Challenging Discussion on Warm Ups

Regardless of it’s nature, every session will start with some form of warm up.  I thought this would be a great place to start discussion and set a few exercises that will push the practical application of your knowledge.  I would first like to say that I’ve had some really great and appreciative feedback from writing this blog.  I’m extremely grateful for your comments and happy to be helping so many aspiring coaches.  I’m sorry I haven’t managed to post for a couple of weeks, life and work got in the way a little.  Before you get stuck into the tasks and discussion in this article, start by enjoying this extremely confident display from Michelle Jenneke as she prepares to compete:

As I mentioned in my introductory article, this thread is not designed to discuss the science but rather the practical application of your knowledge and challenge your thought process as a coach.  Whilst I firmly believe you should have a solid understanding of the scientific evidence upon which we base our training principals, there are texts books and University degrees that can teach you in a lot more depth than one article on my blog.  That being said, I remember when I first started out, it was one thing knowing the science and another thing entirely being able to put my knowledge into clear words when in an interview situation or even general conversation with more experienced coaches who I respected and looked up to.  So the first exercise is to help you with this:

Explain in your own words and in as much detail as you can, WHY we perform a warm up prior to exercise.  Include in your answer:

  • The mechanisms involved that should improve performance through a raised body temperature.
  • Why we mobilise joints and ROM prior to exercise.
  • What is meant by “activation” and what this applies to.
  • What is meant by “potentiation”.
  • Why these processes should result in a reduced risk of injury.

Try to go through this with a fellow coach or mentor, preferably someone who you regard as a better coach than yourself.  Like I said, when I first started out I found this particularly difficult with knowledge that I thought I knew inside out.  Confidence grew in time and I think this is one of the best ways to prepare for interview type situations.  Personally, I also believe in always being able to explain exactly WHY I do something in the simplest possible terms to demonstrate a thorough understanding.

England+warm+upIf you’re a bit sketchy on this area or would like some further reading, here’s a few links to some great books and articles that will really up-skill your knowledge:

To start with the basics, Beachle & Earle present all the text-book information in “Essentials of Strength and Conditioning”.  This is probably the first port of call for most aspiring coaches and is the NSCA’s book of of choice, from which the majority of their CSCS assessment is based.

To take this further, I’ll have to jump on the bandwagon and mention David Joyce and Dan Lewindon’s “High Performance Training For Sports”.  I’m sure you’ve already heard about it, but it does contain a very well put together chapter on customising warm ups by Rett Larson.  However, I have still resisted tweeting a pic of the book to the authors, unlike many other coaches I know!

Ian Jeffries’ RAMP article is a great “go-to” when discussing warm ups, not only does he outline a sound systematic approach, he also talks about an area that I believe in very strongly – that warm ups hold great opportunity to coach and be productive.  I will discuss this a bit further down.  This is still likely to be the best article you’ll come across on warm ups.

Sean Maloney has also outlined his approach to warm ups in another insightful article.  I like this because I think it is well thought through, shows clear understanding of his coaching process and demonstrates that every coach will have their own methods, from which you can always learn something that might influence your own.

Finally, there was a recent article published by the Australian Strength & Conditioning Association. It is more directed around the role of stretching but highlights some useful information and as it was their article of the month, is free to view on their website.

rugby warm up

Regardless of how in depth your current level of knowledge is, you should know by now that the purpose of a warm up is to prepare the athlete(s) physically and mentally for the forthcoming exertion.  Whether this is in the gym, on the track, training field, before competition ……whatever.  With warm ups generally lasting anything from 10-30 minutes, this will equate to one hell of a lot of coaching time with your athletes throughout the season.  So as Ian Jeffries pointed out and I eluded to earlier, this presents an enormous amount of opportunity to be productive and coach your athletes.  The easy starting point is to say don’t waste time on cardio machines when your athletes can be practicing something a lot more specific to themselves and what they’re about to do.  For example if the first exercise of the session is a full clean, your athlete could work through a Barbell warm up whilst incorporating movement prep for the forthcoming lifts, any necessary mobility such as around the hip, maybe thoracic spine and finish with some hang clean complexes as you build towards the full lift.  I’m not going to go into specifics, as that will be your job in a minute.  Anyway I want to take this principal of making the most of this opportunity during warm ups further by explaining some of my own approach.

I like to challenge as much as I like a challenge:

A large part of my process is based on the principal that I believe the better coordinated my athletes are and the better they understand their own bodies, then the easier they will be to coach.  They’ll learn new skills quicker and be able to make changes to existing movement patterns easier.  I first started working on this when I worked for British Diving, which as I’m sure you can imagine consists of highly complex movement patterns and requires athletes to have incredible coordination.  However if you speak to a springboard diver, the hurdle step into the board before taking off can often be a stumbling block.  At this time I was working with Chris Mears (Commonwealth Gold Medalist, sorry for the name drop).  Rather than continue to continuously drill the same movement pattern, which he did enough in his technical sessions, we decided to experiment.  Each session I would challenge him with a variety of coordination exercises.  These started with simple sprint drills such as A skips and progressed to all kinds of crazy multidirectional movements.  I’ve pretty much outlined my rationale already but at the time I was thinking that if Chris could do any movement or stupid sequence of skips and jumps that I threw at him, then he’d have no problem simply lifting his knee on the lead up to a dive.  I now add further rationale to the concept of challenging your athletes in that it also encourages a growth mindset.  Give an athlete any coordination task that they can’t do, hopefully it’ll be in their nature to take up the challenge and after a few attempts, they’re bound to see some quick improvements.  Even if they’re shy at first and need some encouragement, they’ll soon gain confidence as they pick it up.  If they take a while to pick it up then it’s clear that they’ll benefit a lot by working on their coordination!  Either way, it is a great way to show how new skills can be learned and mastered quickly with a little practice and persistence.

