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On Field Warm Ups

The warm up is commonly thought of as a way to reduce injury and that’s about all. Not much thought goes into it in terms of central nervous system activation or optimal levels of arousal for competition. It is simply done because that is what is expected.

The main thing I think of when designing a pre-competition warm up is that it is just that, a warm up. It isn’t a training session. For me the warm up serves to get the body moving, stimulate the CNS, and prepare the team mentally for competition. Many athletes hate to warm up so I take this into consideration and make my warm up as short as possible. I want them to feel activated, not drained or bored. This is what happens when trainers/coaches try to jam too much into the warm up and make it go for 30 minutes.

The warm up is broken down into general and specific components. The general warm up serves to increase body temperature and gradually increase range of motion and speed of contraction. It can consist of many different types of exercises such as body weight squats, skipping/marching drills, leg swings etc. This typically takes 5-7 minutes.

We then move on to the specific warm up which only takes about 10 minutes and for us as a rugby league team consists of some catch/pass, a defensive drill, and then kick/catch (backs) and ruck plays (forwards), as an example.

The general warm up is quite relaxed and we pick up the talk and intensity for the specific drills. The drills are short but intense which is trying to get us up to the work capacity that will be required for the game. Before we run out onto the field I like to do some CNS activation using frequency drills such as wide-outs or low jumps.

The reason for the warm up isn’t just to reduce injury. While this is of importance, by raising the body temperature your muscles are able to contract more rapidly and more intensely the higher its temperature (within a certain limit obviously). This allows the athletes to execute rapid and powerful contractions once they are on the field.

For athletes that may start on the bench it is important for them to do something that gets them up to the level of play before they go out onto the field. Often you see them take a jog up and down the sideline, do some form of static stretch, and then run on. In the first 5 minutes they are blown out and struggle until they finally reach that level of preparedness that everyone else is already at. My tip to those on the bench is to relax, once you know you are about to go on blow yourself away with some burpees or short sprint shuttles. This way when you get on the field you have already been through that first period and start at a better level.

So pre-competition for a field sport athlete the structure of your warm up may look like this:

  • General warm up – raise body temperature. Mobility drills, dynamic flexibility. Body weight squats, skipping etc.

  • Skill/defensive components (specific)

  • Frequency drills to excite CNS – low jumps etc.

No one can tell you what the best approach is for your athletes. It is something that has to be experimented with at training using different methods to find out what approach suits them the most. You have to know your athletes and the type of characters you have in the team. Don’t be too rigid in your approach either. You have to be able to change on the run adjusting to the needs of the team at any particular time. Your plan is just a guideline, if you cut one or two things out at times then so be it.

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