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Your warm up could be doing you more harm than good….

What does your pre-class warm-up look like?

If it is anything like mine was, it was sitting around in a circle with my dance friends, chatting and sitting in a split of some kind. Occasionally, I might have swung a leg to and fro a bit to warm up the hips. In hindsight, this never actually ‘warmed up’ anything! A recent study* has looked at Neuromuscular warmups compared with a ‘traditional’ dance warmup up and the relationship with overuse injuries. They found that dancers utilising a traditional approach had 2 more injuries per dancer over a 2 year period than dancers using a neuromuscular approach.

Neuromuscular warmups

So what does a neuromuscular warm up look like?

Well, let’s first define the term neuromuscular: Neuromuscular is defined as all the muscles in your body plus the nerves that activate them. While dancers probably mostly think about the muscles that are helping them to make the movement, most are probably not thinking about the nerves that make it all happen.

Nerves are responsible for:

  • Selecting the right number of muscle fibres required for the movement

  • Ensuring the firing pattern of the muscles is correct (co-ordination)

  • Feeding back proprioceptive information back to the brain so that it can make adjustments as required to the movement (think uneven floors).

  • And much more!

So, when warming up, we need to make sure we are waking up or priming both our muscles and nerves. Research in athletes (which is more comprehensive and plentiful than dance studies) backs this idea up, showing that neuromuscular warm ups reduce injuries.

So what does a neuromuscular warm up do?

Firstly, it warms up the muscles by pumping oxygen rich blood to the areas that are being used. Muscles respond better to demands placed on them when they are warm and have adequate supply of all the nutrients and components to make them work such as energy stores.

Research has shown that warmed up muscles are less susceptible to injury. Secondly, non-dance (or non -port)specific strength, power and co-ordination exercises prime the muscles for the more specific dance demands placed on them after warm up, without contributing to injury risk due to overuse.

What should a warm up look like?

Cardio – You want to get your heart rate above what is normally is at rest. If you don’t have access to a smart watch which can read your pulse, go for a rate of perceived exertion at 5 – 6 / 10, which would be moderate intensity. You can still speak, but you may be puffed. This can be exercises like skipping, jogging on the spot, step ups, jumping jacks or a mix of all of them.

Strength – This is where an exercise physiologist specialised in dance injury prevention can really help. They can look at your weaknesses and find any muscle imbalances and guide you best on which muscles to activate before commencing your class. As a general guide though, select exercises that work the muscle groups you will be using for that class. Generally this is all your major muscle groups – particularly the legs. But if you are doing partner work or acro, then you may also need to include your arms and shoulders. You can use Therabands if you have them, otherwise body weight and / or floor exercises are fine too.

Neuro – Waking up your nerves (and your brain!) can also help reduce the risk of injury. So also do some balance work or quick forward, back and sideways jogs.

Time – You should probably ensure you are warming up around half an hour before your class. This will give you ample time to add all three components into your warmup….and get a bit of a chat in with your class mates as well.

Now what about stretching?

Research shows that intense static stretching where you hold the one position for long periods of time actually decreases your muscle activation, power required for jumps and generally limits your ability to perform to you best ability. So swap your long static stretches before class for dynamic (not ballistic) stretches. This means moving through your full range of motion, but not staying there.

Check with your exercise physiologist for examples of what you can do. Reserve your static stretches that you want to use to extend your range (i.e. get deeper splits) for after class when your muscles are very warm and will respond better, and you no longer need them to produce power for jumps or other moves requiring power.

Still got questions?

Contact me at or on 0493 536 222 for a consultation to personalise your warm up today! Otherwise, post your general question on Dancewright’s Facebook page and I'll get back to you with more information.


Kauffmann JE, Nelissen RGHH, Stubbe JH, Gademan MGJ. Neuromuscular warm-up is associated with fewer overuse injuries in ballet dancers compared to traditional balletspecificwarm-up. J Dance Med Sci. 2022;26(4):244-54.


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