I’ve been working with athletes for quite some time. Even though I haven’t overhauled the way I do things, I definitely make changes on a continual basis. One thing that has seen many changes is the way I warm up athletes. I’ve always used some type of movement-based stretching, and I’ve tried to stay away from any pre-workout static stretching. My belief has always been in the actual workout, not so much in what we did before the workout. I’ve always believed in getting a sweat going before moving on to the actual workout.

As each competitive year has passed, I’ve attended conferences, read articles online, and even read books written recently. Trying to adapt with the game, the changes I’ve made to the warm up have come from all of these resources as well as from what I’ve learned from my own personal experiences. This continual learning process has brought me to the point where I now place more stock in the pre-workout and less emphasis on the actual workout. I’ve cut out many of the frills in the actual training session and have gone back to the basics. I’ve increased the volume among a few exercises instead of lowering the volume for many exercises. This has helped me become a better coach because I’m able to correct technical flaws, motivate the athletes, and keep a more consistent and positive cost benefit for each exercise. In addition, we seem to be healthier than we ever were before.

Not everyone will agree with all of my ideas, but I hope they can offer coaches a new way of thinking. New is not always better. However, unless the weights are going up, how do we as coaches know that what we’re doing is actually working? Is it maybe better movement efficiency? Or better body weight control and mastery? Or maybe even healthier, less injured athletes? With the athletes I’ve worked with in the past, when the weights went up, it was usually the result of better compensation by the athlete, not improved strength. So take what you can from this article and leave what isn’t useful.

1. General warm-up: When my athletes first come into the weight room, I have them perform a general heart rate raise, which consists of specific exercises with specific variables. This could be riding a bike, using a jump rope, or running. However, no matter what the exercise, we make sure to always give instructions as to what we want. If I don’t do this, I will get an athlete who rides the bike like the lady at the health club reading her magazine. I want my athletes to know that what they’re doing is vital to the rest of the warm up. This may be jump roping for 1–3 minutes and performing 10–20 double unders or riding the bike for 3–5 minutes with 20–30 second sprints every 30–45 seconds. Just be specific with what you want.

2. Foam roll or static stretch: Depending on the day and what that day entails, the next thing we do is either foam roller work for each individual athlete’s problem areas or static stretching for those same areas. These areas usually include the inner and outer thigh, quads and hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, lats, and upper back. I’ve become adamant about getting our athletes to use the foam roller because of the results I’ve seen with myself. I‘ve also opened up to more static stretching before workouts as long as it’s kept short and to the point. Some athletes just need the forced range of motion, especially in the groin/hip flexor area and the pec/anterior shoulder area.

3. Activation dynamics: I never used to include activation exercises in the warm up because I just figured that integration dynamics took care of it. Boy was I wrong. One athlete who comes to mind is Chris Denney, our All-American wide receiver. For three of his four years of eligibility, he struggled with hamstring issues that continually kept him sidelined. We were at the end of our rope trying to find out what was causing him to keep pulling them. After spending a short amount of time preparing for the NFL combine with Robb Rogers, a coach who I greatly respect, Chris’s posterior chain was at its healthiest.

That winter I listened to a speech given by Coach Rogers on neural and muscular activation. Afterwards, I talked with him about Chris. We discussed some of the changes he had made to Chris’s workout, and he offered some suggestions about what I could do with the athletes I had now. When I got back to work, I started to notice how the athletes completed dynamics. I realized they weren’t able to utilize specific areas as efficiently as I would have liked. So I started to incorporate some of Coach Rogers’ ideas in order to use the right muscles to move the right joints at the right time (a phrase I picked up from Coach Doyle). I saw an immediate difference.

Now, I always have my athletes perform some type of activation sequence in order to prepare them for integration dynamics and, of course, the workout or competition. It has really helped our program improve. The main areas we address are the glutes (maximus, medius), IT band, posterior shoulder girdle and rotator cuff, ankle complex, and the torso. Usually, I only target the torso in the pre-workout or warm up. I use a host of stabilization and medicine ball exercises in the frontal, transverse, and sagittal planes and I’ve moved away from actual flexion, lateral flexion, and rotation unless there’s a need for it.

4. Integration dynamics: I’ve been using these for as long as I’ve been training athletes. They serve multiple purposes because most of the athletes come into the program with very little general and/or general specific training. Those athletes who do have an extensive background such as football players have always used external resistance but have very little body weight control.

Baseline testing is one purpose that dynamics serve. The testing involves several lunge and squat variations, and I’m able to determine right away whether the athlete should be doing lower body exercises with external resistance or not. Watching the athletes perform these exercises can alert me to several things including hip region mobility (forward lunge and twist), upper body strength (T push-ups), functional hamstring usage (elbow to instep with hamstring), single leg balance (walking single leg Romanian deadlifts), complex movement efficiency (Spiderman to push-up), and present work capacity (how winded are they after performing 10 minutes of dynamics).

Integration dynamics add volume in the form of body weight resistance. As I mentioned before, I use few exercises in the actual workout so doing dynamics allows me to get in more volume, which serves to ready the body for external resistance. Dynamics also assist with body weight control and mastery. Look at some of your football players and how much weight they can squat, bench, and pull. Yet, they have trouble controlling their bodies during single leg movements, strict and/or suspended push-ups, and pull-ups/inverted rows. Dynamics allow athletes with low relative strength an opportunity to improve upon it. Dynamics are also results oriented, meaning you can see improvements within the first few times of performing them because the body becomes more efficient at moving.

5. Specific dynamics: This is the last part of the warm up and usually involves compound movements with a bar such as squats to presses, muscle snatching, or Romanian deadlifts to bent-over rows for warm-up sets. This could also be made sport-specific and involve drilling for wrestlers, footwork and shooting drills for basketball players, or build ups and flying runs for sprinters.

We put our athletes through a thorough warm up focusing on healthy mobility and an active range of motion that readies them for training and competition. Many coaches want their athletes to get under a bar right away (meaning when they come into a program) and are very good at teaching technique. However, when an athlete is actually under the bar and their technique is flawed they will have trouble getting them to correct those flaws no matter how good of a coach they are or they may just let it fly altogether.

I don’t always spend the better part of my athletes’ training time with the pre-workout. I have an efficient, time-managed system in place for certain days depending on what the workout entails and whether we are in-season or not. This system ensures that we get the most out of our training. If you’re able to individualize each athlete’s training, remember that some will do some things that others won’t. Individualizing may seem like a lot, but once you get a system in place, it really isn’t. Besides, what good is an athlete who’s injured and unable to train or compete? You could be doing exactly what I described just to get them back to where they were. Good luck!

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