The Huddle, Issue #33: Pregame Warm-ups

Posted: June 28, 2011 05:25 PM

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Pregame Warm-ups

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011


Huddle Issue 33     

"The overall goal for warming up before the first game of the day should be to get everyone's body and mind ready to compete at its peak level" -- Max Cook

"In order to ensure longevity, remain injury free and perform at the highest possible level we must spend time rolling and stretching (decreasing density, increasing length) and taking care of our individual issues." -- Tim Morrill

"Having a well executed pre-game warm-up can literally mean the difference, in my opinion, between winning or losing the game." -- Chelsea Putnam
"Pre-game routines are where great leaders keep it simple, fun and efficient so that the energy goes where it is needed most: the game." -- Ben Wiggins

If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact us at


Issue #33: Comments/Discussion Thread



  • Preparing for the Game at Hand
    ArticleBlock Cook

    •  There are many strategies for trying to prepare your team to get properly warmed up.  I will hit on the main scenario for pre-game warm-up- preparing for the first game of the day.

      Most teams have their own set warm-up that they perform; however, in my opinion the overall goal for warming up before the first game of day should be to get everyone’s body and mind ready to compete at its peak level.  The problem with that is with a team of 25+ players, all those bodies and brains react to stimuli differently.  Due to this, team leaders should always be open to allowing teammates to deviate from the set warm-up if it better prepares that player for action.  Most teams allot about an hour of time for a proper first game warm-up, so that means you should try and get your team to the fields about 75-80 minutes before the round starts to allow for everyone to cleat up, slather on some sun-screen, and toss around the Frisbee to feel the wind. 

      Once you get everyone rounded up, I always think it’s a good idea to give about five minutes for everyone to mentally prepare for the game at hand.  There are various mental exercises that can be performed, but my overall goal during this time is typically to have players envision being successful (getting a D, catching a goal, throwing  an assist, breaking the mark, storming the field, etc).  The mental preparation can be at the beginning  of the warm-up or at the end of the warm-up right before the game, my personal preference is to have it at the beginning because I feel the team is usually more focused for the hour leading up to the game.  After the brain exercises, some form of cardio (extended jog) is good to get the blood flowing and the muscles ready to go into some stretching.  

      Some form of dynamic stretching is then the next step:  recent studies state that dynamic stretching (high knees, butt kicks, lunges, shuffles, etc.) is a preferred method to properly get the muscles fully prepared for intense movement; however, some players still prefer static stretching.  After getting a good stretch, to further assist the muscles in getting fully prepared for game like movements, I like to do multiple progressive cross-field sprints that culminate in a full sprint.

      After the stretch/cross-field exercises, it’s good to allow everyone to get some liquids (water or drink-ade) and eat some food.  The next 10-15 minutes are usually occupied by some drills that will prepare your team for the upcoming game; throwing drills that incorporate game time cuts, and marking drills that focus on not getting broken.  Ideal drills don’t involve lots of standing around allowing muscles to get cold.  After going through a couple drills, it is always good to get in a short scrimmage so that come point one in the game, everyone has already gone through game-time situations at game-time speeds.  In my opinion, the opponent’s end zone is where most turnovers occur due to the field space being minimized, so I look to practice a few end zone sets during this scrimmage time.  

      After a good intense scrimmage, I usually allot about five minutes for free time so that players can practice aspects of their game (pulling, hucking, three-man mark) or better prepare themselves for the game ( additional time to stretch, additional mental exercises, etc.).   Last but not least, the final five minutes are used to bring the team together to discuss strategy (Is it windy?  Are we going to run zone?  Do we need to be ready for zone?  What players do we need to identify, and what are their strengths that we need to take away?  Is this a physical team?).  Once all those things are completed, it should be game-time!  

      For me, the key aspect to a successful warm-up is having a set routine that the entire team knows and is comfortable with and that maximizes your time before a game.  However, you should always be dynamic and ready to alter your routine to change if the conditions call for it.  Below is a quick timeline of a generic pre-game warm up.

      • 755-800:  Mental preparation
      • 800-810:  Jog
      • 810-825:  Dynamic Warm-up & Cross-field
      • 825-830:  Drill (Throwing)
      • 830-835:  Drill (Marking)
      • 835-850:  O v D scrimmage
      • 850-855:  Free time (pull, eat, drink, rest, shade, etc.)
      • 855-900:  Strategy discussion
      • 900:  Game-time 
    • MAX COOK
  • Get Your Team on One Page
    ArticleBlock Husak

    •  The pre-game warmup can take on any number of forms, and I have seen successful routines span a huge range, from individual to team wide and from fully choreographed to ad hoc.  In all cases, the general goal of the warmup should be to get the body ready to perform at a peak performance.  This will require people to exert some energy, get a light sweat on and get the muscles firing, and should also include a few throws to help players calibrate to the conditions. 

