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Create a Warm-up Routine: Where to Start and Why You Need One

Rachel Frawley

When was the last time you utilized a proper warm-up routine? While some actors are militant about it, for others, it is a relic of 101 classes. But while it may seem basic, a warm-up routine is a classic, indispensable tool that grows with your craft.
Actors are constantly called upon to reach deep, genuine emotional levels on little notice, under chaotic circumstances, in front of a green screen, in an audition room, without even the support of a scene partner. The only way to give yourself a shot at achieving this consistently is to make sure that you are physically, vocally and emotionally warmed up. If you’re feeling lost or want to reset, here are some easy things to include in your warm-up practice:

  • A full body stretch. Nothing beats a full physical warm-up. Creating a routine that works for you will take time, but a good way to start is making sure you’re hitting all the major muscle groups. The roll-down is a classic for a reason. Try rolling down your spine, piece by piece, until you’re hanging over from your hips like a rag doll. Do some stretches and gentle shakeouts down there before slowly rolling back up. From there, I like to start with head rolls and neck stretches and work my way down the body—shoulders and arms, lats and obliques, hips and legs. Make sure to include some good joint warm-ups and back stretches. Yoga is a great place to draw from; cat-cow poses, for example, are an excellent way to warm up the spine. The more time and space you have, the more in depth you can get. At the end of your physical warm-up, try to include some more dynamic movements that get energy and blood flowing.
  • A vocal warm-up. Even if you’re not going to be singing, it is important to warm up your voice and articulators. Start with some basic lip trills. Make sure to include exercises that work out your range (sirens, for example), your breath, and your facial articulators. Do several exercises for each before moving on to tongue twisters or other text-based exercises. It’s good to have several standards in your back pocket to draw from.
  • A repertoire of what-ifs. For those times when you have to connect with material and reach emotional places quickly, it’s important to know your triggers. You want to be careful here. Using real-life experiences to re-traumatize yourself is not a great idea, neither for your mental health, nor for the sustainability of your career. But knowing what inspires you emotionally is helpful. Knowing what kind of emotionally charged imaginary circumstances you connect with can help you build bridges to new material quickly. Also consider having a tool kit of sensory stimulation on hand—music to play in your car or in the audition waiting room (I always have earbuds handy), pictures on your phone, or even swatches of textured material. If you’re looking to warm up emotionally without knowing what material you might have to connect with, try incorporating a playlist into your physical warm-up—something that makes you feel emotionally open and inspired.

The good thing about establishing a proper warm-up routine is that you will build muscle memory. Keep up with your warm-up routine even during dry spells when you’re not actively involved in a production. Obviously there will be circumstances in which you won’t have the time or space to do a full warm-up. But if you are in the habit, you’ll be able to create shortcuts for yourself, plan ahead, and reach the desired mindset more quickly. A good warm-up is a leg up, technically, artistically and emotionally. It only makes sense to give yourself that advantage.
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