Warming Up For Sport – What? Why? How?

By Richie Whall

soccer warmup

What is the purpose of the warm-up? Why do we warm-up? How do we warm-up?


The majority of coaches and athletes will perform some form of warm-up prior to training or competition but how often do we actually take the time to think about:


:: What we need to do to warm-up appropriately


:: Why we do what we are currently doing to warm-up, or


:: Wow can the warm-up be conducted more effectively?



In my previous article I discussed a goals – principles – strategies – activities approach to developing your coaching philosophy and system. So, applying this system – what does this mean for warm-ups?


The two key warm-up goals are to:


1. Prepare the athletes specifically for the training/competition to follow, both mentally and physically.


2. Minimise the risk of injury


Following the principle of ‘starting with the end in mind’ (as adapted from such great minds as Stephen Covey and a certain Brian Grasso!) we can then explore in greater detail what is required to fulfil the goals above:


1. What specifically is it that we are preparing for? Does the warm-up change from competition to practice? Is the practice focus more physical or technical/tactical? What is required for my athletes to be successful in competition?


2. What provides the greatest risk of injury to the athletes? What movements do the athletes perform, in which planes/directions and at what speeds?



From my own personal experience many of us, when coaching athletes or in our own training, understand the goals and principles but then fail to apply appropriate strategies or activities that fully take into account what we are trying to achieve. For example, the same activities may be used regardless of whether the warm-up is prior to a speed & agility focussed session, which requires a great deal of physical preparation, or a tactical training session, where the limiting factors may be more related to the mental and/or social skills of the athletes.


There has been a significant, and much needed, shift towards ‘movement prep’ warm-ups over recent years with coaches generally now more aware of the advantages of movement based warm-ups compared to the traditional ‘run a few laps of the pitch/court then static stretch’ warm-up I often endured as an athlete!  However, to take these warm-ups to the next level I believe we also need to consider the mental and social skills that need ‘warming-up’ prior to training or competition if we are to maximise our young athletes development. Asking athletes to warm-up in small groups, challenging them to think and listen, communicate and react is a vital yet commonly overlooked strategy in many warm-ups. Integrating these elements into your warm-ups will often require little change to your current routines. Have the athletes mirror or shadow each other, use an ‘auckland grid’ style set-up to increase interaction between payers or have the group respond to ‘simon says’ instructions as often used by Lee Taft.  Keep it simple, keep it fun and keep it interactive, help prepare the athletes fully for the training/competition to follow and watch as they grow in confidence, social awareness and attitude.


Do you have any of your own views on warm-ups to share? Examples of good or bad warm-ups in practice? Strategies you have used to great effect or problems you have encountered but not yet found a solution? Post them below and myself along with the IYCA team look forward to your feedback and will help you find answers to any problems.


Richie Whall


Richie Whall
Cheshire, England

18 Responses

  1. Todd Baden says:

    Great article!
    We use alot of movement prep as well and I also find that young athletes, who play certain sports year round develop restricted joint movement and coaches fail to these problems and only want to work on power or explosion. So we add joint movment exercises speciifically for hips and shoulders almost daily in our warm-up because of all the posterior aliments. We also want to focus on weak links and I feel they do not get addressed.

  2. MikeDaniels says:

    Nice article on an interesting topic. I do seriously believe that the warm-up should be considered one of the most important parts of training, since its components are involved on EVERY single day and therefore allow for efficient and progressive work.
    I also see the need to progress and mix things up to keep players involved mentally and would be interested in some new ideas there.
    What we have mixed in is a circuit-style warmup, often even with a workout-muse CD running, which has players run thru movement-prep style motions, some mobility/flexibility work, mini-band activations, etc.
    I have found that the focus on each component has increased, compared with the conventional scheme in which every player does the same exercise in one line, etc.

  3. Nathan Atkins says:

    The warm is very important. As a new trainer my philosophy is I don’t ask my athletes to do anything
    I can’t do. Obviously not as well but it is my principle. At 41 I can’t tell you warm ups specific to the training
    conducted is extremely important. I focus on doing those things that will supply the appropriate blood flow
    to the muscles that are about to worked and ensure we stretch the antagonist muscles as well.

    I agree with this article and enjoyed reading it. It is a good affirmation of what we should do versus what we
    sometimes do.