      One critical aspect to the chosen approach is that the team recognizes the value and feels that the team gets best prepared to play through the selected method.  As a team, this buy-in to the method used will make a huge difference in how mentally prepared the team is to play their best.  The successful Condor teams I played on derived strength from getting to the fields, doing plyometrics as a group, and running through a few drills together.  A lot of the confidence in this approach came from the work some players did with trainers.  Jam teams that I played on also had a strict routine that players enjoyed, involving plyometrics and drills, as well as a consistent playlist that helped serve as a countdown to gametime.  My interaction with players from DoG revealed that they took pride in warming up individually, putting the responsibility on each player to do what they needed to do to get ready.  I’ve seen other teams use half-field scrimmages to get the team warm and in game mode.

      One issue that can occur is an overworking of the body in warmups.  In ultimate you usually have 3-4 games per day.  At nationals there may be over an hour between games, and so you have to figure out how to get your body ready without exhausting yourself with a difficult regimen of exercises.  In really hot weather, a warmup for a second or third game may only consist of a couple plyos and maybe a sprint or two.  In cold weather, an extended jog just to get the muscles loose may be required before an active warmup.  Understanding your body, and the condition of the team, will help determine how to to adjust warmups to the conditions.

      This diversity of successful approaches to pre-game warmup indicates that there may not be a single, superior warmup method.  Certainly understanding the basics of what is needed in a warmup, how to create and tailor a routine to match the needs of an individual or team will determine what you or your team does pre-game.  Getting support from the whole team that the chosen approach, while maybe not best for each individual, does the best job of getting the whole team ready for the first pull is a critical component of a successful pre-game warmup. 
  • Routine Need Not Mean Redundant
    ArticleBlock Mackey

    •  You show up early.

      Your team has a routine: a slow jog to get the blood flowing, the usual dynamic warm-up routine. From there, you move into the handful of drills you always do, working out the kinks, getting ready for prime time. Sound like the warm-up you know and love?

      While this is the current paradigm, I believe there's a lot of room for continued innovation. Dynamic (active) warm-ups have become the norm over the past decade, but the next step is to make your dynamic warm-up more...dynamic.

      Progression is a fundamental component of any training program – add weight. Do more reps. Work on less rest. Why, then, do we keep the same old tired warm-up routine? Eric Cressey, a forward thinker in athletic development, changes up the mobility drills his athletes do to warm-up on a weekly basis.

      I'm not suggesting that you go quite that far. However, given that most teams have at least one player who's really into fitness, you can task this person with leading your warm-up and mixing it up every so often (or if you have a couple, let them each audition their ideas in turn on the team). Okay, you still want stability and familiarity for your pre-game warm-up; make things more routine over a couple weeks' practices before the tournament.

      Routine is great in that it lightens the cognitive load of what you’re doing, allowing you to focus on your mental game, execution, and the big picture, rather than losing the forest of a tournament for the trees of how to place your feet. However, when it comes to your body, routine breeds stagnancy. Yes, dynamic warm-ups are better than static stretches after the long jog. However, by doing the exact same knee pick-ups and butt-kick runs over and over again, your body will fall into a rut, forgetting the whole wide range of motion it hasn't been exploring otherwise, and you’ll be leaving some of your still-dormant athleticism on the table when you step onto the field.

      Some examples and ideas for you:
      • Stretching the hips: One of the few areas that needs actual stretching in most. You can do this with a Warrior Stretch if you like; more dynamic forms include the rocking rectus femoris stretch, or even a walking lunge with overhead reach.
      • Gluteal activation: This is something I don't see teams doing much of at all, much less progressing in. Start with the cook hip lift or bilateral glute bridge somewhere between loosening up the hips but before extended lunging or build-up runs. Progress to a one-foot-elevated glute bridge to really get your butt working for you.
      • Other hip mobility drills allow you to really work a lot of variety in; pick a couple and rotate which you do as you go.
      • Hamstring work
      • Ankle mobility
      • Upper body and core warm-up: There are options here too. You can work it in to the lower body work (think about adding a T push-up or arm- or foot-elevated planks to add complexity at the bottom of lunges or inchworms; consider adding overhead reaches from the bottom position of any of the lunge variations).
    • This list is by no means exhaustive. think about the many different body-weight exercises you can do for training, cut back from the normal workout volume, try new combinations, and turn them into a warm-up that limbers you up and continues to challenge your body on a daily basis. Like many changes, the prospect can seem more daunting than the reality. Start with what you can manage - mixing up the various lunges, trying a new exercise each week and rotating out one you’ve become too accustomed too.

