basics fo warming up

Many players dislike warming up, cooling down and stretching. They find it boring and often do not do it correctly as a result, leading to sub optimal performances, increased injury risk and recovery times.

As a coach or player the more you understand and know about these important parts of your preparation the better.

The warm-up and cool down are basic components of preparation. They play an important role in preparing the player for the activities ahead as well as for optimising the recovery process after exercise.

The major physiological benefits include:
• Increased blood flow to the muscle groups to be used in the activity. This increases the supply of oxygen to the muscles and enhances the removal of carbon dioxide.
• Increased muscle temperature. Increasing muscle temperature to 39 – 40 degrees increases flexibility, increase metabolism and increase neural fixing rate, i.e. optimal states for muscles to move quickly and efficiently.
• Preparing the main muscle groups and muscles specific for the coming activity, i.e. stretching and moving muscles and joints and rehearsing movement patterns to be used shortly in activity or game.
• Distributing hormones such as adrenalin which help prepare the body for exercise. This involves the re-directing of blood flow away from the unnecessary areas to the areas that require it such as muscles.
• Increases the players’ arousal level so that their mind is familiar with the relevant motor programs for the activity or game.

The warm-up and cool down are both performed in the interest of injury prevention and to enhance performance. A poor warm-up will result in poor performance and an increased risk of injury.

Different Types of warm-up

General Warm-up

This is used at the beginning of any warm-up where all the players go through the same routine of jogging, stretching, passing etc.

Drills Warm-up

This can be used for pre-competition or for pre-training and implements the inclusion of skills and patterns that are relevant. Stretching is also done here.

Games Warm-up

Again this can be used for pre-competition or for pre-training and concentrates on the elements of decision-making and reaction as while it physically warms the player up, it also puts them into a game related situation which is excellent for mental preparation prior to training or playing.

Specific Warm-up

After the general warm-up the team may break into backs and forwards and perform warm-up drills that are specific to their positions. The specific warm-up normally concentrates on those body parts vulnerable to injury and those, which will be dominant in the subsequent exercise.

Timing the warm-up
On cold days the warm-up should not end more than ten minutes before the kick-off or activity, and on extremely cold days (freezing temperatures) the warm-up could be performed in the change room. Alternatively, in warm climates, the warm-up could be either shortened or finish up to twenty minutes before kick-off or activity.
Most important, at all times players should avoid significant deceases in muscle temperature as the game or activity approaches. A good indicator of optimal muscle temperature is when the player begins to sweat.

When and why cool down?
The cool down should occur immediately after activity (as part of the recovery process), while the players are still warm.

Recovery time is very important as it helps maintain joint mobility and improves the removal of lactic acid.
• Prevents then severity of blood pooling
• Transfer excess heat from muscles to the environment in relatively cool conditions, and returns the body to a normal functioning state

Cool downs are especially important when teams are expected to play several games during a short period of time, (seven-a-side tournaments)

Intensity and duration of warm-up
The warm-up should progress with a gradual increase in exercise intensity. Jogging and stretching should ideally progress through to sprinting and explosive exercise. This is to ensure the recruitment of all muscle fibre types (first slow twitch, then fast twitch). Most importantly the warm-up should not significantly decrease the energy store in the muscle (i.e. glycogen) or produce large amounts of lactic acids, as this may produce early fatigue during the game. The coach should allow enough time for general, drill and/or game and specific warm-up, which should include an appropriate stretching component. If the warm-up is too long it will decrease the time the team
has for the final preparation in the change room, or if it is too short the athletes may loose their focus and concentration.

The focus of the warm-up may change depending on the circumstance. If the warm-up is before a game the focus may be to arouse the athletes so that their mind is on the game they are about to play. However, if the warm-up is before training, the focus may be to re-enforce a skill. In either situation the aim of the warm-up will be to prepare the body for the ensuring activity.

