Understanding the warm up is a vitally important first step for any player to become Rugby Ready. The aims of the warm up are to prepare the players to perform effectively and efficiently, and to reduce the risk of injury.
The warm up should last between 10 and 20 minutes, depending on the activity to follow. It must be versatile enough to be adaptable to meet the requirements of a competitive match or a training session. The warm up should start off at low intensity, with a gradual progression through a series of movements from a general and simple level to a more specific and higher intensity level. This will enable the players to prepare muscles and joints to move at the appropriate speed and with the range of motion that is required by the following session or game.
The key benefits of the warm up are:
- to raise the temperature of the body so that muscles become more elastic and thus movements are more efficient
- to stimulate the heart and lungs so that the pulse and breathing rates are increased
- to activate the relevant muscle groups
- to improve reaction speed by stimulating the nervous system
- to improve coordination
- to enable the players to prepare mentally.
The warm up has three distinct phases:
1. General mobility
Begin the warm up with some light jogging / fun activities to get the heart pumping and the blood flowing, moving on to some basic movements to loosen up the muscles and increase joint mobility. Static stretches may be counter-productive, because they might reduce power output and relax the player as opposed to improving physical readiness and sharpening mental awareness.
Below are some examples of exercises which can be completed during the general mobility section. The reps and time spent completing the exercises will vary depending on the players’ experience and the content of the session or match to follow.
Squat as low as possible while maintaining a straight back. Squat to a slow and controlled tempo. Look straight ahead. Keep your heels on the ground throughout the exercise. A variation option would be to hold a ball above the head.
Step forward and bend your back knee. Keep your back straight and perpendicular to the ground. Don't let your front knee go past your toes. Twist to the left and right in a controlled manner. Step forward with the rear leg so it lands level with the front leg. Repeat same movement starting with the opposite leg.
Standing lateral lunge
Step to the left, bending your left knee and keeping your right leg straight. Return to the upright position, and perform the same movement on the opposite side. Keep your back straight throughout.
Start with arms fully extended behind. Swing the arms forwards, crossing them over to complete the back slap. Return to start position and repeat, alternating the top arm each time.
2. Transit mobility
The next stage of the warm up increases the level of intensity and focuses more on transit movements that require the player to travel a greater distance. Use dynamic stretches as shown here, not static stretches, at this stage.
Below are some examples of exercises which can be completed during the transit mobility section. The reps and time spent completing the exercises will vary depending on the players’ experience and the content of the session or match to follow.
This is an excellent exercise for the hips and buttock muscles. It also prepares the groin, quads and hamstrings. Keep the chest high and back flat, whilst keeping the head still and chin off the chest. The movement begins by standing with the feet together and by taking a stride with a high knee that is long enough to stretch the hip and hamstrings but not so deep that balance is lost. Don't let your front knee go past your toes. Bring your rear foot forward to land beside your front foot. Repeat with the opposite leg. A variation option would be to hold a ball above the head.
Walk sideways by placing your right foot across the front of the body until it is past the left foot. Place the weight of your body on the right foot and pull your left foot past your right foot. Place your right foot behind your body and past your left foot. Pull your body sideways with your right foot and place your left foot past your right. Complete above for a set distance and complete facing both ways.
Walking high knee stretch
This is a good starting drill as it stretches the muscles of the hips and buttocks. Keep the chest high and spread wide, whilst focussing on pulling shoulder blades down and drawing them together. Step forward and grasp the shin of the opposite leg and pull the knee to the chest. Focus on extending the supporting leg and raise up onto the toes. This will also prepare the muscles of the foot and ankle joint.
Quad stretch / kicks
Raise one leg from the ground in a stable and controlled manner. Kick the leg straight up so you feel a stretch on the front of your thigh. Repeat the same movement with the opposite leg.
3. Skill preparation
The warm up can be used not only to prepare the player for the session but also to develop the player’s skills at the same time. Coaches should integrate a technical element into the warm up which relates to the main focus of the session.
Players can work in pairs or in small groups focusing on the skills which will be required in the session, e.g., scrum, lineout, tackle, etc.