      There’s an ever-growing world of possibility that exists out there when it comes to fitness. A "warm-up" can be so much more than just getting the blood flowing!

      What's more, the bodily work is perhaps the easier component of your team’s preparation to work on. Here's a thought exercise for you: while there's plenty of room to add a degree of planning and progression to the physical warm-up, there's even MORE potential for you to continually challenge your team with a progression of the drills and skills you do. As your team continues to gel and hone skills over the season, is it enough simply to run your warm-ups and drills the same way as always, or can you nudge yourself to greater heights with more modifications? 
  • The New School Warm-up
    ArticleBlock Morrill

    •  A quality warm up should simply prepare the body for the work to follow.  What is to follow? A match of our beautiful, dynamic sport that involves sprinting, jumping, throwing, marking and changing direction...

      Ok, so how do we prepare for all that? 

      The New School Warm Up:

      Pros: The most effective way to prepare the body to work out

      Cons: Takes a relatively long time, requires tools, is not flashy

      Here are all the components, in order:
      • Roll (foam roll, lacrosse ball, stick) to decrease tissue density. SUPER IMPORTANT!
      • Static stretch to increase tissue length
        • Note, in Ultimate, the hip may be the single most important area to stretch.  Think about the hips as having four quadrants and makes sure to hit them all!  Partner stretches work great. 
          • Inside Hip or Groin: Partner Seated Split Stretch
          • Outside Hip or Gluts: Chest to Shin Stretch
          • Front Side Hip or Hip Flexors: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
          • Backside Hip or Hamstring Group: Partner Hamstring Stretch
      • Mobilize or increase range of motion of a joint. Pay lots of attention to ankle, hip and thoracic spine.
      • Activate (mini-bands, stretch bands) or "turn on" some smaller yet important muscles (i.e. glut medius, rhomboids)
      • Reinforce patterns seen in sport (sprinting, jumping, and cutting and lateral movement mechanics)
    • What this accomplishes?  We have rubbed out the bumpy dense pieces of tissue to prepare them to be lengthened (rolling). We have lengthened the tissue (stretching) and mobilized the joints to allow for greater range of motion. We have activated important muscles and trained our neuromuscular system to recognize and replicate patterns we may encounter in the game.  We are warm, supple, and moving well.  We are ready to jam.

      The Old School warm up:

      Pros: Time efficient, requires no tools

      Cons: Fails to address tissue density, tissue length and activation

      The "new era" warm up is the most effective way to prepare the body for exercise.  Though to some, it may seem unpractical…

      "Do you really expect me to bring my foam roller and stretch bands to the field and spend 20 minutes rolling and static stretching before I play?" 

      If you want to perform at the highest possible level, Yes.

      "Whatever, I am just going to take my team through some traditional cone to cone dynamic warm ups"

      That is fine. Though conventional cone to cone style team warm ups may not be the most effective means of warm up, they do have benefits. For example, it does create team chemistry. Teams look organized and sometimes intimidating if everyone on the team is on the same page as they go through all the dynamic patterns. Also, it may be the best way to warm up when in a crunch for time.

      I have accepted that until athletes become more educated, the majority of teams will warm up this way no matter how much time is available. Therefore, here are a few tips if you chose this route:

      • Reinforce fundamental linear running/ jump mechanics. i.e.   A March, Sprinters Skip, High Knee Run, Starts, Transition Jog to Back pedal to Jog, Approach Step Single Leg Jump – Approach Step Double Leg Jump
      • Reinforce fundamental cutting/ lateral movement patterns. i.e. Shuffle, "In- Out-In" Cut ,  Jab Step with Serpentine Pattern, Lateral Skip, Lateral Cross Over Skip, Lateral Bounding to Sprint
      • Use lunge variations. i.e. Spiderman Lunge, Cross Over Lunge, Opposite Elbow to Opposite Ankle Lunge
      • Use groin openers. i.e. Squat and Pivot, Squat Hops, Side Squat to Side Shuffle
      • Pay special attention to hamstrings (especially when deep into tournaments) and hit them from all angles. i.e. Frankenstein, Walking Toe Touch, Single Leg Reach, Inch Worm
      • Don’t forget to Hit Upper Body. i.e. Trunk Twists, Arm Circles, Windmills
      • Be Creative! Combine movements together to add variety. Ie. Lateral Shuffles with Arm Circles, Push Up to Inchworm to Reach for the Sky, Long Lunge to Hip-up to Tall Lunge and Twist
      • Have private time. Every "body" is different. After your warm ups, allow time to each player to handle individual issues.  You should know your body well enough to know what you need to feel just perfect.  Perhaps it is some additional hamstring stretches or using "the stick" on a tight piece of tissue.
    • In sum, Ultimate is an extremely demanding sport.  In order to ensure longevity, remain injury free and perform at the highest possible level we must spend time rolling and stretching (decreasing density, increasing length) and taking care of our individual issues.  Though foam rolling and static stretching may take time, cause relative discomfort and not look very intimidating, they are essential. And yes, static stretching before exercise is perfectly fine, despite what you may have heard.

