If female athletes are still starting practice with “two laps and static stretches”, it’s time to amplify their warm-up routine and set them up for success, not injury. Find out how to prevent injuries and enhance performance with a step-by-step dynamic warm-up, like professional coaches and trainers are doing with elite athletes.
For many years, the go-to warm-up for soccer, basketball, and football players was to jog a lap or two and then sit in a circle for static stretching. However, times have changed and research shows that relying solely on the traditional static stretching method may actually contribute to the high frequency of injuries of youth athletes. We are now in the era of dynamic warm-ups, which is proven to elevate performance and reduce the rate of injury.
Unfortunately, the value of a good warm-up is often under-estimated or misunderstood. Most people aren’t taught how to maximize the first 15-30 minutes of practice or pre-game, and the result might end up hurting your athlete.
In this article, we are going to discuss
- The difference between static and dynamic warm-ups
- How warm-up activities impact game performance
- How a warm-up can help prevent injuries
- How to design a dynamic warm-up using an 8 point process
- Tips for implementing a warm-up and maximizing the time spent
- How coaches and parents can help athletes go from struggling with setbacks to carving their path for a dynamite college career
Static vs. Dynamic Stretching
Unlike static stretching, where muscles are elongated and held for a prolonged period, a dynamic warm-up involves continuous active movements that mimic the motions and intensity of the sport or activity to follow. These movements typically encompass a combination of stretches, bodyweight exercises, and drills that enhance mobility, increase blood flow, activate the central nervous system, and elevate body temperature. Read more about the Benefits of a Dynamic Warm-Up Here (Coming Soon).
Impact on Game Performance
Athletes on a field or court are expected to give 100% in games, right? They sprint, jump, cut, pivot, plant, accelerate, decelerate, and react with full intensity during competition. So why shouldn’t they prepare their bodies for this level of play during their warm-up? For one, those who don’t maximize their warm-up time may spend the first half of the game ramping up to full intensity, and in the meantime they fall behind on the scoreboard and have to play catch-up for a chance at victory. We have all seen that happen.
A good warm-up will not only prepare athletes to dominate from the first whistle, but their chance of sustaining a season-ending injury, like a torn ACL, will be greatly reduced as well.
On practice or training days, maximizing “warm-up” time can effectively reduce injury risk, improve performance, build strength and resilience, and sharpen athletic focus without wasting time.
Designing an effective warm-up involves creating a purposeful set of exercises that target the specific movements and muscles used in the sport. As a direct result, athletes experience the benefits of increased blood flow, better flexibility, neuromuscular activation, and both physical and psychological readiness.
8 Point Process to Amplify Your Warm-Up, Plus 4 Bonus Tips to get Dynamite Results
To amplify your warm-up, follow this 8 point process, utilizing dynamic stretches and neuromuscular training elements, and watch your team elevate to a higher level of play and achieve more success as a result.
1. Begin With Light Cardio
Start your warm-up with 5-10 minutes of light cardio exercises like jogging, skipping, or a sport-specific activity to increase heart rate, body temperature, and circulation. This helps prepare the cardiovascular system for activity, primes muscles for movement, and supplies an increase of blood and oxygen to muscles for the upcoming performance.
2. Dynamic Stretches
Continue to move! Perform dynamic stretches that continuously move joints through a full range of motion, focusing on movements used in the specific sport you are preparing for. Examples include open/close gates, hip hugs, leg swings, walking lunges, arm circles, and trunk rotations. This improves flexibility of the muscles, lubricates joints, and prepares the tissues for sport-specific movements.
3. Multi-Directional Movement
Next, incorporate movements that mimic the actions and demands of the sport, introducing movements in multiple directions. For example, lateral shuffles, zig zags, and other changes in speed and direction, which are relevant in most field and court sports. This helps to simulate sport-like scenarios in offense and defense plays and activate pathways from your brain to your muscles to get your body responding quickly and efficiently in a controlled setting. Remember, if you can’t move well in a controlled setting, then you certainly won’t move well in an unpredictable environment, when the players and ball are moving rapidly..
