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How to optimise a Performers warm up

The topic of warming up in the performing sector can be a surprisingly touchy subject. The common structure is that it is led by a choreographer or dance captain and is usually built from their years of experience of being exposed to warm ups from those that they learnt from and what they enjoy doing in their own warm ups. This makes people very territorial when it comes to the warm up, and to suggest that a warm up may be insufficient in any way can be like taking your life into your own hands. So firstly it is really important to frame any conversation about the warm up in a non-threatening, positive way because there are many good things about these warm ups.

 

From my experience of working in the sector I can safely say that there are a lot of good things going on in to the warm ups I’ve seen. Those leading the warm ups are usually super enthusiastic and it’s important to let them know that’s seen and compliment what’s good about the warm up. Sounds simple but if its sincere then it can hugely disarming and create an environment where sharing ideas is welcomed. I like to frame it as we are adding an element of specificity to the warm up which will directly impact performance. That’s a pretty empowering thing to know, that the warm up you are leading can do that.

 

Figure 1 The West End Cast of The Play That Goes Wrong using the RAMP protocol within their warm up

The good parts that I commonly see.

 

- They are commonly fun. Engagement is key to an impactful warm up and if you can achieve that then you will get intent from the Performing Athletes (PAs) which makes the warm up much more effective. This can come in many forms including the use of good music (subjective I know), warm up games and a general inclusive, high energy atmosphere that can come from some key people/personalities.

 

- They will certainly get your heart rate up. A good warm up should bring your heart rate up, raise your body temperature and ready your tissues for the stresses ahead.

 

- Mobility is always addressed, it can be rather generic and there are definitely differing requirements between individuals for the mobility section of a warm up but that said general mobility is always addressed.

 

- Potentiation is often addressed without knowing what exactly that is. Essentially it’s the priming of the nervous and muscular systems, and connective tissues for high force transmission and is achieved in this sector by jumping and plyometric type exercises.

 

 

As you can see there is a solid base in most warm ups in the sector, so a great starting point. Now if we want to move this into a more contemporyary realm, like in elite sports then it's good to understand that their warm ups are structured. Each section builds on the previous section to optimise each step in readiness for performing. The structure widely used is called the RAMP protocol. As mentioned each section of this structured warm builds on the last and when the good points of the warm ups I've seen (listed above) are considered, you'll agree a couple of the letters are already addressed in some way or another.

 

Raise – Section to increase your body temperature, blood flow within your muscles, connective tissue elasticity and nervous system activation

Activation – Targeting specific muscle groups that are put under stress in the upcoming performance or relevant to improve efficiency or reduce injury risk

 

Mobility – Specific and larger type patterns moving joints through the ranges of motion that will be tested in the upcoming performance or ones individuals feel particular restriction

 

Potentiate – High level stress that readies the tissues and nervous system for force high force production, higher energy absorption and higher energy outputs

 

Figure 2 Cast of Boys in The Boat doing their abdominal activation before rowing training

With the RAMP protocol in mind I’d like to highlight the general things I’ve seen in warm ups in the performing arts sector that could be tweaked to be enhanced

 

- Structure: Using a warm up framework that progressively builds on each section allows you to get the most from each section. Therefore organising the warm up into distinct sections will inevitably allow you to move through each phase, becoming increasingly prepared for the performance ahead.

 

- Volume: The volume of work or exercise in a performing arts warm up can be like a full session itself, understanding the goal of the warm up and capacity of the cast your working with will allow you to put enough work into each person without pushing them into fatigue. We want to ready them not fatigue them.

 

- Timing: For many reasons that are driven by process, logistics, costume and many other things, warm ups in performing arts are so often done too far away from the time the performance starts. This can be a difficult one to change but it may be worth thinking about a strategy where something smaller can be done as close to when the show starts as possible.

 

- Jumping load: Don’t get me wrong, we often need some jumping type exercises (stretch shortening cycle) in a warm up. But…. It’s the amount of jumping compounds and can problematic over the course of the week or run itself. Considering the number and types of jump or hopping type repetitions is very important for managing loading, not going into fatigue and preventing injury. Load management is one of the biggest rocks when it comes to injury risk management.

 

- Specificity: Physical demands vary widely, not only across different shows but across different characters within the same show. Everyone doing the same warm up is unlikely to ideal for every individual, so having some sort bespoke element or section to different cast, or a section for individuals to do their specifics can go a very long way. These exercise can be isolated, accessory movements which are commonly frowned upon in the sector but can be incredible important. Remember these exercises compound over time so a long list of exercises is not usually required.

 

 

I know what you’re thinking, “yes this is all very well but my show is different” and I’ve come up against that so many times in the past. But over time we have slowly changed that perception with a “proof is in the pudding” approach, drip feeding change that performers can undoubtedly feel. That results in huge buy-in and a happier bunch of healthier, fitter, less pain burdened cast, which leads to you fulfilling potential and helps push your career where you want it go. You can own this, and that's pretty awesome.

 

Hopefully this comes across as a balanced view on where a lot of warm ups are in the sector, highlighting good parts and acknowledging some things that can be improved. If you are looking to makes changes to your warm up then I would suggest you keep in mind that it is an “Evolution Not A Revolution” as wholesale changes in short periods of time do not tend to become permanent. Trying to create a culture for optimising performance can take time but it will lead to a huge array of benefits to yourself as a performer, your cast-mates and the production as a whole.

 

We will dive deeper into the RAMP protocol in the coming weeks so keep your eyes peeled for our new posts which can give you ideas on how you may start to structure your warm up in the way elite athletes do.