      Circumstances may not always allow this prior to every game.  If this is the case, use an old school warm up to increasing body temperature, reinforces patterns and gets you feeling relatively loose. 

      I have a feeling we are going to be seeing a lot more players rolling around on cylinders or foam and PVC at tournaments.  Others may see that guy and think "what the heck is he doing rolling on the ground, he looks silly" I agree it may a little silly at times but as a strength coach, I love it. 

      When I see it I think "now, there is an educated athlete, good for him!"

      Perhaps that should be you.

      Bottom Line: high level educated warm up = high level play
  • Find What Works For Your Team
    ArticleBlock Putnam

    •  We all know how exciting it is to play Ultimate, and we all know what it feels like to have those butterflies before game time.  Having a well executed pre-game warm-up can literally mean the difference, in my opinion, between winning or losing the game. Setting the appropriate tone for game time is essential because this game we play is at least 80% mental. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are creating a warm-up:

      Dynamic Warm-up is the key:  The warm-up is not just drills, it is also jogging, plyos, stretching, throwing, and logistics (flipping, changing jerseys, eating that wonderful Gu). Many elite club teams have moved, in the past few years, to a dynamic warm-up. I completely agree with this move, and it can be awesome if you do it right. A dynamic warm-up incorporates getting your heart rate up, stretching, and plyos all together. Most teams follow a set pattern of plyos (ex. butt kickers, lunges, frankensteins, and many more) and once your team learns the exercises it can be very easy to run. My team would also use this time to focus and visualize about personal goals for that game. I think for most teams the dynamic warm-up works better than static stretching because it is less time consuming and incorporates more movement into your warm-up.

      Find your fire and stick to it: Every team that I have ever played on has drills that they excel at. It depends on the personality of your team and what kind of players you have. For some, it is a D drill and for some it is a simple box drill. The key is finding drills that will fire up your team, but also get you game ready. Look for drills that are not too complicated, ones that get many repetitions in (as opposed to standing in lines) and ones that mimic game time motions (like cutting, throwing with a mark, and defense). I say develop an arsenal of 5-6 drills that work well for your team and then you can choose 3-4 of them to do before a game (if it is your warm-up before your first game of the day). This could differ depending on weather conditions, what team you are playing, and how late it is in the tournament. The important thing is that everyone on the team is comfortable and confident in the drills you choose. By doing this, you will find that your team will be more fired up and focused to do the drills, and therefore more game ready!

      Leave strategy for another time:  Almost all elite teams have a strategy plan for each of their opponents. This could include different team goals, different defenses they will run, or key match-ups. In my opinion, all of that should be discussed at a team meeting at a different time then your pre-game warm-up. I personally like doing it the night before you play that team because it gives your players time to mentally prepare. I think it is totally fine to re-visit your team goals for the game before you start, but the logistics about the other team should be dealt with at another time. Pre-game warm-up is about your team – don’t let it get clouded by worrying about the other team’s best player or how good they look doing their drills right before your game.

      Allow time for individual needs: One thing that Schwa did that worked really well is that we had a set warm-up time. Everyone knew it, and everyone committed to it. It also meant that if you had things you needed to do – the rule was do them before our team warm-up starts. That means if your warm-up starts at 8:00am, but you know you need to get your ankle taped, mix your Citomax, and go hug your friend on the other team, then that means you start that process at 7:40am. By doing this, players won’t be worried about the things they need to do and they aren’t feeling rushed. It allows the whole team to be more present during the warm-up.  Everyone has different things they need to do to get themselves ready for a game, but it is also essential that your team find their flow together. By committing to the team warm-up, you can achieve this.

