Warm Ups – Challenging the Traditional Concept

08 October 2018 Ben Cartwright No Tags

Warm ups over the years have become a huge part of the daily service that sports science staff, and strength and conditioning coaches give to their squads/athletes. With the modern emergence of sports science in the last 10 years, it is clearly understood the importance of a warm up for players prior to training/games, from both a psychological and physiological perspective. This short blog however, will challenge how far the warm up has gone and how beneficial it really is. It is not to underestimate the importance of warming the players up, or certain modalities but to scrutinize the benefits and content of it, looking to improve us as practitioners and become more critical of our day to day practice.

Although not much research has emerged from an injury reduction perspective and benefit of doing a warm up, there is good research around increasing performance and preparing players to perform. My question is however, are we wasting time spending 20-30 mins warming the players up completing the same movements day in day out?? 20-30 mins has been referred to as it’s a common thing I see with teams, a sports scientists / strength and conditioning coach doing a warm up of this length going through a whole range of movements with no real focus or variety day to day. The duration / length of warm up must first be questioned and how this time is utilised effectively.

Firstly, conducting a 20-30 min ‘physical’ warm up with very little benefits from a physical development, technical or tactical perspective, seems, quite bluntly, a waste of time with our players. Regardless of what the content is, a warm up can be done in 10-15 mins max, in my opinion, and that’s including all the essential aspects needed to ensure players are ‘ready’ to train. If it is of the belief of the practitioner / club that players need to have a ‘physical’ warm up prior to training, then that can be done with good effect in short time frames (10 mins). This time frame includes match day warm ups prior to any possession / unit work. This can include all the required phases (R.A.M.P method) within this time frame – as proposed by the U.K.S.C.A including some development of locomotive skills that will be discussed later in this blog. Please note, that the warm up reference does not relate to any pre-activation session within the gym prior, it is focussing on purely the warm up on the pitch.

Alternatively, can we design a warm up that ensures the players have clear outcomes, from a developmental perspective. Not just warming them up, going through the different stages of pulse raiser, activating, mobilising, potentiating as mentioned above from U.K.S.C.A? Can we be cleverer in our planning / delivery to ensure these physiological benefits occur, with an outcome from any of the three corners above (technical / tactical / physical)? This blog is not for one minute going against any development of movement patterning, speed, agility, stability etc.. as it is recognised that the warm up is an opportunity to coach and develop the player. However, each session must have a clear focus, whether we are delivering a speed, agility or developing some sort of movement patterns. It should be planned prior and part of the overall programme you have in place for your athletes with clear progressions over time. Not just a similar warm up done every day with some random activities put in there, or that’s what it looks like at least. Of course, you can rationalise any movement you do, but the skill is having a clear development focus on what will make the player a better athlete, player, regardless of age and competency.

Developing the locomotive skills of the players is essential, and a big part of my programming and delivery at where I work. The progression from closed skill acceleration/deceleration work, COD mechanics, maximal speed development to open skill, reactive and chaotic challenges is a seamless one that is programmed over time, with all age groups. Practitioners are urged to really determine what they want from the warm up and how it will be progressed and designed over time.

Contrary to the physical development within warm ups which is seen the vast majority of teams, there are other ways we can warm the players up with other benefits. Whether that is a technical component with ball mastery, passing etc, or a tactical focus going through some shape/patterns of play. Of course, it should start with low intensity work and gradually increase in whatever activity is chosen. There should also be some dynamic stretching and movements interspersed within intervals of the activity chosen to ensure ROM is increased. This method obviously requires close communication and integration within the MDT, and the focus for the warm up must be decided and agreed upon what is best and needed for the players for that time or day. It just provides some insight that we don’t have to stick to a traditional ‘physical warm up’ to ensure players are warm enough for the session, which include similar movements / activities day in day out with very little benefit. There are other activities that could benefit the players more, whilst getting them warmed up. This could be alternated within the week to provide a focus from physical, technical and tactical outcome on different days within the training micro cycle. This approach looks to really maximise time with our player day to day and have no wastage.

One thing that must obviously be considered is the culture and training history of the players, especially with more senior pros who are used to doing elongated warm ups and feel it is hugely beneficial and needed. This obviously must be considered and may alter the length and content of your warm up, however with experience working with the Senior London Gaelic Football Team the last 3 years, it is achievable to over time phase the long winded warm ups out. It must be gradual and comes with a degree of education but can be done. We now have real senior players going straight into some technical work, without having to spend 15 mins static stretching before the session (in which I can’t stand). Training time is extremely limited, and we don’t have time to spend on stretching for long periods at the start of the session, as well as it not being beneficial to performance! This does not mean we don’t value the benefits of flexibility work that we prescribe for specific sessions.

In summary, this blog urges all practitioners to have a look at the current warm ups that are being delivered, and critique how beneficial it really is. We have accumulated time here over the season to really develop various physical, technical or tactical skills, whatever is required most within your teams. And yes, as a sports scientist, you are always going to be biased that the players need more physical development. However, this may not be the case, and requires some perspective on what your players really need.


About the Author

Ross started his playing career as a youth player playing for Millwall FC Academy (U9-U12, and then Brentford FC Academy (U12-16). Ross was then not offered a contract and decided to go down the academic route. He completed a BSc at St. Mary’s University College in Strength and Conditioning Science, and then an MSc in Human Performance (Applied Sports Science) at Brunel University.


Ross started out his coaching career completing an internship at Chelsea FC Academy working with many age groups in the academy. After a year’s internship Ross was offered a role within the sports science department where he completed 4 years’ service working up and down academy age groups as an athletic development coach.


Ross then took an opportunity in Qatar working with a national age group in the Aspire Academy as a strength and conditioning coach. After a brief spell in Qatar, Ross then took up an opportunity at QPR as an academy strength and conditioning coach, where he is now the Head of Academy Sports Science. Alongside this, Ross is also the Head of Performance at London GAA Senior Football Team, where he is into his 4th season.


Ross is a UKSCA accredited strength and conditioning coach as well BASES accredited applied sports scientist. He also a BASES supervisor to both internal and external supervisees on BASES supervises experience pathway.


Ross has also published his first textbook in ‘injury prevention and rehabilitation’ in 2015. Link for sale at Crowood Press is below

Twitter - @Ross201189

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