In order to get the most out of a ballet class, most dancers feel the need to warm-up prior. It is indeed not recommended to start off with pliés. The pliés is an exercise in itself and to make the most of it, your body and mind need to already be prepared to move through it. Most dancers use the warm-up to check how their body feels and identify areas of stiffness or soreness. A warm-up is also a time for introspection to be mentally prepared for the work ahead.
What makes up a good ballet warm-up?
A good ballet warm-up is a warm-up with a purpose. It’s not just about moving around and getting your heart to pump. Warming up is a purposeful activity: it helps your body get ready to dance. It aims at:
increasing blood flow
preparing for activity with ground impact
hydrating and activating fascia lines
finding your center of gravity and elongating your spine
As such, an efficient warm-up includes activities that:
gradually increase intensity
use a mix of push & pull forces
loosen up joints by mixing mobility and stability work
6 efficient exercises for your ballet warm-up
1. Rope skipping to get your heart pumping and rejuvenate your fascia
It might feel strange to bring a rope to a ballet studio, yet rope skipping remains one of the best warmups you could think of. Rope skipping ticks all the boxes mentioned above for a great warm-up. Jumping is one of the most underrated activity by young adults. However, a variety of researches shows the benefits of jumping around to keep the fascia healthy and flexible. It will also get your core muscles engaged which is key to your hip stability.
You can try any variation that feels good for you: single leg, both legs, staggered legs, knees high.
Ladies, if you had kids, make sure you have completed your pelvic floor rehabilitation prior to skipping. If it is a challenging exercise, or if you experience any leaking issues, don’t ignore it and consult a physician to complete your rehab. A healthy and functional pelvic floor is essential to your dance practice. Despite being the most natural thing in the world, pregnancy related issues are still slightly taboo and too many female dancers suffer in silence (Olivia, thank you for making me aware of this matter).
2. Battements cloches to loosen up your joints
Battements cloches front/back and sideways are an excellent choice to help the ligaments in your joints activate. In ballet, you want your ligaments to do their job of keeping your joints stable but at the same time be loose enough to keep you flexible. Your hip joint will be put to extreme contribution by your ballet practice; so let’s treat it with due care.
You want to start with small range battements: do 8 counts of battement cloches front and back, then 8 counts of sideways. Then repeat but allowing your leg to go slightly higher this time. Always increase your range of motion slowly during your warm up.
3. Yawning followed by single leg balance to find your center of gravity
Yawning provides a deep massage and stretch of your diaphgram, so let’s make use of it (unless you prefer to stick your fingers deep under your ribs to reach it for a massage…).
Yawn very naturally as you would do in the morning, stretching your arms to any direction you like, experience moving your back around in extension, flexion to the side and forward to really get a deep stretch.
Then stand on one leg and find your center of gravity, notice how easy it is after yawning deeply. Experiment with some relevés before repeating the sequence for the other leg.
4. Plyometric exercises to prepare for ballet jumps
Now we get into how Core de Ballet specifically approaches a warm-up. We strongly believe that an essential element of your warm-up is to prepare your joints for load (impact from jumps, or the weight of lifting your partner), and get your muscles ready to contract very quickly. This type of warm-up is extremely beneficial to dancers who feel naturally more inclined toward adagio and do not see themselves as fast and quick jumpers, with practice you can turn this around to your advantage. It is obviously beneficial to swift dancers who want to gain velocity.
Plyometrics, also called jumping training, have three requirements: muscle movement from full flexion to extension, quick and explosive and a jumping element. In simpler terms, you’ll go through the full range of motion as fast as possible and jump.
Plyometric push-ups: Before getting into it, make sure you’ve practiced very fast push-ups going through the full range of motion: from the bottom of the flexion when your chest is aligned horizontally with your elbows, to the top of the extension when your arms are fully extended. Once you’ve mastered the full range push-up, add a little jump of your hands off the floor. The trick is not to wait until your arms are extended to push off the floor. Apply the same principles you’ve learned in an allegro.
Jumping squats (our favorite): Same principle, practice your squats until you can perform them quite fast and quickly. Once you’ve mastered the squats, add a jump. Make sure to still get through the full range of the squat: sit back very deeply and fully straighten your legs in the jump. You can use your arms to help you in the movement. Enjoy!
5. Floor and wall assisted stretches to get a deeper stretch
Stretches is a difficult subject because the research keeps validating and negating certain stretches over others. One can be confused very easily. The bottom line is that there are different stretching techniques that are useful and efficient at specific time of the day. You will not use the same stretching techniques as you get out of bed, before a class, after a class, during the day or before going to bed; more on that in a later article. For now, let’s focus on the stretches that are useful prior to a class.
Before a class, you want to practice deep but short stretches that involve your entire body. Instead of trying to stretch individual muscles, let’s say your hamstrings, involve the entire chain of muscles of the limb and continue this imaginary chain from heads to toes. This type of warm-up is more beneficial to dancers who are struggling with finding their balance at the beginning of the class.
Posterior chain stretch: Lie on your back with both legs bent and your feet on the floor. Raise your left hand overhead and press your left hand against a wall. Now extend the left leg just a few centimeters above the floor and reach the leg towards the right side of your body allowing your right leg to drop on the floor. You want to create an opposition between your leg and your hip; so your left hip is actually reaching back towards the left. So you’re creating a triangle with a sharp ange at your hip: As you reach the left leg to the right, your left hip reaches to the left and you push your left hand against the wall. You should feel the stretch along your entire body allowing all the muscles, tendons and ligaments of this chain to get in line. You can experiment turning the leg in and out and notice how the stretch is different. It could be useful to ask a partner to place their hand on your foot so that you can press on the wall and on their hand to get the movement right. Repeat on the other side.
6. Flowing stretches to check how your body feels today
It is important for a dancer to check how the body feels on a given day and at a given time. Replace your 5 minute long splits or frogs but a routine flowing from one position to another, stay a maximum of 10 seconds in a comfortable position (without reaching your maximum range) and transition to the next. For example you can start with a lunge, then a warrior pose, a side lunge, extend both legs to a splits and flow into working the second leg. If you feel any area of tension don’t stay into the position for too long, continue the flowing routine but come back to that tense position a couple of times.
You can continue to follow Core de Ballet and check for yoga flow for inspiration.
Is your ballet warm-up a good warm-up?
This was a snapshot of efficient warm-up exercises but there are hundreds of different things you can do. Let your imagination flow. Maybe your current warm-up already meets the criteria highlighted above. Maybe you need to modify it slightly only. For example, if you are used to staying in a split and frog for an extended time, then just modify it to a flowing movement from the splits to the frog and go back and forth between the two.
An efficient warm-up:
wakes you up,
engages your entire body as one piece,
makes you move,
includes gentle stretches,
uses the floor or a wall to push against.