      The bottom line is that you have to find what works for your individual team. Some players need intensity, some need defense, some need focused throwing, and some need it to be light-hearted. We all get fired up in different ways. Take input from your team and mold your warm-up to what it needs to be to fit the needs of your specific players.  Remember, it WILL set the tone for your game whether you like it or not, so choose wisely. Finally, don’t forget to put a stellar D drill in there because we all know defense wins games :) 
  • Three Warm-Up Fundamentals
    ArticleBlock Roth

    •  While others may be more concerned with adjustments for each game, specific plyometrics, or the most useful drills, I have 3 solid beliefs on fundamentals of warm-ups:
      • Try to do the same thing for each game.  No matter what you may include in your warm-ups, teams and individuals respond well to a routine.  This way players don’t have to focus too much on the timing or progression of warm-ups and can instead focus on their skills, body and/or uncontrollables around them.
      • Don’t introduce new drills in warm-ups.  While coaches and captains may have a vast array of drills that could help in many situations, it is more important to use known drills in warm-ups to temper the mental taxation of pre-game or pre-tournament play.  Make sure you learn enough drills in your practices that you have a significant repertoire to choose from in warm-ups.
      • Warm up defense and offense.  We often focus so much on warming up our throws and catches that we forget to warm up our defense.  I think the easiest way to do this is to add marks to throwing drills and to finish warm-ups with some sort of game play whether it is half-field 7 on 7 or mini.
  • Team Pregame Warm-Up Routines
    ArticleBlock Sandahl

    •  Team Warm ups should accomplish two goals:

      Prepare a team 1) mentally and 2) physically for the game ahead.  Most teams perform at their peak if they can use their warm up to feel like they comfortable with their system and their bodies.   Any team warm up should include enough things to get the team focused and ready for the task at hand without becoming drudgery.  
      The “warm up” should generally start an hour before the first pull.  That means cleats on ready to run an hour before the first game of the day.  Obviously, with tournaments the corresponding meet times may change if games are tighter than an hour between and players are already physically warm.  The most important thing to remember is that you will perform how you practice.  If you’re casual and laid back in your warm up – that’s how you’ll likely play.  Some experienced teams in some situations can flip a switch but don’t count on this unless you don’t care about results.

      There are a lot of variables to consider before deciding on an exact warm up –

      1. Physical Situation (One game or part of a tournament/)
           a. What are the weather conditions?
           b. Current physical state. (Hot, Cold, Tired, Fresh, injured etc.)
           c. How have you been performing physically to this point vs similar situations in the past.

      2. Mental situation
           a. What is your teams mental state? (Beaten, over – excited, blasé?)
           b. What is your team working on improving?
           c. Who are you playing and what do you know about them vs. your teams goals and strength/weak areas?
    • Assuming that a your team is looking to perform at their peak at it’s the first game of the day here is a basic outline for a standard team:

      Space Check in – Meet – and huddle.  [2 minutes]

      A chance to answer question, How are we? What’s present in this huddle right now? Things that might be present include: excitement, tiredness, resentment, frustration., fear of opponent and many more including things unrelated to the game at hand.  You shouldn’t assume as a coach or captain that what’s in the huddle will always be the same and therefore that the warm up will correspondingly need to be the “same.”  Address what is present and you will help your team become more prepared mentally to play.   Jogging before you’ve addressed the team’s current mental state can impair warm up and therefore focus and performance.

      Physical Warm-up (as needed depending on situation).  [15-20 minutes]

      Jogging, Plyos/active stretching, then Rhythm drill with limited or no defense to get in the flow of moving and executing. The best is usually a simple drill with Running/Throwing/Catching.  Working your way up to game speed gently over 20 minutes.   If you’re not sweating by then end of the 20 minutes you’re not working hard enough.

      Its ok to have several different Rhythm drills but ideally they involve timing and lots of touches.  A double box drill (two discs) with in or out cuts can be very effective for this.  You can also vary the box in size depending on the wind.  Using a very small box to practice short reset passes in the wind and big box for cutter timing and throwing.   For those with basketball experience this is similar in function to a layup drill in basketball.  Make the simple plays in the flow of the game as you allow your body to ramp upwards in speed. 

      Mental check in – Situation – where we need to be strong to be successful.  [3 minutes]

      Things that may factor in:
           1. What just happened in the previous game(s)
           2. What are the opportunities for us to improve?
           3. Who we’re playing in this game – what they like to do.
           4. Is the weather dramatically affecting our performance? Is this a field position  (Bad weather) or a possession (Good weather) game?