Now, this is a principal I try to fit into as many sessions as possible.  It’s not always possible; sometimes athletes need to be in and out as quickly as possible, sometimes there’s need for straightforward familiarity such as before competition; but as often as I can, I will try to challenge their coordination in some way or another.  To start with this gives me a great opportunity to be creative as a coach and is a lot of fun.  Secondly I still believe in all the principals of raising body temperature, mobilizing, activating and potentiating; I just try to incorporate various challenges of coordination into all that along the way.  Rather than jogging for 5 minutes, going through a progression of sprint drills alongside various lunge combinations for example would be a lot more productive and challenging.  Some great exercises to start with are:

A Walks

A Skips

B Skips

A Skips with a Double Tap

Soto’s (same leg)

Soto’s (alternate legs)

Soto with knee in front, then to the side.

Front Tac

High Knee Combos

Then you can start to play with various arm movements whilst doing the above exercises and as you start to become more creative, I’m sure you’ll come up with plenty of your own crazy combinations.

If you want some decent sprint drills and information, I suggest you check out Jonas Dodoo’s YouTube channel:

This principal doesn’t have to revolve around sprint drills; I just suggest it as a good place to start.  After attending a seminar at the UKSCA conference a couple of years ago, I’m now a big fan of Dewey Nielsen’s views on ground based movement patterns and often incorporate some of his crawling flows just to challenge my athletes in different ways whilst getting warm and mobile.

There is also loads of opportunity to incorporate proprioceptive exercises and by pausing in A Skips or sticking various hops you can create a great stimulus for stability in key positions with huge variability in how they get there.  If you like this concept, have evolved to a similar way of coaching or even disagree, I’d love to hear your opinions as a coach.

Moving on, I now want to challenge your thought process as a coach.  I’ve described three exercises below for you to complete and as always, this is for your benefit.  There are three scenarios for which you must design a warm up, each one is a little more challenging.  I suggest you take a pen and paper, and write it down as fast as you can.  They shouldn’t take any longer than 5-10 minutes each.  Then once you’ve done so, try them out on yourself, assess whether you feel fully prepared to perform in each situation and then go back and make any adjustments you may need to.  This second part will obviously take a little longer!

1) You’re about to coach a weightlifting session to 4 athletes.  You are in a very small space which fits a 3x5m platform; there is a small space to the side of the platform for you to stand and nothing more.  You have access to a barbell, weights, and squat stand only.  Prepare the athletes quickly and effectively on the platform.

2) Design a full pre-game warm up for a premiership rugby team.  Now describe how this will be different through the winter and what has influenced you to make these decisions.

3) Alpine Skiing – now consider my current position in Alpine Skiing.  It’s a little complicated but do your best to think about a pre-race warm up.  Let’s start by presuming the warm up is for a slalom race, which will generally last around 60-90 seconds. The athletes can and will ski a few practice runs on a separate slope before the race.  However, bear in mind that if you ski down then you have to take a chair lift up again and snowy mountains aren’t normally the warmest places in the world!  Every racer has a start number, each leaving at 30-second intervals so you have a rough idea of when your athlete will start.  However, racers brake poles, crash, weather conditions change and the course needs to be fixed all the time which all result in delays to start times.  So whilst you have a rough idea of when your athlete will start, this can vary a lot.  Athletes can often be left at the start gate for 5-15 minutes waiting for the green light, what would you do?  Also, they don’t just have to warm up before the race, they need to prepare their skis, check their bindings, strip down a few layers and go through individual visualization routines.  You need to consider their footwear, the terrain, the weather conditions and the time schedule; let alone how you will achieve the fundamentals of raising body temperature, specifically what muscles and energy systems you need to activate, joints that need mobilizing and how you will achieve appropriate potentiation.


Finally I’d just like to say that so far most people responding to these articles have emailed me privately; that is fine and I have replied to everyone who’s done so.  HOWEVER, I would prefer it if you write in the comments below.  This way it means that everyone can learn from your thoughts and the feedback other coaches including myself may give you.  It will be great if we can generate some discussion from how you get on with these exercises.  I hope this post gets you thinking and you find it beneficial.  Thanks for reading.



Filed under Development, Strength & Conditioning

3 responses to “Challenging Discussion on Warm Ups

  1. Pingback: Coaching Cues – A deeper look at communication skills. | Matt Dickens' pureHealth pureSport

  2. Sy Wiggall

    Another great article Matt, the warm-up is an area where we could all learn to improve, all the links are great, thanks again

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