“Ben, you’ve got twenty minutes.” Those are the words I hear from Bruce Arena at the start of every practice and game and refer to the amount of time I have to get the players physically ready to handle all the stress and demands they will encounter on the pitch that day. The soccer warm up, or what I call Movement Prep, is the one thing that is guaranteed to be a part of every single training session.
Movement Prep is a dynamic warm up where we place extra emphasis on body awareness, body control, and muscle activation. It prepares the players’ bodies for the movements and skills that they will need during that day’s practice or game and decreases the likelihood of injury.
The immediate goals of this dynamic warm up are to increase the players’ core temperature and actively elongate or stretch their muscles so that blood flow to working muscles is enhanced and joint mobility is increased. Additionally, with Movement Prep we are trying to recruit and stimulate our muscles and get them to fire at an increased rate by priming our nervous system to send the appropriate signals to our working muscles.
There are several different components that go into our Movement Prep session. All of the team warm ups will include: a general warm up to begin to increase core temperature, such as jogging or arm swings; activation exercises, such as mini bands or pillar work to prime the nervous system and get the muscles firing; dynamic stretches like the half kneeling, quad-hip flexor stretch and movement skills such as marching or skipping to help actively elongate muscles and improve range of motion; plyometrics like jumps and hops; and movement application drills, such as “shuffle to acceleration” or “stride outs” to prepare the players for the specific demands they will encounter in that day’s session, while also ensuring we have properly increased their core temperatures and gotten their muscles to an active working length.
We typically follow this order as we progress the players through the warm up, with each component building on the previous one. By progressing in this order, we are increasing the players’ intensity and core temperature to properly prepare them for a practice or game. The players will also benefit from learning to activate and be in command of their bodies in a controlled setting before adding further dynamic movements and higher intensity exercises as they prepare for a training session. They will have better body awareness and control, improved posture and movement, and will be able to activate and use more muscles which will make them more efficient and powerful on the pitch.
With every warm up we have a set plan for what we are trying to accomplish. Soccer is a game of movements and with each warm up we try to look at these movements and address them within the warm up. Typically, we focus on linear, or forward and backward, movements one day and lateral or multidirectional movements the next. Over the course of a week we will have focused a couple warm ups on sprint and running mechanics and the others on shuffle, crossover, and drop step movements and mechanics.
While the immediate value of the Movement Prep is clear, these twenty minutes a day may not seem like a significant amount of time to establish long term benefits. But when you to start to add up those minutes over the days, weeks, and months, it results in a great platform and teaching opportunity to not only address the immediate needs of getting the players ready for that particular practice but the extra focus and emphasis on form and quality of movement has long term benefits of reduced injury potential and improved performance from increased strength, stability, and mobility of muscles and joints. All of these long term benefits combined lead to greater efficiency and quality of movements while on the pitch.
Over the next couple weeks we are going to take a closer look at the different components that we include in our Movement Prep sessions as well as go through some sample linear and multidirectional warm ups that we use with the players.
More on the warm up:
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