      All of these things can be considered by the coach or captains – perhaps even before the day starts. 

      Most teams shouldn’t focus too much on what the “other team” is doing as this thinking can put a team into worrying instead of preparing.  As a coach, however I will often consider the other team (if I know something about them) and tailor our pregame drills towards the skills that are important for us to focus on in order to be successful. Many teams at the highest level will know the skills that they need to focus on each and every game no matter who the opponent and so can easily  just look at which skill needs attention and go from there. 

      Drill for focus areas – 2-3 drills with limited time between each. [20 minutes]

      Once you’re decided what needs attetion then simply drill the skills necessary for optimal game time performance for 20 minutes.  Some things that you might want to work on

      • Short throws and catches in windy games
      • Continuation cutting
      • Resetting practice
      • Long throws in games where that will an important option. 
      • Marking against a good throwing team or when marking needs focus
      • Defending against a good cutting team or when person defending needs focus
      • Drill to apply physical pressure on the mark or downfield to prepare for the same in the game.
      • Zone applications

      Situational scrimmaging  [10-15 minutes]

      Simple half-field scrimmage practice to warm up to game speed and practice communication.   Situational scrimmaging ( Endzone, fastbreaks or getting the disc off the sideline. ) No more than 10-15 minutes of this.

      Final throwing/Personal time  [5-10 minutes]

      Leave the last 5-10 minutes for players to work on private time stuff  - adjust cleats, stretch, Practice pulling and getting lots of throws in the last few minutes.

      Final huddle  [2 minutes]

      In the final huddle there should be no new information.  Players should know who is playing and what they have to do to be successful.  If you get to this huddle and find yourself adding ideas – you didn’t do a good job preparing for your warm up.  
    • Things to avoid in structuring your warm up:

      A lot of people standing in line waiting to do something. 
      • Unless the drill is specifically because you’re trying to avoid running too much (a la – masters team before third game of the day) while also getting some game speed action in. 
      • Rule of thumb – more throws is better.  Two people doing a circle drill and getting 40-60 throws in is far more productive that 20 people each  getting 5 throws in. 
      • Even three person marking with a little running and marking but a lot of throwing is better than standing a lot. 

      Over warm-up. 
      • Especially true in “big game” and “late in tournament times” Matt Tsang (coach of Fury) was quoted recently as saying, “Ultimate teams warm up too much.” I believe this is a function of warming up that goes beyond mental and physical focus and leads to tiredness and drudgery.  Be looking for this with players.  Also recognize that if the weather is warm or you’ve already played a game or two then a long jog to ‘warm cold muscles’ is probably unnecessary.  Similarly – if you’re well into a tournament day – drills with lots of running may be unnecessary and actually impair performance.

      Under warm-up.
      • Easy to do if you feel like you’re “supposed to win” a game.  This can lead to injuries and bad habits. 
      Introducing new skills/learning/Drills into pre-game warmups.
      • Any drill that you want to do to warm up for a game should be introduced and explained at practice. Spending warm up time trying to explain how to do a drill is wasteful.
  • Shift Your Focus
    ArticleBlock WitmerIconBlock video

    •  The number one mistake teams make in their pregame warmup is too much focus on the muscles and cardiovascular system and too little focus on the nervous system.  There is too much focus on volume and too little focus on intensity of movement.  

      Last year when I was coming out of retirement I enlisted the help of some speed and agility training professionals.  These guys specialize in training football players for the combine.  I had an hour session with them once a week for six weeks.  The first session I was shocked by how little warmup they had me doing before we went into trials of sprint starts.  The first exercises in the session was always sprinter stance starts.  Starting from a stationary position and accelerating as quickly as possible is a fairly intense activity.  This was preceded by a warmup that took less than 8 minutes total.  Most surprisingly this warmup did not literally warm me up.  There was little sweating involved.  There was no stationary biking, jump rope, slow jog, or jumping jacks.  We skipped all of that and went straight into the exercises that would be familiar to most teams doing dynamic warmups.  The difference was that they were done for distances of 10 yards or 15 yards, not 25 yard endzone’s worth.   The second, and most important difference was that there was sufficient time between plyos (high knees, but kicks) for sufficient recovery.  

      The Physical Components of a Warm Up

      Getting ready for sprinting is more about preparing the nervous system than it is about preparing the muscles.  The nervous system is what gets your muscles firing in a coordinated manner.  To get ready to play all out first point, the nervous system has to be excited and ready to go.

