As an athlete, a warm-up is a crucial part to starting a practice or game. It’s the time to “get everything ready.” But how exactly should one go about warming up?
I’ve seen and heard many different ways of doing it, some ways better than others. I’ve heard of football coaches having every kid on the team run a mile as a warm-up (yes, the lineman too). I’ve seen teams do nothing but static stretching for 10 minutes before a game and going right into the game.
I’ve also been a part of teams where the coach would have us do 15-20 minutes of every different movement and/or moving stretch imaginable, to the point we were all dripping sweat before the practice or game even started.
How should a warm-up look?
If we take a step back and look at the specifics of what a warm-up should actually accomplish, we can then build ourselves a great warm-up to accomplish all those things.
Now you might be thinking to yourself “It’s a warm-up – sounds pretty straightforward, right? Just…ya know…warm up?”
Yes! We absolutely want to warm up. One of the main goals of a warm-up is to raise the core body temperature. We're also trying to move more blood out of the center of the body and into the working muscles of the arms and legs.
This can be accomplished by doing just about anything active. From that standpoint, any of the above examples work. If that was the only goal of a warm-up, there would be no point to this article (so keep reading!).
One of the other goals of the warm-up is to prepare the body for what it has to do in the practice or game. A basketball player needs to be ready to run, jump, and shoot a basketball. A track thrower needs to be ready to throw an implement.
Here is where I make the argument against the above warm-up examples: very few of them were specific to the athlete and what the athlete needed accomplish that day.
A great way to warm up, and what my athletes do each day to start their sessions here at NSS, is to practice the skills of the day, simply at a lower intensity.
In the gym, on multi-directional speed day, the athletes are working on changing directions and building good habits with sound technique. On linear speed day, the athletes are working on sprint starts and different drills to help with acceleration.
All the drills we do are done at less than full speed in order to ensure proper technique, therefore they are great to start with as a warm-up.
I get to kill two birds with one stone: the athletes are raising the core body temps by moving, but it’s specific movement that will prepare them for the session, with the added benefit of drilling technique.
That is how we build a great warm-up: we have an athlete work on the skills they need to perform well in their sport.
By nature, technique work is often done at less than full speed, so it can be done at the beginning of a workout. The athlete will get warmed up, and then the athlete can transition to full-speed skills and drills. It sounds so simple, right?!
Yet often we get so caught up in doing all this stuff to make sure the athlete is 100% ready to go. But if the athlete doesn’t need to perform a movement in a game or practice, why do we need to do it in warm-ups?
Then you may raise your hand and ask “What about stretching?”
Stretching has not been shown in the research to protect an athlete from injury. That being said, if an athlete feels better and is better prepared to do the tasks of a practice or game, go for it!
Again, that’s what it all comes down to: preparing an athlete to perform the practice or game at a high level. If an athlete has “tight” or sore hamstrings, I’m absolutely not against them stretching the hamstrings to make them feel better and get the athlete more ready to move.
I do have my athletes do some dynamic stretching in their warm-ups. I find that the hips are often “tight” in young athletes, and getting them to move into some deeper stretching positions gets them more comfortable and more ready to get in those same positions within the session.
Some thought should be placed into the warm-up.
Just moving will “warm up” the body, but it may not do a good job of getting the body ready for the tasks it needs to do.
For that reason, a warm-up consisting of low-intensity technique drills specific to the practice or game with some stretching mixed in (again, the goal being get the athlete ready for a certain position or range of motion) would fit the bill perfectly.