If you're reading this, you're likely a coach who works in a team sport. With that, allow me to ask you a few simple questions.
What are you doing for your team warm-up? Do you have one in place? Or are you just showing up to the field and getting right into skill work?
If you do have a warm-up, do you have a purpose behind it? Or are you including something because it's the norm and you feel like you have to?
Are your athletes ready to take on all of the versatile and explosive movements that happen throughout a game?
During practice, you excel at making them better with specific sports skills. However, creating athletes who can adjust to almost any movement they will encounter throughout a game is a big key for building an explosive, well-rounded and resilient team. We can start building this ability by simply integrating an effective warm-up routine.
Fire Up the Central Nervous System
No matter the sport, athletes need to be firing on all cylinders to perform their best. To accomplish this, their central nervous system (CNS) must be awake and active. While firing up your central nervous system may sound simple enough, I'd bet you're missing two critical factors in your team warm-up that can greatly aid in this process. Those two factors are power work and speed work.
Power and speed work before a game or practice should not scare you. We're only looking for a minimal effective dose that will adequately fire up the CNS.
The minimal effective dose allows your athletes to have their central nervous system activated, allowing them to perform to their highest ability. It's also going to help them keep their speed throughout the season. With smarter programming and the inclusion of several key movements into your warm-up, we can keep our athletes healthy and powerful while also preparing them for an excellent game or practice.
But how does one go about integrating speed and power work into a team warm-up? The first thing to remember is to keep it simple. We don't need to overcomplicate this process. However, a warm-up should consist of more than just a lap around the field, some toe touches and a few arm circles. It needs to be more athletic than that.
Your warm-up should first increase the athlete's body temperature with general movement practices before moving into dynamic mobility exercises. Then, you should fire up their CNS with power and speed work.
Jogging, shuffling, backpedaling and skipping are great general movement practices for your athletes that will start to increase their core temperature. That increase in core temperature will make dynamic mobility exercises more effective, so it's smart to then move into things like lunges, knee hugs, walking quad pulls, lateral lunges, inverted hamstrings, and leg cradles as a way to improve dynamic mobility and get your athletes ready to perform.
After you've gone through the dynamic mobility portion of your warm-up, move to power work. This includes medicine ball throws and jump variations. Of course, performing medicine ball throws depends on the availability of that equipment. If no medicine balls are accessible, jumps will suffice.
What kind of medicine ball movements should you be using for power work? Here are a number of different examples.
What kind of jumping movements should you be using for power work? Below are some examples.
These movements should be done with maximal intent, but with low reps and sets.
Pick 1 or 2 exercises and perform 1 or 2 sets of each exercise using 3-5 reps for each set. You can gradually increase the number of exercise choices, sets and reps throughout the season, but start small.
But power work is just one missing link in your team warm-up. Speed work is another essential component that's often overlooked. Integrating this speed work can be as simple as adding four 10-yard sprints at the end of the warm-up. Adding a little bit of maximal sprint work will help the athletes maintain their speed for the whole season. This isn't the 20 "punishment" sprints you might make them do at the end of a sloppy practice. This is a few max effort sprints that cover a short distance (10-15 yards) performed at the end of the warm-up.
While that may sound fairly straight forward, you can advance the speed work by altering the starting sprint position for your athletes. Changing up their starting positions will help them improve their ability to accelerate and enhance their general body control. Below are a number of different start positions you can utilize during the speed work portion of your team warm-up:
You can also utilize combination movements during your team warm-up speed work to improve overall athletic ability. Combining movements allow your athletes to work on their ability to change direction, and when your athletes can change direction more efficiently, they can produce more power.
When it comes to working on change of direction, we should not be overdoing it with too many repetitions. It's too intense for athletes, especially with an impending sports practice. Adding too much change of direction can fatigue the CNS and actually increase your athlete's chance of injury. You have to remember we are really just trying to maintain their athleticism and wake up the CNS with this warm-up. You should not be trying to include 10-15 minutes of continuous cone drills in the speed work portion of your team warm-up. Instead, 3-5 minutes at the end of your warm-up will get the job done without exhausting your athletes. Pick 1 or 2 of the drills listed to help your athletes maintain their ability to change direction efficiently:
- Backpedal to Sprint
- Sprint to Backpedal
- Sprint to Shuffle
- Shuffle to Sprint
- Mirror Drill: Lateral
- Mirror Drill: Linear
Where a Good Warm-Up Can Go Wrong
Simply including some general power and speed work into your team warm-up can give you an edge over the competition. However, you have to be sure you don't overdo it. For example, don't include a new movement in the warm-up on game day.
As a coach, you should be paying attention to how your athletes respond to movements. Make sure you have worked on multiple movements through the preseason and practice before you utilize them before a game. This approach allows you to see how your athletes handle different movement and see what they respond best to. See what they like and include their feedback in the process of developing your game day warm-up. When they have input in the warm-up's creation, they're more likely to get the most out of it. You should strive to keep the game day warm-up relatively similar throughout the course of the season, unless your athletes feel like they want to change.
Photo Credit: leezsnow/iStock, skynesher/iStock
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