      What I often see at tournaments are teams doing iterations of shuffles, cariocas, butt kicks, high knees, etc. with little rest between exercises.  If players are going a full 25 yards, by the end there is no way they are moving at full intensity and full speed.  Athletes might worry that it’s a sign of weakness to take a break between warm up exercises but think about what it is you are trying to accomplish.  You want to be ready for explosive movements and quick feet.  If you do your warm up exercises under conditions that do not allow for maximally quick feet, you are not ready to have maximally quick feet on the field.  If the purpose of the warmup is to get players ready to be quick, the warmup must allow them to be quick by using shorter distances with more rest.  Plyos are not the time to increase the heart rate.  This is the time to excite the nervous system and get ready for 100% focus and effort.  Trying to do both at once is counterproductive.

      People tend to focus on the other biological systems in the warmup because those systems are more easily "felt."  You can feel when your muscles are warm.  You can feel when you’re sweating.  You can feel when you are breathing hard.  The nervous system is a lot more tricky.  It’s not something that’s consciously felt very well but it is what’s most important for being ready to go on the first point of the day.

      The Psychology of the Warm Up

      The first time I experienced such a short warm up before my sprint sessions I was nervous.  And for the next three weeks I was nervous every time.  Then I started to realized that if I could do zombie kicks and not pull something, I would be fine.  For the rest of the season if I ever caught myself wondering if I was ready or if my muscles were too tight, I would do a few zombie kicks as a kind of self check.  

      Was there anything really magical about zombie kicks?  Are they a perfect indicator of readiness?  Probably not.  the point is, I felt that they were.  They put me at ease and helped me feel confident in my body’s capabilities.

      This is the tricky part of a team warmup.  The physical part is important, but the psychological aspect will trumph whatever physical things you take care of.  Even if you could design the perfect team warmup up, if players don’t believe they are ready to go, it doesn’t matter.

      This I believe is why teams focus on what they can feel versus what is actually best for them.  I would probably still be the same way if I hadn’t experienced for myself week after week the success of a short but intense warmup before my sprint workouts.  But now I know.

      (VIDEO CREDIT: Tommy Riggs)
      Final Thoughts

      If you are in charge of your team warmups I’d recommend making minor modifications at first.  Move your team toward the direction of doing slightly less, allow slightly more time between plyos, and emphasize full intensity effort movement on footwork (cariocas, high knees, etc) rather than doing a lot of reps. 
  • We Will Laugh
    ArticleBlock WigginsB

    •  Within 5 years, I firmly believe that we will look back on the warm-ups we use now and laugh. This isn't true for every team, but I think that most high-level teams are warming up in ways that are more similar than they are different. Team huddle, jogging, stretching, plyos, throwing, catching drills, personal time, huck drills, 7v7, pre-game huddle, cheer, etc, etc. And those combined similarities are holding us back. Before that happens, I'd at least like to record why I think we got into this situation.

      The situation: Many teams use intense, 45-60 minute warm-ups with lots of sprinting and full speed physical drills that last right up until game-time. I am not an athletic trainer or accredited in any way, but I believe that several parts of this routine are probably lowering the chances of our playing our best. So why do we do this? Here's my analysis of why each part of our collective routine developed.

      Last year, your team did W, X, and Y before you played. This year, one of your teammates had a great idea for a new drill (Z) that would add a little bit. It's easy to add something in principal, and then no one has to tell the teammate that their idea is not wanted. With few controlling coaches, 'mission creep' tends to make it easier to add to the plan than to take away from it. With relatively little experience in leading teams in our sport, few captains have the time/energy/experience to look at the warm-up as a whole and say, "Wait, this is too much". We need to cut something." So we add Z.

      A second reason: We see the extremely organized teams running long warm-ups. They tend to be successful. Colorado's Mamabird used to show up to the fields intimidatingly early...and other teams tried to match them in a misguided effort to take away the source of their power. Trust me when I say that Mickey wasn't tough to stop because he woke up earlier. Heck, maybe they would have been even better with the extra sleep. But we (and I definitely include myself in this) tried to match every part of their game, including their long warm-ups. Mistake.

      Another reason is that the first time you did Z, it was new and different and brought a little more energy from your team on some early morning. That energy is precious, and the new drill gets the credit. Not 'any' new drill, but this one in particular. So we keep it.

      Before long, you have 5...6...7....pieces in your warm-up. It makes sense until you look at it as a whole, and then it's almost as complicated as the game itself. When you look at the whole thing, it's overkill. Imagine at the end of an exhausting tournament, in those last important points...wouldn't you love to have 20 more minutes of jet fuel in your muscles? Or that much more hydration, or focus, or quickness in your first step?