  4. Very Good Article and rightly appropriate. Warm-ups are highly needed yet with movement patterns specified for the activity. I had the opportunity to run my first 8K this past weekend and growing up I was not a runner. Over the past 6 months I mentally and physically prepared. Ballistic and static stretching along with a few mild sprints pre-run helped get the body warm and set for the task ahead. In the business I run, I work with Family Fitness and at the beginning of the workout I have them do 5 exercises that are dynamic in movement yet fun based so that it is something that whole family enjoys. For example, to work the legs, arms, and shoulders, I have the whole family doing airplanes. I tell them to walk in a small circle in multi-directional patterns while they are doing pronation and supination of the hands. It is something that is fun, can be done by the whole family, yet they are doing a dynamic warm-up without paying much mind to it. Many of your fitness industry best are using the dynamic and static movement pattern method. Take for instance, the P90X program. If you walk through his program he has you doing both for injury prevention and this is for an intense program. Yet, systematically because he is doing mulit-joint movement patterns within his program he would require warm-ups focused on all muscle groups. The take a few laps method can be used as a proper warm-up though, depending if the movement of the arms and legs are highly involved. It would be a wiser choice though to do warm-ups sports specified for your athletes.

  5. Dave Gleason says:

    One aspect I would like to add is the teaching of these components to your audience. Our young athletes can tell me what we are doing and why…from 6-18 yrs.

    It is simplified for our younger groups. In our Discovery classes kids will tell me “I’m getting my body ready for what I’m going to do in class”. Our older kids know when we are working on tissue quality vs. muscle activation vs. movement prep. When they are vested in the process the compliance is much higher and the quality of your “warm-ups” goes through the roof!

    Great article Richie!

  6. Terry Kamerer says:

    Very good article and right on cue. I continue to see the old school style of warming up everywhere I go. Many times it is being presented or implemented by who the community believes to be a great coach. I hear the kids grumbling before practices (not mine) that they hope to only run 2 laps instead of 4 or 6 that they usually have to perform. I grew up old school as well (43 yrs old) but have seen a huge improvement when using a movement, activation and rom style warm up with my own children as well as those I coach. If you throw in some form of game, let the athletes lead the group, and continue to make it fun, it sets the whole tone for the days activities.

  7. Kamal Afzal says:

    Hi there,

    I still do static stretching prior to warm-up when training someone 1 on 1, becuase i need to lengthen some tight muscles. But for group classes be it with kids or adults, warm is based on vary gross sometimes exaggerated movement, mostly targeting the nervous system and slowly towards the cardiopulmonary system.

  8. David Sampson says:

    It is intersting that here we are 2010 and I still here athletes telling me that they run a few laps then static stretch. Our goal here at Athletic Element is to educate along with coach proper positional functional movement. We reengineer the way the body moves and I agree that the warm up has to fit the lesson. If we have a multi-directional drill that day we have a multi-directional warm up and the same with linear warm up, linear lesson. There has to be a very well thought out plan in order to maximize the athletes session.
    Great article enjoyed it, keep educating!!

  9. Dan says:

    I have always had a “sameness” approach, with basically the same dynamic warm-up at the start of every class. I would add a little something different now and again.
    However, with my intro to IYCA, I have begun experimenting with matching my warm up with the movement focus for that day and also adding an upper body and hip circuit in. Expanding the ‘warm-up’ and making it more well rounded has seemed to be enjoyed by the kids and I know we are also hitting muscles groups we hadn’t before, so overall I have been pleased.
    Went to my son’s college football Spring game this weekend and I noticed their warm up was almost identical to what I used to do. When I asked my son, he tells me they do this same warm up every practice and it is their “mental prep” time as well as physical.
    Although there are positives to the variety this concept of mental and physical prep time is missing in the variety warm ups. Almost a “pre-performance routine” rather than just a warm-up. This mental side is making me reconsider backing off my new change every day approach a little. Good stuff, thanks.

  10. Phil Hueston says:

    I spoke at a Little League Coach’s Safety/Pre-Season meeting a few weeks ago about coaching concepts and conditioning.
    I was asked what a good warm-up was for t-ballers (5-6 yo), considering how rambunctious they can be when they get to “practice.” This coach complained that all they want t do when they get there is run around like maniacs.
    My response? “Problem solved! Let them run around like nuts. While YOU “use a timer” to tell them when to “freeze” and “unfreeze.” Sometimes, the LESS scientifically perfect the warm-up is, the more appropriate it is.
    Occam’s Razor tells us that the most obvious answer to a question or problem is usually the right one.
    Just my 2 cents!

  11. jeff hill says:

    What an important topic this is. Since incorporating dynamic warmup in my own training I have noticed better results and a more athletic feel to my workouts.

