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.
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.