Dancers get injured just as much as wrestlers and American footballers–even more than rugby players. Roughly 61% of dancers can be injured within an 8-month period, showed this study, and professionals are injured 1.7 to 6.7 times per year. The most common injuries are to the lower leg, foot ankle, followed by the lower back, head and neck, then upper leg and pelvis. More time spent injured means less time having fun practicing.

How To Reduce Injuries

Warming up and cooling down are a necessary part of keeping your body intact and avoiding injuries. A warm up is like a wake up, and a cool down is like getting ready for bed. Your body has to prepare. Most people do some kind of stretching or cardio, but often it is the wrong kind, or not enough. Commonly, they say they don’t have time. Sometimes, they simply do not know how. Or, they think it’s boring. But, it must be done properly. Dynamic warm ups and cool downs is the best method according to science.

Dynamic Compared To The Others

Okay, there are two basic ways to warm up and cool down: move and stretch. Moving is always dynamic. But, some stretching is not. We will talk a little about the inferior methods first. Besides dynamic stretching, there is static stretching and ballistic stretching. Static stretching involves simply holding a muscle in a stretch position for several seconds or even minutes. Your body is static. Avoid this type of stretching for warm ups because it temporarily weakens your muscle. Ballistic stretching involves dangerously fast bouncing and jerking movements while in a stretched position. Ballistic stretching can make you pull a muscle.  Thankfully, we have dynamic stretching. It is between static and ballistic, and involves slowly moving into and out of a stretched position.  You want to add dynamic stretching into your dynamic warm up, static stretching into your cool down, and light dynamic movement into both.

Why Add a Dynamic Warm Up?

A dynamic warm up incorporating dynamic stretching is the scientifically best method of preparing for dance.  Besides getting you ready mentally, the dynamic method helps you by:

  1. Gradually raising or lowering heart rate and body temperature. Remember, a warm up is a wake up. Your body needs time to prepare.
  2. Helping grab oxygen stored in your blood and transport it to your muscles.
  3. Lubricating your muscles by drawing synovial fluid into them. Synovial fluid helps your muscles contract and relax by reducing friction. Too much friction can cause a tear, which means a dynamic warm up can reduce tearing.
  4. Increasing your flexibility.  This allows you to move your body in multiple directions, reducing the chances of pulling a muscle.
  5. Activating the sympathetic nervous system. Your muscles behave according to how they are told, and the sympathetic nervous system is the information highway telling your muscles to get going.  
  6. Triggering hormones. Your sympathetic nervous system tells your glands to start making hormones (you have undoubtedly heard of adrenaline). Hormones are sent by your glands through your bloodstream into your muscles to help them obey the orders of your nervous system.

And…It Protects Your Joints!

All the muscle in the world doesn’t do any good if you can’t bend your knee or flex your arm, right? A warm up keeps your joints healthy by:

  1. Bringing that wonderful synovial fluid inside them so they can slide around easily.  Otherwise, bones will rub against each other, causing serious damage.  
  2. Increasing blood flow to the joints, which provides much needed nutrients.
  3. Acting like a pump to squeeze water in and out of your joints. When you put weight on them, water is forced out and carries with it harmful junk. When the weight is released, water is pushed back in bringing oxygen.
  4. Turns on genes that trigger joint cartilage to become stronger.
  5. Waking up the muscles that surround your joints, enabling them to keep your joints in place.  Your joints become stabilized, and stabilized joints are the strongest joints.

Add A Dynamic Cool Down With A Static Stretch

Did you think we were finished? There’s just a little more. A cool down is like getting ready for bed. If you full of energy and try to sleep, you have a hard time. Similarly, your muscles, nervous system, and glands need to calm down, and you can facilitate that.

The reason for this is not merely for comfort. See, your body becomes more conditioned after dancing, during recovery.  Without rest your body will not improve. A cool down and static stretch starts this recovery phrase sooner by activating your parasympathic nervous system. The sympathic tells your skeletal muscles “go”, the parasympathic tells them “relax”, and the louder one of them speaks the quieter the other one gets. When your parasympathetic is active, then your sympathetic will spend less energy sending electrical and hormonal signals that excite your muscles.

A cool down also reduces the risk of fainting. While dancing vigorously, a lot of blood goes into your leg muscles. If you suddenly stop, then much of that blood will stay there, not returning to your brain. With no blood comes no oxygen, and fainting.

Finally, where a dynamic stretch excites your muscles, a static stretch calms them. Further, when muscles are made to contract over and over, they tend to stay contracted. Tight muscles are at a higher risk of injury. Stretching tells them to loosen up.