>> Now, we are getting into more advanced elements that are usually overlooked. This is the strength and neuromuscular training phase. You don’t need to hit all of these hard at every session, but may choose to emphasize more on training days rather than game days. <<
Athletes need targeted strengthening for the hips, core, and muscle groups relevant to the sport. Old-school methodology did not value strengthening for female athletes, but we know better now. Because power and stability in athletic movements comes mostly from the core and hips, focus on glute activation or other strength-based exercises at this stage in your warm-up. As always, tailor this to fit your age, fitness level, and sport. Resistance bands are useful and easy to transport for added resistance.
5. Balance Drills
Getting deeper into the neuromuscular training phase, challenge balance and stability by balancing on one foot or using an unstable surface. This stimulates the neuromuscular system, enhances proprioception, and improves overall balance and coordination. You’ll want to prepare the brain and muscles for a potentially awkward cut or landing so the body can recover safely without getting hurt. Focusing on reactive balance can facilitate faster communication pathways from your brain to your limbs.
6. Plyometrics and Landing Mechanics
Delving more into sport-specific power movements, add some explosive exercises as appropriate, like jumping and hopping, as it will further prepare muscles, tendons, and the nervous system for faster acceleration and higher performance. ALWAYS review proper landing mechanics, especially with youth female athletes, to ensure they are landing with good form, reducing the risk of a torn ACL. Proper acceptance of force throughout the body is a key factor in preventing a serious non-contact injury.
7. Agility Drills
Speeding up now! Include agility, coordination, or footwork activities to improve reaction time, quickness, and body control. Use tools like agility ladders or cones to develop quick and precise movements in different directions. This enhances the ability to cut and produce power, which benefits overall athletic performance.
8. Reaction and Cognitive Drills
Now, this is cutting edge stuff! Bring in a drill that challenges quick decision-making and cognitive processing. Use cues like colors or numbers to indicate directions or actions, requiring athletes to think, make a decision, and execute in a moment of high-intensity. This helps train the brain to process information quickly and enhances reaction time and on-field performance. Have fun with this!
Bonus Tips – For HOT HOT HOT Results, remember these concepts:
- Good form and body control should be a priority throughout the warm-up.
- Encourage mental focus throughout the warm-up. Visualize successful passes, plays, attempts, and what success looks like. Deep breathing and positive affirmations can support mental preparation, especially on game days with more at stake.
- After a break (halftime, sitting out, etc), it may be necessary to repeat a mini warm-up on the sidelines before resuming play, especially if players have been sitting in the cold.
- Aim for 15-20 minutes for a standard warm-up, while it may take up to 30 minutes on days when more time is allocated to strength, balance, plyometrics, agility, or cognitive drills (steps 4-8). You do not have to hit ALL of these marks during every warm-up. That’s where the art comes in. Balance art and science to maximize warm-up time and you will develop strong, resilient athletes.
Coaches and Parents: How You Can Support Developing Athletes
A well-designed dynamic warm-up can be a game-changer for your team and one of your best tools to prepare athletes mentally and physically, while reducing injuries on the field or court.
Most people don’t know what to do, particularly for the neuromuscular training exercises (4-8). It can be overwhelming and confusing because there are so many variations to choose from and it’s hard to know what’s best. We’ve seen people flounder through this, without being certain that they are doing the best job they can for themselves or their players.
To provide clarity and simplicity, we organized a step-by-step plan so you don’t have to figure it out on your own. If you’re a coach or parent of youth to collegiate female athletes, these exercises can easily be performed at home in 15-20 minutes, or on the field or court during warm-ups, and will help take your athletes from good to outstanding, and from struggling with injuries to carving their path for a dynamite college career.
We hope you enjoyed reading this perspective on the value of a dynamic warm-up and how to maximize the first 15-30 minutes with your team.