small.
  • Make sure the shoe is still in good condition and not worn out, torn or over stretched.
  • Let your shoes dry out well after use rather than just stuffing them in your dance bag until you use them again.  This helps cut down on odor and reduces bacterial and fungal growth.

2)     Skin-

  • Look for areas of redness on your feet that may indicate areas of excessive pressure or friction that could later lead to blisters or painful joints.  This may indicate an improperly fitting shoe, a worn out shoe or poor technique.
  • Do not break open a closed blister.  Protect it with a doughnut pad and tape.  If the blister does break, use an antiseptic to clean it and cover with a bandaide until healed.
  • Wash and dry your feet well after you dance to protect your skin from infection.  Your feet perspire a great deal in a dance shoe and this warm moist environment is a good one for bacteria and fungi to grow.
  • Keep your toenails trimmed short (close to the quick in the centre) and straight across to the nail edges. Nails cut short at the edges can lead to ingrown toenails. Maintain a consistent thickness to your toenails by using an emery board or nail file.

3)     Technique and alignment-

  • Good technique and body alignment helps to reduce the stress on your feet.  Do not force your turnout or over grip with your toes.  This places a lot of shear stress on your joints and on your skin and can lead to painful joints, blisters and ankle pain.
  • While stretching and flexibility are important in dance, strengthening your foot and ankle muscles is important too.  These muscles help to absorb the forces and loads you are putting through your feet when you dance.

4)     Outside of the studio-

  • Wear good shoes or runners when not in the studio.  A mechanic always puts his tools away in his secure tool box.  Your feet, like the mechanics tools, need to be protected and supported well when you are not dancing.  Avoid long walks or prolonged standing in non supportive shoes like flip-flops, sandals, or slippers.

Following these few suggestions may help keep your feet happy and healthy through your dance season.  Should a problem arise, however, you should promptly seek the advice of your healthcare professional to get it sorted it out early.  In this way, you will avoid a more serious problem that will keep you out of dancing.

Authors:  Kevin Dyck/Janine Didyk/Sam Steinfeld

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