    Also, I like the post by Phil Heuston above. Your response to the coach’s question was so simple yet so wise. Either the light bulb went off in his head or he was thinking ‘thanks Einstein’. The answer is sometimes right in front of us and we over complicate things. Good job Phil

    Thanks again Brian for the reminder of the importance of good warmup

  12. Andrew Ryan says:

    Great article,it get you thinking about how to prepare athletes for game like situations.I beleive warm up is both physical & mental warm up for the activities a head. Starting in a controled slower motion,building up intensity as the body warms to the task ahead.When the training or games start the athlete is ready to go at full intensity.

  13. Chris says:

    Nice job, Richie. While warming up the athlete for activity needn’t be “rocket science”, it IS still a science and coaches should have a system in place.


  14. Adam Sheppard says:

    Very relevant and practical description of the purpose of the warm-up. In addition to being used to prepare the athletes for the specific movements to follow, the warm-up also serves as an assessment as to whether or not the athletes are actually ready (mentally and/or physically) for the training to come. Just having the athletes perform the warm-up does not necessarily mean they are “prepared” for the training session. It’s the assessment of the athletes during this warm-up period that offers the coach useful feedback to know where his or her athletes are at prior to the training session. Otherwise, I think you’re spot on. Thank you for the thoughts.

  15. Roy Alfonso says:

    Good article. It seems that the physical has been discussed and the competition and practice
    distinctions have been made. Although the psychological preparation has been mentioned
    I didn’t see any examples.
    Last Spring I worked with 16 year old boys soccer players. At practice and pre game warm ups
    I would have to consistently bring their FOCUS to the activity at hand. They would always be
    talking about superficial non related topics and thus, I felt they were not connected to what they
    were about to perform.
    Sometimes I would just pose a question: “What makes a Champion?” “How thinking like a
    champion help us?”
    Then there was, ” We have to put our attention in improving as individuals and as a team.”
    “It is hard to all of a sudden get serious and focused, start now with the warm up.”

    We were undefeated that season.
    This year they’re 17 but I find the same challenge is back.
    I’m doing different kinds of activities for warm up and pre practice conditioning. Our first game
    is this Sunday and of course we’ve moved up a division. I plan to talk to them about how we’ve
    gotten into a level of play were mistakes can easily cause us a game. We have to give 100%
    and only 100% will make us winners regardless of the final score.
    This translates to the building of character and good work ethics. If each player gives the team
    100% most of the time during the season, we will have a winning season regardless of the stats.

  16. Steven says:

    The two stated goals of warmups — preparation for the event and minimizing risk of injury — are right on the money. Also very good that the author noted that physical and mental preparation are key components of a warmup routine.
    One thing that I like to add is that even within the framework of common goals and principles, there should always be room for some personal variations. Every athlete is a little different, and each age group is a little different, so the best results, in terms of performance and safety, will be achieved by recognizing and adapting to these differences.
    I like P. Hueston’s creative suggestions on how to get the desired results without having to impose a formal structure that may not work with some target groups of athletes (young kids in his case).

  17. Dr. George Radice says:

    A very good article! From what I have learned in all my years of education, is that the real main goal and purpose of warm ups are to prepare the body for top performance. This can only be achieved by changing the entire physiology of the body. That is achieved by reaching the state of Physiological Training Effect. This can not be achieved unless a minimum of 8-12 minutes of sustained target heart range has been achieved. There are a multitude of physiological changes which take place during that transformation. I won’t get into them at this time but you can look them up if you’ve forgotten them. These changes are manditory for the human body to be able to perform at its maximum potentialis. I think it is difficult to derive at a warm up program that accomplishes just that. There is a lot of carefull and well thought out planning involved. I do think the warmup should encompass physiological, psychological, and social aspects, never sacraficing the having fun factor. Once again I must stress that maintaining target heart rate for a minimum of 8-12 minutes is essential to develope a successful warm up program.

  18. Dave Gleason says:

    Dr. Radice:

    What age group are you referring to this sustained target heart rate for 8-12 minutes? Furthermore, what is the target range suggested.

    We need to be careful with blanket statements like this, especially when dealing with young children. Respectfully I would question this approach in regard to preparing for a training session or for an sporting event. Hopefully the point is well taken from the article by the readers that a warm up is to prepare for the event or activities that the child will be engaging in.

    Once more the goal of the warm up is specific to the programming or the sporting event.

    Given the fact that children are metabolically and aerobically inefficient (as well as mechanically incorrect most of the time depending on age and experience), 8-12 minutes of an undisclosed target heart rate could be interpreted incorrectly by a coach, thus compromising the effect we are actually looking to achieve.

    Any additional thoughts or information would be welcomed!

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