Warm-up of football players

I have received over social media after posting some warm-up of FC Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Zenit FC, Schalke, Manchster United, the Spanish National team and elite youth teams of different nationalities.

The statements were about the content of the warm-ups of the teams. Furthermore, I would like to give some thoughts about different issues that might influence the approach to develop/do a warm-up.

 

What is the purpose of a warm-up?

Not only to physically prepare the athlete for the competition but also the mental aspects are crucial.

 

From a physiological point of view

Through exercise, the body will react to an increase in oxygen demand with an increase in blood flow to the muscle, and ultimately with an increase in muscle and core temperature (22 - see references below). In accordance (5), an increase in muscle temperature was shown to decrease muscle and joint stiffness (20, 28) (to be able to use full range of motion), increase transmission rate of nerve impulses (6), therefore alter force-velocity relationship (2, 3, 7, 21), enhances the rate of ATPase activity (1) and glycogenolysis, glycolysis and high-energy phosphate degradation (10, 11) and alters oxygen release from hemoglobin and myoglobin (4). Non-temperature related changes are increased blood flow to muscles, elevation of baseline oxygen consumption, postactivation potentiation, and psychological effects and increased preparedness (4). Therefore, the temperature will increase enzyme activity and conduction velocity (25), which may translate into faster actions of muscle fibers and therefore power output (25).

Furthermore, it seems that a warm muscle showed less signs of intense activity (muscle and blood lactate) compared to no-warm up during intense dynamic exercise (13) which enables faster recovery.

 

The structure of a warm-up

The structure of the warm up will depend on many factors, including the task to be undertaken, the physical capabilities of the athlete, the environmental conditions and also any constraints imposed by the organization of the event (5). The physical capabilities may result into longer and/or a more intense warm-up for highly trained players, due to more efficient thermoregulatory system.

In my point of view, there are many ways (and therefore contents), which will prepare the players for the match, therefore the structure can vary between personal approaches. However, a “proven” system involved an increasing work intensity with- and/or without the ball. Getting quickly from a brief general introduction into the warm-up to a football specific content, and furthermore, a position specific part at the end.

Passive warm-up might then be of use if there is a delay between the warm-up and the actual sporting event (5). Furthermore, passive warm-up can benefit some short-term performance (like dynamic force in isolated muscles), however, less and no/detrimental benefits were reported for intermediate (>10 seconds – 5 minutes) and long-term performance (>5 minutes) (4).

 

Duration of a warm-up

It seems desired to optimize the duration in order to maximize performance, however limit the fatigue at the same time (5). While football comprises short-, intermediate- and long-term performance it seems that the “optimal” duration depends on the intensity of certain exercise and possible recovery phases (5). For short term performance, the rise in muscle temperature was reported within the initial 3-5 minutes and plateaus after 10-20 minutes (24) and exercise intensity below 60% of VO2max is recommended as it will minimize high-energy phosphate depletion (15). However, in accordance (5), resynthesis of PCr stores is a rapid process and largely completed within ~5 minutes (8, 14) (up to 20 minutes (14), in case it is needed as warm-up phases were too intense). To maximize intermediate and long-term performance it seems viable to elevate baseline VO2 (5). However, In order to elevate VO2 baseline exercise intensity would be >60% (but also <80%) of VO2max ( and therefore affect/interfere short term performance) for 5-10 minutes as a longer duration >10 minutes might decrease muscle glycogen (12) and therefore performance.

The time between recovery and actual game seems to be crucial as well, as the delay can be seen as a recovery period. Depending on the intensity and duration of the warm-up and environmental conditions (5), muscle temperature might drop (~15-20 minutes) (24), if the recovery time is too long. In accordance (5), recovery time for intermediate and long-term performance also might not need to exceed 5 minutes.

 

Factors influencing the warm-up

Environmental conditions
Weather conditions will affect the intensity and/or duration of the warm-up.
While passive warm-up (through external heat) seems to have benefits for some physical performances, it seems NOT to fulfill the requirements to fully prepare the player’s body. To my knowledge there is no information, if passive heat (sun in hot environments) reduce the duration of the warm-up. Similarly, cold might delay the required physiological process and therefore result in a longer/more intense warm-up. However, from my experience (as a players and a coach), a warm-up in a hot environment “feels” more intense and therefore there is no need to complete the usual warm-up. As coaches know the perception of players can be crucial, however, if a shorter warm-up has similar efficacy compared to a “normal” warm-up nothing that has been discussed throughout the literature thoroughly.


Level of play
It seems obvious that the level of play will have an affect on the content of a warm-up. From a technical point of view, I tend to believe that the lower the level of play the longer duration can/should be spend with the ball, hoping to “improve” the touches and the passing. Youth players that have not reached PHV are not really “required” to perform a warm-up (from an injury prevention point of view) (23). However, from an educational stand point it seems warrant to include a short warm-up to educate players and accustom them for later years, when a warm-up is crucial. Due to a better thermoregulatory system, players with higher physical capacities might require a longer/more intense warm-up in order to alter muscle and core temperature (5).


Position
Despite many teams having a “general” warm-up for the entire team, I agree to have the players within their position/specific actions for the last minutes of the warm-up (9). Possible content could be crosses for outside midfielders (including the target striker and a central defender). Shooting on goal after a short dribbling or a pass seems to be another good opportunity to conclude the warm-up for other positions, which might increase the confidence not only for the field players but also for the goalkeeper.


Stretching
Obviously stretching is part of the warm-up. However, I do not want to elaborate on this special topic, as I already have comment on this HERE.

 

Re-warm-up after halftime

As it was shown that passive rest during half time decreased muscle temperature by up to 2.0 degrees Celsius (19), which resulted in impaired muscular performance (17, 19, 27) and work-rate (16), it seems warrant to implement a re-warm-up prior kick-off to the second half to optimize performance in the initial minutes of the second half.

Furthermore, it seems that active re-warm-up was more efficient compared to passive heat (18). In addition, the content of the re-warm-up affect the physical and technical skill of football players, showing a 3-minute SSG re-warm-up beneficial in technical elements (such as passing), while a 5RM leg press showed benefits in rate-of-force-development, flight time in a CMJ and repeated sprint ability (29).

It seems that there is little time (<3 minutes) in professional football for a re-warm-up (27). Steady-state exercise might not be appropriate for the limited time and high-intensity seemed to be more appropriate (27).

 

Conclusion

From a physiological point of view the intensity should vary across a broad range of heart rates (and therefore VO2max), which might be replicable of the game. It seems that 15-20 minutes is sufficient in player’s preparation for the game. Depending on the time delay between the end of the warm-up and the beginning of the match, the intensity (and its duration) should be administered carefully.
Position specifics movements/action and/or 2-3 minutes to let the players have their own choices or content might be a suitable conclusion of the warm-up. Short static stretching in the early stages of the warm-up and dynamic stretches in later stages including SSC are appropriate. Cold, but especially warm (and humid) conditions might affect the warm-up duration and intensity.

 

References


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