Over the course of the past 30 years, warming up has become a bigger and bigger focus for coaches, trainers, and PT’s. During the 70’s and 80’s, warming up was looked at as a simple 5-10 minute jog followed by static stretching. Personally, having attended a small 2A high school in Kansas (about 100 total students), I know that this way of warming up is unfortunately still being used in some places today. It wasn’t until the late 90’s that coaches started to realize that dynamic stretches were a much more effective way of warming up athletes. Coaches were noticing a decrease in injuries and a higher performance level after adopting dynamic warm-ups.
Since the dynamic warm-up has been almost entirely adopted throughout the strength and conditioning field, the next step is to adopt more functional movements. Warm-ups should be used to not only get adequate blood flow to the entire body, but also to improve ROM, lube up joint capsules, make a neuromuscular connection, and improve the athlete’s ability to perform overall. When looking at the athletes you work with, you must prepare the athlete for the things that they are going to be doing in their sport. This can be done by both warming up the MUSCLES that are going to be used, but also by warming up the MOVEMENTS that are going to be used.
Making a proper neuromuscular connection is important for injury prevention as well as getting full muscle activation. Each muscle is connected to the brain by thousands of neurons. In order to gain full control and full strength from a muscle or muscle group, it is important to get as many of those neurons firing as possible. If an athlete does not have full neuromuscular control of a muscle group, their much more likely to suffer an injury. Adding in some sort of plyometric exercise to a warm-up is a great way to improve neuromuscular connection to the lower body muscle groups, such as squat-jumps, power skips, A-skips, or bounds.
By making an athlete’s warm-up functional and making sure they are doing a proper warm-up before every practice, you are essentially creating a secondary program that improves their sport performance. If the warm-up looks like movements that the athlete performs in their sport, by performing those movements everyday and practicing them, they are improving their ability to perform within that sport.
Functional warm-ups are important for properly preparing athletes for their sport. If you are a football coach, shouldn’t your athlete’s warm-up look/feel like the movements they are going to have to perform? High knees, butt kicks, and lunges are very universal because they are exaggerated running movements that free up the hip joint. Furthermore, coaches should look at what it is your athletes do the most in practice and develop an all-inclusive warm-up that not only warms the athletes up to perform at a high level, but also prepares the athlete’s neuromuscular system for worst-case scenario, both of which prevent injuries and make the athletes stronger and more prepared for their sport everyday.