Warming Up Better: A Guide for Young Athletes
BY BEN HAWKES
In my sporting experience, there tend to be 3 types of warmup. Generally, we see:
WARM UPS FOR YOUNG ATHLETES
TIER 3: THE SUNDAY LEAGUE JOG
This is your standard Sunday league warmup: you do a bit of a run & some static stretching, and you’re good to go. This is okay, but it is pretty boring for all involved and doesn’t accomplish too much at all. We can definitely do better than this.
TIER 2: MIDDLE OF THE ROAD
In my experience, this is where 90% of warmups live. We’ve usually got a bit of a pulse raiser, maybe some dynamic stretching, potentially with some sport-specific drills to finish off. Pretty good, but with a bit of thought and not a lot of time, we can get better.
TIER 1: DRILLS & SKILLS
This is a pretty solid warmup. We’ve got warmups with an indirect pulse-raiser (indirect meaning that the increase in HR is not the sole purpose of the activity), some active, specific mobility work, some ‘activation’ or specific strength stimulus, and some explosive movement that potentiates the relevant muscle groups.
HOW TO PROGRESS YOUR WARM UPS
So - how do we advance through the tiers and level up our warmups? Well, the first question we need to ask is, “what is the goal of a warmup?”. More specifically, what could the goal of our warmup be?
Bit of a trick question for a coach because the warmup can be a time for individualised preparation for each athlete. As athletes progress and their relationship with the sport becomes more complex, perhaps the warmup should be different for each athlete, tailored to their specific needs.
Say, for example, an athlete sometimes has low-level Achilles pain during training, maybe a sensation of tightness or low-level sharp pain. We know that Achilles tendinopathy is a common injury in runners, so we want to do what we can to prevent/limit/manage that pain.
We have 15 minutes to get through the warmup, say, so we’ll use it as a kind of on-ramp into the main session. Our goals are then to increase muscle temperature, reduce/limit pain, and prepare tissues for the session. Here’s how I might structure that warmup:
EXAMPLES OF WARM UP ACTIVITIES FOR YOUNGER ATHLETES
Hopefully, you can see the common themes here. The single-leg standing and ball games get engagement, and athletes have to be present in the session. The standing also targets stabilising muscles at the ankle, so we can protect the Achilles tendon later in the session, while the game-based pulse raiser encourages a change of direction, accelerative and decelerative movement, all whilst cognitively distracted and having fun.
Then we’ve got some dynamic stretching to take the now warm muscles through range and rotations to encourage movement at the shoulder girdle & thoracic spine. Isometric contractions at the calf complex should help reduce/attenuate pain in the Achilles tendon, with straight & bent leg variations targeting gastrocnemius & soleus, respectively. Some ‘core’ exercises to encourage dynamic stability at the pelvis, spine & ribcage, and finally, some short & sweet drills to get some technical input before the session proper and potentiate relevant musculature.
Obviously, this is just an example, and your circumstances will dictate what you deliver to athletes, but the common themes will remain the same. Hopefully, this helps you put together some better warmups for your athletes!