A LOT of players, and to an extent a lot of coaches, dread the warm-up. They maybe don’t realise the importance of a good warm-up and just see it as a compulsory part of the session, but I see it as more than that.
In my view a warm-up should now be broken down into two sections. The first part of the warm-up should be a preparatory phase with foam rollers and mini-bands and the second phase should obviously be a dynamic warm-up, which is sport specific.
By this I mean continuous movement in a more GAA-specific manner. For example, in the first five minutes of a Gaelic football or hurling game you could have been required to jump, squat, lunge, bend, twist, side-step, push, fall, get up, tackle, shoulder, kick, fist, shoot or change direction regularly.
There are benefits in using foam rollers and mini-bands in the first phase of a warm-up. Take the foam roller, this should be the first thing done before any stretching or pulse-raising. It gets the blood flowing to areas it wouldn’t normally reach and also helps reduce muscle tension.
Four or five minutes of using a foam roller is totally sufficient. A focus on calves, quads, hamstrings and upper and lower back is ample and simply rolling back and forth on the roller will help roll away tightness and pain in these crucial muscle groups.
The mini-bands are another excellent warm-up tool. Four to six minutes of pre-hab work with the bands is more than enough. They help train and activate some of the smaller neglected muscles that are crucial for efficient movement and function and an example of a mini-band exercise would be a bent knee lateral walk.
Mark Verstegen, the German soccer team athletic coach, puts this phase of the warm-up as absolutely pivotal to a player’s athletic development and is a key part of the training session. I also think it is an excellent way of preparing players mentally as well.
The advantages of a dynamic warm-up are massive. After the initial preparatory phase with the rollers and bands, players’ joints and muscles must be prepared for the movements mentioned above in a game.
It maintains the player’s body temperature, which is vital at this time of year particularly when cold weather could lead to nips in hamstrings. Most importantly, it tunes the player in mentally.
The standing around stretching in a circle is an excuse for a bit of craic whereas the nature of the dynamic warm-up means that players have to focus and stay alert the whole time. The days of two laps and a stretch are long gone because it has absolutely no benefit to preparing a player for a training session or a game.
In my own warm-ups players will have instant access to the footballs and we will start with a gradual bit of pulse rising in a dynamic format using some of the movements mentioned above. I will follow this with a variety of handling skills where you will regularly hear me calling the need for 200 touches, particularly among young players, therefore prior planning and access to plenty of footballs is vital.
The warm-up will continue with some dynamic flexibility/mobility exercises at the same time staying in touch with the ball before we eventually move into some congested drills where the volume of traffic improves a player’s concentration and communication levels building to match pace.
Finally, we finish off the warm-up with a game-related exercise with some contact that will help players to mentally and physically reach game levels. Just under a decade ago Billy Walsh, a then Irish Olympic boxing coach, mentioned how the Irish boxers had changed their warm-up intensities in the London Olympics from what they were using in the Beijing Games. It had a major impact in performance.
In Beijing they were holding boxers back in the warm-up and not warming up at fight intensity. The result was that fighters were slow getting into their bouts. In London they changed this so the warm-up built towards fight intensity and an improvement was recognisable.
Research has shown that a three-minute post half-time warm-up and stretching routine may reduce the occurrence of second-half muscle and tendon injuries. Whatever way you lay out your pre-match or training warm-up consider numbers, time of year, weather and keep it to 18 to 25 minutes. Keep in mind the effects of a good warm-up are lost in 10 to 12 minutes so keep the talking to a minimum!