The warm-up for football
Pre-and post-football exercise and stretching
Professional footballers are not generally noted for their commonsense, but every player of the professional game will be aware of the need to stretch prior to and after a match. With football consisting of sudden explosive bursts of energy, it is vital to warm up thoroughly to prevent injury.
The same good practice employed by most pro footballers is not followed at grass roots level, where the warm-up often consists of everyone peppering the goal with shot after shot. The only player who gets a proper warm-up is the poor old goalkeeper! It is no surprise then that muscle strain is the most common injury in football.
What are the reasons for warming up before football?
- Prepares the body to perform optimally
- Raises muscle temperature
- Reduces muscular tightness
- Raises the body temperature
- Prepares the cardiovascular and respiratory system
- Prepares players mentally for the game
So how should anyone playing football really warm-up?
A warm-up should only take a few minutes and is far less taxing than the actual game itself. The warm-up should start with some easy jogging to get the heart rate up. This can be done with or without a ball.
Once the body has been warmed to a level sufficient to start perspiration, you can introduce some stretching to your warm-up. Concentrate on the large muscle groups including the hamstrings, calf, adductors, and quadriceps, plus the shoulders (deltoids) and the chest (pectorals).
Be careful not to overdo the warm-up stretches, especially if you are new to a stretching regime. General advice would be to try and hold the stretch for around 20-30 seconds, but don’t bounce in the stretch. Slight pain when stretching is normal; you should feel the muscle stretch, but if you feel sharp or stabbing pains, then stop immediately. You can finish your warm-up with some sprints to again raise the heart rate and practice some ball skills.
Keep warm at half-time
As much as you might be keen to suck on your half-time orange (taking on some fluid is vital) there is also the need to keep warm. During the half-time team talk (if you have one), stretch your leg muscles and keep the legs loose to prepare yourself for the re-start of the game.
Research suggests that players performing warm-up exercises during half-time can cover more ground at high intensity pace than players who did not. This is obviously an advantage in performance terms for players.
Warm-down at the end of the game
If a stretch pre-match is often neglected, stretching post-match definitely is, often in favour of a trip to the pub. A warm-down and stretch after a match or strenuous practice help the body return to its resting state. It helps rid the body of toxins and lactic acid which has built up and helps players overcome muscle stiffness and soreness.
A warm-down should consist of a hard paced run, gradually reduced in pace to a gentle jog. Following the run, various muscle groups must be stretched, especially those that are frequently strained in football, such as the hamstring or lower back.
By making stretching a regular part of your warm-down routine you can really help improve your flexibility. After a football match is the ideal time to work on your muscle flexibility since the muscles are warm and more pliable, so get stretching!