What if you could go straight into training without first running a warm-up routine of some sort?

Give me a minute before you start in on me about proper physical (and mental) preparation for practice. I’m not talking about taking players from zero to full speed straight away. I am definitely in favor of being as efficient as possible – in all regards – when it comes to the warm-up process. I won’t go so far as to suggest there be none, however.

Consider this.

What if you walked into the gym and the players were already warm?

I’m not talking about a situation where practice starts at 5:00 and you arrive at 5:20 after the team has done their dynamic warm-up or whatever led by the strength coach or team trainer. I’m talking about practice starting at 5:00 with the players already ready to go. They’ve taken it upon themselves to get warm on their own.

On the face of it, you might not think there’s much difference there. I’ll grant that it’s a subtle thing.

The difference isn’t so much a time consideration. That could be an element, but perhaps not the most important. Instead, the main difference is in who’s directing the warm-up, and probably by extension how formal it is.

We coaches tend to want to control things. Warm-ups aren’t exempted from this. The result is that basically players all go through the same routine. This is true even though they may have considerably different physical and mental warm-up needs. The latter can actually end up adding an addition time requirement to ensure everyone is optimally prepared to begin the day’s work.

What if we left the warm-ups to the players? Do you think they’d do a better or worse job?

Chances are those warm-ups would look quite different. Players tend not to like the formulaic warm-ups we coaches design for them. They instead favor something a bit more free form. In fact, they might simply prefer to just play themselves warm. They do this by starting at a low intensity and building up from there.

This is what the players at Midwestern State seemed to like to do when I was there. In the 15-20 minutes before the official start of practice during my first Spring they did a little bit of shoulder warm-up, and a bit of pepper, but then quite quickly got into playing small-side games (like Winners/Queen of the Court). They obviously didn’t go 100% right away. By the time we started practice, though, they were pretty ready to go. As a bonus, they’d gotten a fair number of quality contacts. Same thing with both the men and women at Medaille.

Aside from the players warming-up how they best see fit (or enjoy), this sort of player-directed system offers some other benefits. For one, it allows them to enjoy themselves without being under Coach’s supervision. For another, depending on the group it can either be a good collaborative exercise and/or one which furthers the identification and development of leaders in the squad.

Something to think about perhaps?

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    8 replies to "Skip the warm-ups?"

    • Kelly Daniels

      I’m coaching a 13U Developmental team this season. The first thing I realized about my team at our first open gym is they do not know how to play. Forget executing skills, but they just didn’t know how to play. Over time I have learned what they have learned from middle school last fall. They’ll have a 1.5 hr practice and the first 10-20 minutes it’s warming up. Running laps around the gym, court exercises, and then stretch. This leaves 70min to work on volleyball related activities.

      The first thing I did was put them on the court when I walked into the gym. When they started to socialize while playing I didn’t interrupt. When I did involve myself it was specifically about playing. Well now after three months of just having them come into the court now they are automatically coming in rushing to get dress and jump on the court to play. I’ve not one time use any traditional warm up techniques at practices. Athletes pepper during tournament warm up and we do run throughs prior to our 4min of court time.

      Last year’s club team when my head coach (HC) was out, I had the team come in early if they wanted to do the HC traditional warm up. Once that is done, then we’ll run some kind of scrimmage match for 20min. Having a 2hr practice that then gives me 100min of volleyball related teaching and training.

      When I played as an adult athlete I never had a formal warm up prior to our league or tournament matches. It’s on the court pepper, shared hitting warm up, and match play. My teams have won many local league championships and tournaments. I have also played on a team that won a national championship at US Open. So as an adult my body definitely would seem to need a traditional warm up, but never did and me and my former teammates were normally very successful in a match.

      I adopted the scrimmage for warm up because of my experience as an adult. Secondly, my philosophy is a mental thing. Come into the gym ready to play. During a match, subs body cools down while on the bench. If they have to go in they are not all warmed up. Most come in and perform to the level that is needed for the team. At the very least not hurt the team worse. So I’m no longer sold on traditional warm ups. It’s on the court and play. Use the scrimmage time to warm the body up. The team is informed that we go all out when the body feel loose. Before that, it’s get to the ball best you can and control swings when attacking. Standing float serves are use until the arm is feeling loose. With the success of my 13U team having only a total of eight months of volleyball experience I pretty sure I’m going to keep to this scrimmage warm up vice traditional.

      • John Forman

        I’m with you there Kelly. No real sense in doing a traditional or formal warm-up with the young ones – at least from a physical perspective They don’t need it. Get them working with the ball ASAP.

    • Oliver Wagner

      One of my favorite topics, John 🙂 I have given up on traditional warm-ups years ago. Many things we are doing there are important, though. But mostly for an athletic development not for warming up. I think players should do these things at home.

      My boys love to play soccer at the beginning of practice. And I’m fine with it. It’s fun. After that we are playing small-side games. At the beginning everybody is a bit carful but very soon we have high quality game like reps.

      While we can mange these things in practice, your thoughts (and Kelly’s) might rase a more difficult to solve challenge for game days. We can not play small-side games there, right? A volleyball friend of mine made a portable “net” for game days. You can see the construction here: http://wp.me/p2LWod-8u. It works pretty well at least at the youth level. The kids prepare very good for a game (after loosing their embarrassment about them being the only team using this :-)). I’m curious if that wouldn’t work at the pro level as well…

      • John Forman

        It’s a fair question Oliver. Honestly, I think things get a bit over complicated with respect to warm-ups in places. NCAA women’s volleyball in particular. They do a 4-4-5-5 warm-up. No shared court time. After coaching in Europe – and in particular England where warm-up times were often abbreviated – I’ve definitely moved toward less is better. Pepper a bit. Hit a bit. Serve a bit. Then get on with it!

    • Alexis

      Warmup should be banned. So should warmdown. Let’s just call it training. Or practice.

      One critical part of training is physical preparation. Particularly for children (adults actually do it themselves because their bodies hurt all over – and when I say adults I mean full time professionals beyond college age).

      All trainings should include physical preparation which has a heavy focus on physical literacy and developing the areas of the body the sport requires (for volleyball, squats/lunges for knees/glutes/ankles, thoracic rotation and shoulders). Coaches need to be coaching excellent technique during this time – not just leaning on the wall drinking coffee (you can always tell which teams have the most injuries, their coaches are leaning against the wall drinking coffee during warmup). This preparation takes about 5-7 minutes.

      Then, as part of recovery at the end of training, doing these same exercises (but about half) and adding some leg swings, and body range of motion exercises, will help the children recover, and also help them avoid injury.

      • John Forman

        Alexis, you got a link to some video of this 5-7 minutes of preparation? Or something that lays out what such a routine would look like?

        As for whose bodies hurt all over, no doubt college players are in that category – at least during season. And the one one’s whose bodies probably hurt the most are the older part-time players. :-))

      • Tino Mikosch

        Imho youre correct about training time It’s valuable. On the other hand, young players need to learn new things, and a full warmup us one of these things, same with specific exercises for strength, agility, flexibility,… they are in the phase for development.
        But not every training needs to be the same. So there is room for both

    • Alexis

      Yes I do 😉

      Players rarely hurt all over. There is generally something in the chain which breaks first (knee, ankle, back, shoulder, hip, etc)

Please share your own ideas and opinions.