There are many different methods that athletes and coaches use to prepare for training sessions, and it’s important to understand how implementing even small changes in your routine can help you get more out of each session. One of the easiest ways to improve your warm-up is to remove prolonged static stretching, as it will reduce explosive performance; or perhaps more surprisingly is how a bout of stretching can reduce balance and reaction times. Although it can be a difficult habit to break, taking static stretching out of a warm-up is a necessary first step.
Next, the key is to understand that each method used will have a particular effect or consequence. In the previous example, reducing power production, balance and reaction time is not ideal for high levels of athletic performance. Instead, the goal should be to increase body temperature and joint lubrication, engage the nervous system to a greater degree, groove movement patterns, and enhance sport specific skills.
Here is how we build a warm-up to target those goals.
- Foam Rolling (tissue quality work)
- Bracing (Activation)
- Dynamic Mobility (video below)
- Proprioceptive Training (Balance)
- Movement-Based Techniques
- Thermogenics (Movement)
Dynamic mobility series for soccer:
These are our most commonly used methods to prepare our athletes for training sessions, but don’t view it as an exhaustive list. This order is also how we typically program, but it too isn’t set in stone. We use this order because it provides structure for us to progress our warm-up.
We start with foam rolling and bracing, which are less complex, to give athletes time to mentally prepare for the upcoming training. We’ve seen that giving athletes time to socialize is valuable when there are clear expectations. They can use this time to mentally transition the athletes’ focus from their lives to their sport.
Dynamic mobility and proprioceptive training have higher levels of complexity and require much more focus. We want to avoid starting here: it leads to lack of focus and poor carryover to athletic preparation, because athletes haven’t had time to prepare mentally.
Movement-based techniques often involve practicing new movement patterns like running, jumping, or landing mechanics, and consequently take a considerable amount of focus. As this point, we increase the intensity of the warm-up, which is why it fits well after the dynamic mobility and proprioceptive training.
Thermogenics is a broad category, and we tend to use small-sided games, passing drills, or sprints. The key here is to use thermogenic work to quickly ramp up both intensity and specificity. We isolate a part of our sport to use as a warm-up and the warm-up transitions seamlessly into training.
You might not always have the time or the equipment needed for all six components, but you’ll establish better long-term athletic development by using as many as possible. Keep in mind that weather may influence the duration of an individual component. More time on thermogenic’s may be need during cooler weather, for example.
Getting athletes to buy into a new routine can sometimes be the real challenge for us. The most efficient method is to educate them: show them how the warm-up routine is an integrated part of their training, inseparable from the session. Additionally, creating a flow that clearly progresses an athlete to the state of readiness required for each training session will let them “feel” the value.
The flow should also incorporate a progression from general to sport specific — we will use soccer here as an example. Proprioceptive training could start with single leg rooting drills and then progress to juggling or volleying. Movement based techniques could have a similar progression, beginning with general running technique, and continuing to a sprint ending with a touch(s) on the ball. Be creative with how you move from general to sport specific elements within each of the six warm-up components.
Three running technique drills:
The best warm-ups are intentional and to the point. An effective, targeted warm-up will make your training sessions more efficient and reduce your risk of injury by addressing muscular imbalances, improving joint centration, and increasing muscular temperature. Simply, jogging and stretching have a place, but if you want to take your training seriously then there are better options.