Why Warming Up Properly Can Sky-Rocket Your Performance!

Lets face it everyone hates a warm-up! When I worked in pro-youth football, absolutely every player hated doing a warm-up. In fact the only thing they hated more than doing a warm-up was the cool down! Don’t get me wrong, the players would do it, but you had to tell them to do it. Which beggared the question, did they do it if I wasn’t around?, and perhaps more importantly did they think it was worth doing at all?

I think we all know the answer to those questions! Inevitably it was always the same lads who would warm-up on their own. Why did these players do it when the others didn’t? Nowadays there’s no excuse for not knowing the benefit to a warm-up. Every single child in primary school education is taught the benefit and impact that a warm-up can have on physical performance;

  • increased blood flow to the muscles
  • activate working muscles
  • increased joint lubrication
  • activate the nervous system
  • decrease performance anxiety
So why don’t they all do it? Maybe they don’t believe in it? Maybe its because it’s boring? But what if we told you that a warm-up could be more than just ‘warming up’? What if we told you that it would improve your speed, agility, increase your power and skill? Would you be more likely to do the warm-up then?
At ESP we don’t see the warm-up as something you just do before you start exercising, oh no, we see it as an opportunity to make our players more athletic and have increased agility and motor skills. We do this by breaking the ‘warm-up’ into three parts.
Part 1: ‘The Wake-up’
The ‘wake-up’ is the bread and butter of the warm-up. It consists of general body mobility exercises that start with isolation type movements using resistance bands before progressing to dynamic-plyometric-agility movements. We would spend between 5 minutes generally getting a sweat on here, firing up the nervous system, developing muscle stabilizer strength and getting the body primed to start work. We also add in skill work with the football between exercises, performing ball control movements and ‘tricks’ to increase the number of touches the player gets each week.
Below is an example of a typical ESP wake-up for the lower body;

  • fire hydrants x 10
  • banded clams x 10
  • monster walks x 20 meters
  • band wide-outs x 20
  • overhead squats x 10
  • lunges x 20 meters
  • hill climbers x 10
  • press-ups x 10
  • roll over to v-sits x 10
  • plyo press-ups x 10
  • ladder drills 3 x 10m of 3 various drills
  • skip for height x 20m
  • skip for distance x 20m
  • pogo jumps x 20
  • broad jumps x 20m

Part 2: Self Myofascial Release
Once the body temperature is raised and the nervous system is fired up we spend around five minutes working on the muscle, tendon and connective tissue, which can all become tight and ’knotted’ from repeated training. Although this can be quite an uncomfortable experience, SMR has a significant benefit on improving your tissue flexibility and reducing your injury risk. We start by foam rolling the long flat muscles. A foam roller can be made cheaply from a section of down-pipe but we really like the ‘Grid’ foam rollers from Trigger Point Performance Therapy.

  • quads (inner/middle/outer) x 10 passes each
  • ITB x 10 passes
  •  groin x 10 passes
  • lower back x 10 passes
  • upper back x 10 passes
  • calf x 10 passes
  • hamstring x 10 passes
  • gluteal/piriformis x 10 passes
Foam rolling the gastrocnemius muscle
Next we use a tennis ball, spike ball, hockey ball or Trigger Point ball to work on ‘tender spots’ in the more difficult to reach places. Spend between 30-60 seconds on each spot and move around gently until you find the painful spot. Keep the pressure on until it ‘releases’ or your time elapses;

  • gluteal/piriformis x 30 seconds
  •  rear shoulder x 30 seconds
  •  pectoral x 30 seconds
  • front shoulder x 30 seconds
  • lower abdominals x 30 seconds
  •  calf x 30 seconds
Trigger point release on Psoas muscle

Trigger point release on Piriformis muscle
Part 3: The Stretch
By this time you should be feeling pretty good, and the heavy legs from yesterdays match should be a distant memory. We finish the warm-up with some specific stretches on any tight or problem areas. There has been a ton of research that says there is no place for static stretching in a warm-up, and whilst we would support this pre-match and always do dynamic stretching, in a training session we will use any opportunity to decrease connective tissue tension and increase muscle length. While our players stretch we ask them to visualize the movements that they will be performing in the training session to follow e.g. squat or volley technique. In this way we build up the mind-muscle connections and nerve myelination, that is so crucial to mastering a skill or technique. We do each stretch three times;

  • static banded hamstring stretch x 30 secs
  • static gluteal ‘figure 7’ stretch x 30 secs  
  • static soleous/calf stretch x 30 secs
  • static adductor/groin stretch x 30 secs
  • static hip flexor/quad stretch x 30 secs
  • static sleeper shoulder stretch x 30 secs
  • static doorway pec stretch x 30 secs
  • static spine rotation stretch x 30 secs

The Wrap-up

Once you have completed the above, then you should feel loose and pumped to start your training session. It only takes about 15 minutes to run through, and if you do the same warm-up each and every time you train then you will become more supple, agile, co-ordinated, stronger and less injury prone – now who wouldn’t want to add that to their game!

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