Stretching as part of the warm-up and cool down
By first increasing the muscle temperature to 39°, flexibility will improve by up to 20%. This can be done in the general warm-up with some jogging and skill work.
Stretching exercises as part of the warm-up and cool down will increase the immediate flexibility of the muscles and joints (i.e. a short term adaptation), prepare muscle fibres for the coming activity, and will contribute to improved athletic performance. For muscles to attain full power they must be ‘optimally’
stretched. Similarly, ligaments and tendons must have a certain length to allow a joint to move through its full range of motion and function efficiently.

There are two main styles of stretching, which can be used as part of a warm-up and cool down. These
• Static Stretching
• Dynamic (Active) Stretching

Static stretches should be held for approximately fifteen to twenty seconds, Followed by a short rest period (as the muscle relaxes), the player can move further into the stretch. There should be no pain, bouncing or jerking movements during the session. Static stretches while somewhat effective to the warm-up process should only be used in the cool down while the muscles are warm and able to be lengthened. Stretches held for more than 30seconds focus on connective tissue, which is appropriate for increasing flexibility and range on movement, however defiantly should not be used in the warm-up.

Dynamic or Active stretches are more suitable for pre-activity / game as it warms the muscle up through rehearsing movement patterns which will be used shortly in the activity / game.

There are a number of theories on how to use stretching as part of the warm-up and cool down. As a general rule, from pre-activity, dynamic stretching can be performed in conjunction with a minimal amount (if any) static stretches. This will prepare the body for the dynamic and explosive movements to be preformed during the game or training. While for post-activity / game, static stretches is recommended to relieve muscles of soreness and cool down to normal functioning state while assisting in muscle flexibility.

Benefits of stretching
Players should stretch regularly to:
• Maintain a certain level of flexibility
• Ensure full range of movement
• Decrease the incidence of muscle tendinous injury
• Contribute to improved athletic performance
• Promote the development of body awareness
• Optimise the learning, practice and performance of many skilled movements
• Aid relaxation
• Reduce muscular tension

Different Types of stretching

Static Stretching
Involves stretching to the furthest endurable position of the muscle length with no pain, then holding the position for 10 seconds to 3 minutes. It:
• Is a safe method of stretching
• Requires little energy expenditure
• Involves only the individual.

Passive Stretching
Involves an external force being applied to a relaxed muscle. It:
• Utilizes the use of a ‘buddy’
• Must be used cautiously, bearing in mind not to over stretch and tear the muscle
• Is suitable for improving flexibility.

Active Stretching
Uses the muscle itself to create the movement. It:
• Develops active flexibility and control of the available movement.
• Warms muscles / joints up through the same range of movement that will be
used during the activity or game.

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching
Taking a muscle to its end of range the contracting the muscle against resistance and then moving into a newly acquired range and then repeating the action. It:
• Is an effective way of increasing flexibility
• Is the hardest to perform
• Requires a partner for some stretches, and
• May cause injury if it is done incorrectly.

Ballistic/Dynamic Stretching
Involves explosive movements to stretch, i.e. kicking, bouncing etc. It:
• Is not as safe as static stretching
• Involves the rehearsal of motor patterns

Is not useful for developing or improving flexibility, but may important in some sports, which require explosive movements at the end of a comprehensive warm-up prior to activity or game. (Professional advise should be sought before using ballistic exercises)

Example of a warm-up structure

• Start with 0 min – 2 min Light activity such as light jogging and passing the ball across the width of the field a few times
• 2 min – 4 min Increase intensity of run introducing some changes in running patterns such as weaving, cross over shuffling, etc Always include the ball as much as possible during warm up activities.
• 4 min – 9 min Dynamic Flex (stretches) – players should be sweating lightly and have increased core temperature.
• 9 min – 10 min Drinks break
• 10 min – 12 min Footwork using ladders or varied footwork patterns.
• Can include some short 3-4 seconds static stretching.


• 12 min – 16 min Skills and Drills. Include some specific game activities such as shield and bag work and wrestling or other contact elements during this time.
• 16 min – 17 min Drinks break


• 17 min – 30min Game specific drills and patterns.including elements such as lineouts, scrum sets, ruck & maul and back play.



Written by
Steve Mac – Rugby IQ Strength & Conditioning Specialist

The Basics of Warming Up, Cooling Down and Stretching

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