      One major difference between Expert and Novice coaches is confidence. An Expert knows when they are doing the right things, even if the results aren't showing yet. A Novice worries that mistakes from the team reflect on the quality of the coach. True or not, this rattles the Novice much more than the Expert. Most ultimate team leaders are Novices when it comes to coaching (if you don't believe me, at least allow me this: few team leaders have had real extensive professional training...and even less could argue that they have Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours of relevant practice).

      Novices worry about what they didn't do. When your team drops the third pass, does your leader assume it was the mistake of a too-short warm-up, or do they methodically roll this occurrence in with the rest of the expected drops for your team's ability over the course of a day? Too often, I think this leads to a well-intended but anti-productive drive to be at 100% full speed for point #1. This means sprinting like crazy in warm-ups, pushing and sweating until we have already used some game-energy to ensure that we haven't done too little. I think we are routinely burning the lasagna to make sure that we NEVER fail to cook it thoroughly. And I think this is because our hard-working and incredibly dedicated and well-intending leaders are put in a position to make decisions for which they do not have Expert experience. This is why you are running 20-25 full power sprints before your first point of an 8-hour day.

      Over the course of the season, we warm-up many dozens of times. I believe that if you introduce a player to a 30 minute warm-up at the beginning of the season and then force them to go through it every day, eventually their body is going to adjust to need that warm-up time. Essentially, we are spending six months out of the year training our bodies to need that 30 minutes to move. As a pro trainer said to me at his first Ultimate-watching experience, "What are you doing? This is too much. Look at the NFL. Those players are worth millions of dollars. And they only have them really moving around for 20 minutes before a game...and definitely not just before kick-off." Do you really NEED six different hamstring stretches and plyos? Or have you trained yourself to need it?

      I think that elite teams have, however, taken major benefits from these long, plyo-driven warm-ups. Ultimate is played in long tournament days where you have to play well when tired. Practices, however, are rarely that long. Teams that do these warm-ups are simulating longer days by doing a 30 minute plyometric workout before they play. Every time! They will be more ready for the end of long games or tournaments, because of all of those extra workouts. This is great benefit...but it doesn't mean that you want to do the same thing before game-time.

      Who runs your team warm-ups? Think about that person right now. Are they your in-shape, loves to work out type of person? Do they love writing workouts? Do they get excited about cool new ideas to add in? Do they themselves typically warm up for longer than the rest of your team? I bet for many of us this is true. It makes sense, because these are the people most likely to really love this stuff and be willing to give us their time. We are grateful, and we should be. On the other hand, it is a little like letting the over-eating chef plan the menu. Or letting the OCD gal plan the initerary. Talented, but also the most likely to overdo it. (If I am wrong about the work-out leader on your team, then at least grant me this: for most teams, the person that can just tie their cleats and play full speed without a warm-up is almost never in charge, right?).

      To do these warm-ups, we give up extra sleep and comfort and energy and time to eat and hang out and enjoy the pre-game time. We give up the excitement of running around for the sureness of knowing our teammates are ready to play hard. We give up our bodies natural ability to cleat up and kick butt at a moments notice (especially important between games) and we give up that little extra boost at the end of the tournament. I think that it makes total sense why we got to this place, but I think that we will look back on it and wonder, like we wonder about short shorts and leg warmers, why?

      I am no expert on athletic training or energy systems. My former teammates will tell you that I despise warming up, so I'm biased. If you want my opinion, I think you should try to be at the fields 60-70 minutes before game-time. You should do a team drill or game ~35 minutes before game time...something that focuses on making simple decisions against a living breathing defender. Do something that you've done in practice, so it is routine and not stress-inducing. Do this for 5-10 minutes, then take a little break. Then play near the endzone in some little, non-exhausting, 7v7 way for 10-15 minutes. Then take a break and eat and drink a little water before game-time. Use practices to teach basic plyos that can help individuals warm up, and do them yourself to set a good example. Remind players (and mean it) that we should listen to our bodies and not try to play beyond our physical limits. Encourage your teammates to throw or run as they need to be ready to go, and trust them to do this (or don't play them early in the game if they can't seem to get the hang of it). Cheer, compete, and don't worry about the sprints you could have run that just might have given you a tiny advantage on a super-long sprint on point #1 maybe. And play.  

      Lastly, I think great team leaders know that the game is sometimes exhausting and complicated. Practices (including the warm-ups at those practices) should reflect this. Pre-game routines are where great leaders keep it simple, fun and efficient so that the energy goes where it is needed most: the game. 


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