The Canadian University Soccer season is here, and this year marks my 3rd season as Assistant Coach and Fitness Coach with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks Women’s Varsity Soccer Team. This season, I will be blogging every day with a ‘Tip of the Day’ – a small piece of information about the testing, training, monitoring, or performance analysis I am doing with the team.
Today’s Tip of the Day is about warm-ups. The science (and art) or warming up has undergone many changes in the last 10-15 years (since I last played university soccer). Back then, a “warm-up” comprised a few laps of the field, followed by a few static stretches. The whole thing might have taken 10 minutes in total. Now, warm-ups have become an integral part of optimizing an athlete’s performance in training and games. Warm-up too quickly, or without the right types of exercises or intensity, and you may be prone to injury or at the least a decrease in performance. Warm-up too much, and over-training or possibly even heat illness may occur.
Design of a comprehensive warm-up protocol is one of the key responsibilities of a fitness coach in elite level soccer. A good warm-up should include the following 4 components:
- Movement and running, done in many different directions (forwards, backwards, sideways). This is done to elevate the heart rate, increase blood flow to working muscles, and to perform movement patterns which must be done in training and games. Speed and intensity of the movements can get progressively faster, but should be sub-maximal. This component should take between 5 and 10 minutes.
- Dynamic flexibility exercises, done with all of the major muscle groups. Stretching muscles while moving takes them through a full range of motion at speeds that are realistic to those used in training and games. This can have the duel effect of reducing the chance of injury, while at the same time improving performance of sprinting and running activities. This component should take between 2 and 5 minutes.
- Strength exercises, to specifically target the core, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexor muscles. Recent studies have shown that by performing strength exercises with these important muscles, injury rates can be significantly decreased. Muscles that have just been activated are likely to contract with more force and perform better than muscles which remain passive, to adding strength exercises into the warm-up routine in a quick and effective solution. This component should take 2-3 minutes.
- Speed and plyometric exercises, done with a combination of jumping and short sprint movements. Just prior to the start of training or games, these exercises can be very effective at preparing the central nervous system (the connection between brain and muscle) for optimal function. This component should take only a minute as it requires only 4-6 short and intense bursts of speed and/or jumps.
I have used slightly different variations of this 10-20 minute protocol, in both training and games, in all the high level soccer environments in which I have worked. Of course, after this physical protocol, players must use the ball, for technical exercise and/or small-sided games, prior to the start of competition.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Drop me a line here to get the conversation started.