DONEGAL GAA SENIOR TEAM strength and conditioning coach Paul Fisher steps in for Dermot Simpson this week to discuss why the warm-up is so vital.
“Paul talks about the importance of the warm in preparing a team for training or competition.
“Oftentimes, players will say “it took me 20 minutes to get going” or “I felt my hamstring tighten up after the first sprint.”
Photo caption: Donegal’s Strength & Conditioning Coach Paul Fisher, with former Donegal manager Jim McGuinness when they were colleagues at Achieve Consultancy
“Inadequate warm-ups are very much to blame. A warm-up should be long enough to cover all the movements needed for the imminent training or match, but short enough not to put unnecessary fatigue on the player. From research and his own experience,
“Paul describes five sub-components that are essential for the warm-up. They all aim to competently prepare the athlete for higher performance levels and for reduced risk of injury for the session ahead.” – Dermot Simpson
“Mario Balotelli attitude” – While there are some questionable coaching practices out there in the preparation of athletes in all sports, the one component of a session which is almost universally accepted is the principle of the warm-up.
We have all been there and have seen similar attitudes (see Mario Balotelli above) displayed by athletes – and even sometimes coaches – regarding the warm-up; with the opinion been that this component of a session is less important than other components of the session.
In all sports the warm-up should be a key element in which coaches, therapists and athletes gain valuable information regarding athlete’s health, energy, focus, and skill levels for that given session.
There are two primary goals of a Warm up, to optimize performance while also decreasing the risk of injury during training and competition. A well-designed warm-up can increase muscle temperature, core temperature and blood flow.
It also prepares the body for the movement patterns and impacts directly associated with the activity that is about to occur. This in turn has been shown to elicit positive effects on performance such as improvements in rate of force development and reaction time, and improvements in muscle strength and power.
In GAA like all other sports the warm up needs to be constructed to address the physiological and bio-mechanical requirements of the specific sport as well as the technical requirements.
‘Traditionally’ a warm-up is subdivided into two elements, a general warm up and a specific warm up component.
My colleague, strength and conditioning coach Declan Gallagher spoke about the General versus Specific topic recently. The general phase typically consists of low intensity aerobic activities whereas the specific phase traditionally consists of stretching and general skill rehearsal.
Let’s delve a little deeper into this and subdivide the warm-up further into five crucial components:
• General Movement
• Hip Activation
• Dynamic Stretching
• Movement Integration
• Neural Activation
Within these five components is where we can make our warm-ups really ‘specific’ to the subsequent training unit and also right down to the individual needs of the athlete.
You never have to do anything too fancy in the general movement section.
The big consideration here is the direction of movement that the athlete will carry out in the session, think a 100-metre sprinter against a field sport player – one will carry out linear focused general movements only while it would be imperative for the field sport player to move in a multi-directional manner to include linear, lateral and rotational movements.
Think marching, skipping, shuffling, carioca, etc. at low intensity. This phase will usually take three to five minutes to complete.
Alternatively it may be an option to play a low intensity game such as tag rugby or Olympic handball with your athletes with added conditions such as you can only skip / shuffle.
When the heat of championship or a major competition is near it can be very fitting for the conditioning coach to step back and let the captain take lead of this section, this helps set the tone and increase focus.
Once the general movement is complete we look to activate the musculature around the hip paying particular attention to the gluteal muscles as these are often inhibited and weaker.
As mentioned above reducing the risk of injury is a big part of the warm up and this is one of the most important prehab activities for reducing the risk of hamstring injuries, which Dermot Simpson wrote about here.
Mini-Bands is our go to equipment to help us with our hip activation series, again there are a few things to consider, tension of the band, number of bands (one or two), positioning of the band (above the knee, above the ankle) and the exercise selection.
We typically programme three or four different exercises, each with a different emphasis, for example having a bent leg versus a straight leg will ultimately target different fibres of your gluteal muscles.
Walking laterally with a bent leg is one of our go to exercises within this series.
Next up is the dynamic stretching, the exercises selected here will be dependent on the emphasis of the session but you want to spend some time moving through your ‘mobile’ joints, namely, ankle, hip and thoracic spine / shoulders in a manner that is specific to your training or competition.
This includes moving to more single leg focused exercises for our footballers.
We also use this section to complete some more corrective type exercises such overhead reverse lunges (single leg strength and balance with an active stretch on the often tight hip flexor) and the inverted hamstring stretch (hamstring strength and flexibility with single leg balance which in turns increases proprioception of surrounding joints).
At this point your athletes focus has already shifted towards the subsequent training or competition so it is important to progress them into the next section, movement integration.
In this section their movements become very specific, their direction is multi focused, their movement coordination is dynamic, the velocity of the movements are fast and they start applying high forces into the ground. Linear, lateral and crossover skips and bounds are great exercises to apply here.
As a coach you are looking at movement quality here as well the intent of your athletes.
To conclude the warm-up we include a neural activation activity / activities to prime the athlete’s central nervous system pre-skills.
Think of the term ‘flipping the switch’ here, this is a short burst rapid response drill that pushes the athlete to move with max effort in a movement and direction specific to the sport often initiated by an external stimulus.
Two-inch runs on the spot to an acceleration is just one example of what we might do. It may also be appropriate to use your speed ladders here to encourage fast feet and short contact times.
Apologies if all this content seems brief in context but it was just to outline the general considerations of a good warm-up.
The good news is that there are a couple of very good resources out there already that provides full warm up sequences with the goals of performance improvement and injury reduction in mind, check out one for GAA here and a soccer variation here.
If you have any queries on any of the content discussed above feel free to contact me.
Paul Fisher is the current head of strength and conditioning coach of the Donegal senior footballers and also administers strength and conditioning programming to the minor and Under-21 footballers.
Paul has a National Diploma and Honours Degree in Sports and Exercises Sciences along with a Certificate in Fitness & Conditioning for Sports from Setanta College while he is currently completing a Performance Specialist Certificate with EXOS.
Paul can be contacted on Facebook through Paul Fisher Strength & Performance or on Twitter @PaulFisher17