A REPORT FROM MATTHEW SMITH'S “APPLIED ANATOMY. FUNCTIONAL TRAINING FOR DANCERS”
By Andreas Dyrdal
The quality of the air is reminiscent of rock concerts; suffocating, warm and stuffy. I find myself on the floor of a spacious workspace-turned-studio; my legs crossed before me, leaning back into my shoulders, my arms supporting me from behind and with my head in a position far from justified by the Alexander Technique classes I've so far had this week. It's a couple of minutes before the start and I'm already sweating.
It bothers me slightly that I'm in this state of sweat. I mean, it would have been natural, had I already been 30 minutes into my workshop, or had I done a decent warm-up this morning, but, as far as I'm concerned, I've only transported my body from A to B, from bed to studio. It also shouldn't really have too much of an impact, as I normally live in a country where what's considered warm in Vienna is merely average and I cover similar lengths of transportation all the time, from bed to studio. I‘m puzzled to not find myself in a state of cold. Maybe I should blame my bike; blue, heavy, unadjusted, and with 3 gears worth getting personal about. As I'm sitting here on the floor, trying to blame my current fluid loss on this metal construction, a counter-thought is forming; I'm reminded that my state cannot be excused as I arrived an hour early, ironically to mentally prepare for something very physical. I'm preparing for something I love, while thinking about it.
Matthew Smith, dancer / Pilates certified teacher, and the teacher of the “Applied Anatomy / Function Training For Dancers,” or just AA (not to be confused), explains that it's possible to raise your heartbeat and body-temperature by merely focusing on it. In the context of AA, this becomes somewhat of a curiosity as we're soon thoroughly engaged in warming up. Matthew's aim: applying the latest trends in sport science to dancers in order to maximize the physical potential of the body, or to maximize, as he says: "this beautiful machinery that we all have".
According to the sport science applied through AA, a correct warm-up of the body should primarily focus on raising the core temperature of the body about 1º Celsius. There are no set principles for the creation of this increase, although a sustained physical activity is preferred as its generator. The best indicator that it is happening is: you're working up a sweat.
Matthew Smith applies the method of the Fixatropic warm-up to his class, more simply described as shaking. The main muscle groups of the body are shaken while standing in a slightly turned-out, parallel position with the legs underneath your hips and the knees slightly bent. Emphasis is placed on distributing weight predominately through the outside of your middle-foot, lifting the metatarsal arch. The shaking is repeated in a small lunge and while standing on one leg; shaking out the ankle and calf: front, side and back. The arms and torso are involved, pretending by either grabbing someone's collar and shaking them hard forward back, or by letting the hands alternately press against each other, side to side, up and down, with a relatively high frequency in the repetitions. The warm-up focuses on the body's Fixatropic characteristics, which, according to Matthew, can best be explained by looking at a bottle of tomato ketchup.
The content of a bottle of ketchup is solid when it's not in use. When we decide we need it we shake it, and it becomes liquid enough to squeeze out of the bottle, ready to be applied to whatever we need it for. Matthew goes on to explain that the muscles and fluids in the body and also the spine itself carry the same characteristics. Gentle curving and arching can mobilize the spine while at the same time forming a bridge on your hands and knees, face down. Eight repetitions are all it takes in order to turn solids into fluids, then the spine is ready for work; hence it should preferably be done before any other work, even before the shaking itself.
Highly recommended by Matthew, he also stresses that the body should not be stretched before it's warm. So I'm trying not to stretch, trying not to fall into the temptation of elongating into tight muscles and joints, and maybe trying not to succumb to the dancer's habit of checking, meaning: doing small twists and turns that dancers do to their bodies before physical work commences. Things that feel good, but that, as Matthew explains, are not necessarily good for the body. A thought is made to injury prevention. Pause.
In combination with the Fixatropic shaking, some dynamic exercises are applied; such as throwing the legs to the front (always in a naturally turned-out position), sideways runs, and also balance training, all of which together form the complete warm-up. Following this, Matthew makes different choices for his class in terms of methods, as people tire easily and some requests come up as the week goes by.
Partly in order to maximize the physical potential of the body, or the dancing body, the group is introduced to different methods of Plyometrics, and, in particular, to Jump-Training. A training method originally developed by Russian Yuri Verkhoshansky  , Plyometrics aims to train explosive ability and, in the context of dance, the ability to jump high. Attention to maintaining the correct alignment of feet and legs in landing and take-off is mostly paid by a partner or Matthew himself, while jumps are carried out across the floor, or down and up from a chair. Jumps reminiscent of a regular dance class remain untouched and the maximum amount of impacts never exceeds 50, a recommended maximum amount of impacts per day.
Also part of Plyometrics, training maximum speed is practised by means of several deconstructed steps of full runs or sprints, including a number of technical elements. The module terminates in about six to eight full-speed diagonals. Attention is yet again paid to the alignment of feet and legs, but also incorporating another main philosophy of AA: you won't get any better at it if you don't do it. Therefore, full sprints as well as jumps are necessary in order to run faster, jump higher. Matthew adds that a 100-meter sprinter would never do more than eight full sprints a day. The training could have the reverse effect, quality before quantity.
On two different occasions, the group is introduced to the training method of the Tabata-protocol, a method developed by Japanese Dr. Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo  . Unlike other training methods, this method trains the anaerobic and aerobic endurance at the same time, which also makes it ideal for dancers. 20 seconds of a high-intensity activity are followed by 10 seconds of the same activity performed with either low intensity or as a static position, until four minutes have passed. The protocol is applied by Matthew Smith through squats and runs separately.
Immediately after this relatively high-intensity work, the body is subjected to core-stability training on mats or with physioballs, and the class culminates in PNF-stretching to hamstrings and quadriceps. Also described as resistance stretching, PNF-stretching, according to Smith, is the most effective stretching method to date in order to elongate muscles and should be performed at the end of the physical work and while the muscles are warm. Pressure is applied to a stretch against the weight of a partner for about six to seven seconds, then released and repeated four to five times, each time going a little further, although not losing alignment.
With a slight curve in my back, falling backwards, I slowly observe how a substantial amount of liquid is running down my forehead. How it's caught by the eyebrows and channelled down over and beside my nostrils, down to the cavity were the upper and lower lips meet. Gathering yet again before finding its way to my chin, from where it all takes a free fall onto my T-shirt. I can clearly feel that my white 100% cotton is a lot warmer than when I last checked, even though I tried to pick a lighter one.
I'm back to the continuous beginning. I have taken precautions; yesterday's memory of dripping sweat at the session's end. I look at my fellow participants and we smile at each other. We know what's coming. We're all sitting on the floor, five minutes before class, with half-masochistic smiles on our faces, knowing that in a little less than two hours they will be fully-grown, satisfied ones.
Once again, I ask Matthew Smith about the mental elevation of temperature. He smiles and says: "You know that nervousness can also elevate your temperature?" I reply: "I know, but I really like this." He says: "I know, let's start!"
 Hale, J. (n.d) MMA SUCCESS - Part 8. http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/hale45.htm
 Strength-Training-Woman.com (n.d) Tabata Protocol for Strength Training Programs. http://www.strength-training-woman.com/tabata-protocol-for-strength-training.html
(August 13, 2008)