This post will no doubt ruffle some feathers, but so be it! 🙂

There is little I hate more as a volleyball coach than watching a team do a jog-and-stretch warm-up before practice or a match. I have to think there are only three potential reasons for teams to do that.

  1. The coach (or captain) is ignorant of the better options.
  2. The coach (or captain) is being lazy.
  3. The players are intransigent (perhaps due to ignorance).

All of these reasons (excuses?) can be addressed, and should be for the benefit of the team. When I agreed to take on coaching for Exeter University in 2012 one of my requirements was that jog-and-stretch be thrown out.

Why? Because jog-and-stretch is an utter waste of time. I mean that both figuratively and literally.

On the figurative side…

Static stretching (the sort we most often think of when referring to stretching) may not have any value for warming-up. There’s no evidence that it prevents injuries, which is counter to what a lot of people think. According to WebMD, research actually shows that it may be harmful in some cases – explosive sports (like volleyball) being one of them (but time between the stretching and performance may make a difference).

Regardless of whether static stretching has any value, athletes should do it when muscles are warm. Jogging a few laps around the court is not sufficient. This is why the suggestion is that you stretch after, not before, exercise. Static stretches are best for developing flexibility, not for warming-up.

Taking it a step further, a warm up should replicate the activities to be performed during the exercise, just at a lower intensity level. You may make the case that since sprinting is part of volleyball (though only barely), jogging is a good warm up to that. Fair enough, but what about jumping, lunging, shuffling, serving, spiking, and blocking? Not much jogging is going to do for them.

All of this is why dynamic warm-ups have become so popular. Here are a couple of examples.

The first is the Stanford University men during pre-match warm-ups.

This second features a set of exercises demonstrated by teenage players.

There many, many variations and types of dynamic warm-up exercises out there. Search YouTube and I’m sure you’ll find dozens.

That said, though, there is some research with suggests even dynamic warm-ups have little impact on performance. It’s limited so far, though, so we need to see more.

On the literal side…

Jog-and-stretch misses an opportunity for the players to work on volleyball-specific movements and skills. The dynamic warm-up at least can have some volleyball type movements integrated. Even there, though, most aren’t great for getting the shoulders warmed up for serving and hitting, which is why you often see teams go from there into some kind of throwing the ball back and forth.

I also think that throwing of the ball back and forth, in most cases, is a waste of time.

Why do I say that? Because in my experience, especially with male players, it becomes more about how hard they can throw the ball or how high they can bounce it and less about actually warming up. And it takes way too long with an opportunity for skill development lost.

A simple progression from light ball-handling to easy pepper (partner pass-set-hit) to full-speed pepper will warm-up a player’s shoulders at least as well and offers the added benefit of having them working on volleyball skills at the same time (to a degree). This is supported by coaches in professional volleyball. Though I’m sure you could come up with something better than normal pepper for pre-practice warm-up when you have a net available.

When I was a volleyball camp counselor we used to play games during the break periods. Because we had a limited window of time, we generally went almost straight into playing without much in the way of warm-up. For the first several minutes it was fairly cooperative with no aggressive hitting or serving. It was only after a while that we upped the intensity to a proper competitive level. We basically played ourselves warm. Much more enjoyable than jogging around and stretching. 🙂

Do the sums

To re-task the Tesco motto, every little counts (Tesco is a grocery store chain in England).

How many training sessions will your team have this year? How many matches? Add those two figures together and multiply by the 5 minutes (or probably more) normally given over to some kind of stretching. That’s how much more effective training time your players can get by non-ball related warm-ups.

Let me use the Exeter teams I coached as an example. We trained twice a week for something like 20 weeks and had at least 20 matches. If we replaced non-ball warm-ups with those that include the ball in some form we get 300 additional minutes of ball-handling work (60 x 5) over the year, which is like adding 2-3 training sessions.

It’s OK not to do what the elite programs do

Now obviously playing your team warm isn’t something that suits all situations. Still, one needs to give a lot thought to priorities when planning warm-ups. If you’ve got a developing group of players you should probably forget about the fancy warm-ups used by upper level teams with elite level athletes. For them it’s about preparation for high-intensity competition. They are beyond the point where a few more setting or passing reps are going to make any difference. For you, though, every rep counts – especially when you only see them a few hours a week.

And keep in mind there’s a negative relationship between warm-up requirements and age. Kids don’t need to do all that stuff. Just get them on the court playing!

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently Technical Director for Charleston Academy. His previous experience includes the college and university level in the US and UK, professional coaching in Sweden, and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. Learn more on his bio page.

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