When performing complex movement patterns is a huge aspect of either your job or in most dancers case an extremely heartfelt hobby that’s consumes your many thoughts and dreams. An injury can be the fastest way to devastate us as it can keep us from doing something that makes us feel great or in some cases feel anything at all. If you’re like me someone who is obsessive about improvement and being better today then you were yesterday, injury is a sure fire way to slow progress down or stop it all together. After sustaining a hip/lower back injury in February and dealing with it all the way until this past June. I wanted to take the time and share some of the ways I’ve changed not only how I approach my workouts but also dance practice and events to prevent myself from sustaining another injury that hampered me earlier this year.
This will be a multi part series that I’ll most likely want to add to each individual part as new knowledge comes to light that I utilize with myself and my clients. There’s so much information on this subject matter and ways to approach that I wanted to draw focus to a few things to allow the articles to be shorter, less dense and easier to reference. In this article I’m going to cover different concepts that you can utilize in regards to injury prevention. This article will focus on two subjects Warm ups and muscle activation.
The easiest thing we could do to prevent injury is to perform a warm up before we start any kind of physical activity. Warming up is cited in many studies to improve performance and decrease risk of injury, this is due to a number of different factors. There are two methods of thought when it comes warming up, we have passive warm ups which is “the benefit of increasing core temperature and tissue circulation.1 This increase in temperature can allow the muscles and other soft tissues to be less stiff and more mobile for the workout. “. Passive warm ups are most common as this entails non specific activites like jogging, bike, walking lunges, etc. This should be done for about 5-10 minutes.
Now on the other side of the warm up coin we have active warm ups, this also referred to as dynamic warm ups or movement prep. Active warm ups also improve performance during workouts by increasing temperature in the muscles and “better neural conduction.1 This means by doing the activity at a lower intensity before actually starting, the nervous system is primed for the activity. To do this, start the activity at a low intensity, maybe around 25% of the working effort, then move up to 50%, and 75%, then move to the exercise.” When I perform heavy back squats I tend to perform multiple sets at lower weights typically one at 155 pounds then 205 pounds then 255 pounds to prime my body to be put under the stress it’s about to endure.
In a dance context when I practice on quality movement I perform drills at a slower tempo and progressively repeat the drill and increase the tempo fairly drastically to prime my body to the new speed and be at optimal performance for the tempo I want to really work to improve moving at. So when I perform the interval training drill that I learned from this demo video with Mike Roberts and Joanna Lucero. If my desire was to work on fast tempos (190 BPM+) I’d perform this drill at 130-140 BPM, rest, perform it at 150 bpm- 170 bpm and then move into my range of fast tempos depending on how my body feels and I manage my rest depending if I have a conditioning focus or a precision focus.
I feel like you can’t talk about warm ups without talking about stretching, a common misconception when it comes to physical activity is that the more you stretch the less likely you are to get injured well according to science they’d agreed with Charlie Murphy’s sentiment . “There is evidence that stretching prior to working out will not reduce the risk of injury. Stretching prior to exercise may actually decrease power output, decreasing overall results. However, if you find that you are severely limited in a certain range of motion, it is fine to stretch in order to increase your range of motion for the workout. For example, if the hamstrings are very tight, maybe allowing only 45 degrees of hip flexion rather than 90 degrees, stretching may increase the range of motion to 75 or 85″ degrees, allowing for more range of motion during the workout. This would be a benefit despite the set backs from stretching. If you need to stretch before working out, 30-60 seconds should be fine per stretch.”
Now this isn’t to say that static stretching or stretching in general is bad that using those as part of a warm up isn’t the most effective use of your time when trying to prevent injury and performing that after your workout would be the most ideal and something we’ll cover more when I dive deep into cool downs in a later article. Like I stated before Dynamic stretching or dynamic warm ups are a combination of active and passive warm ups. Though a dynamic workout can be done by itself which how I prefer could be done after short stint (5-10 minutes) of low intensity cardio that will help increase blood flow and muscle temperature. The dynamic stretches or stretches that occur through repetitive movement will help improve neural firing and allow the body to operate more efficiently. My pre dance warm ups before practice and contests are full of a number of repetitive movements designed to help wake up my motor neurons and prime my joints for the movements they’ll perform.
Muscle activation is an exercise technique that wakes up the muscles opposite the tight, short muscles. Stretching alone will not even out the body. The weak muscle needs to be strengthened to keep the opposite muscle from getting tight again. Muscle activation focuses on those weak muscles and strengthens them to keep your joints moving properly. Due to my lifestyle where I perform a number of movements over and over *gestures to all the squats he does* and how a lot of my clients have sedentary particular muscles in the body tend to shorten and become over active and any muscle opposite of an overactive muscle will then be elongated and become under active. In short an overactive muscle is working too much and the under active muscle is working too little which causes poor joint movement.
According to statistics, provided by juststand.org, the average American spends 55 percent of their waking day sitting. That’s 7.7 hours spent sitting! Going beyond those statistics, think about the neglected muscles of the lower body.
- Gluteus maximus: This is a very important muscle group that aids in climbing steps, running, deadlifting and squatting. Without a strong booty, postural distortions are sure to ensue (e.g. lordosis, the dramatic curve of the low back), which will result in injury.
- Hamstrings: Yet another important movement muscle group, the hamstrings are used in walking, stair climbing, running and performing lower body exercises.
- Core: This is a critical muscle group. Most individuals suffering from back pain have weak core muscles. Crunches aren’t going to cut it.
This above list is a list of common muscles that tend to stop activating properly due to lots of sitting. It’s imperative for a healthy functioning body that people get these muscle groups to fire properly. I activate these muscles before my workouts by perform floor bridge, single leg bridge and supine pelvic tilt. I also perform scapular push ups to help the functionality of my shoulders and upper back muscles.
To recap, a great way to prevent injury in your fitness or dance journey or as you look to live a healthy and active lifestyle. Warming up properly is a simple way to help decrease your chances of injury and will help you to perform at a high level more consistently as the body is primed and ready to put forth high level performance. As always if you’re interested in talking with me more in depth about fitness shoot me an email at Lindyfitness2014@gmail.com, follow me on Facebook at Lindy fitness and if you want to support me financially take a look at my Patreon page. I know not everyone can afford to partake in a fitness program but if you’d like in-depth fitness content please consider contributing to my patreon as these blogs take a lot of time and research to put together and would totally appreciate your support.
- Bishop, D. (2003). Warm up I. Sports medicine, 33(6), 439-454.
- Haff, G. G., & Triplett, N. T. (Eds.). (2015). Essentials of strength training and conditioning 4th edition. Human kinetics.
- Fradkin, A. J., Zazryn, T. R., & Smoliga, J. M. (2010). Effects of warming-up on physical performance: a systematic review with meta-analysis. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(1), 140-148.
- Shrier, I. (1999). Stretching Before Exercise Does Not Reduce the Risk of Local Muscle Injury: A Critical Review of the Clinical. Clin J. Sport Med, 9, 221-227.
- Power, K., Behm, D., Cahill, F. A. R. R. E. L. L., Carroll, M., & Young, W. (2004). An acute bout of static stretching: effects on force and jumping performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(8), 1389-1396.