The warm up is vital before any game of football, or indeed any training session, in order to avoid injuring oneself. Football is a game that regularly places considerable strain on the joints and muscles and therefore it is extremely important to complete a thorough warm-up regime. Its worth is reflected in the series of drills devised by the best coaches over the years to get the team ready.
Before starting any sport your muscles are cold and subsequently prone to being overstretched in any drastic bodily movement. Such movements are repeated continuously in any game of football; an overstretched leg in a tackle, or a quick 360º turn to evade an opposition player.
The aim of a warm-up is to gradually warm the muscles, avoiding any drastic movement of the limbs. After that, the objective is to statically stretch the muscles in preparation for the type of movements that you will do during the game. Stretches may therefore be quite different for a forward compared with a defender or, indeed, a goalkeeper.
A warm-up must be initiated by a gentle jog, probably in an area of 15-20 yards, maintaining a normal, gentle stride pattern. Later on in the warm-up this stride pattern can be varied. Common to most football warm-ups are the following running exercises that begin to stretch and to prepare the joints for the changes in pace that are frequent in any game of football:
To stretch the hips and stabilise the strength of the muscles and tendons around the ankle joints that are particularly vulnerable to injury in football. This exercise requires the lifting of the knees in turn as you run until the thigh is in a parallel position to the pitch.
To flex and strengthen the lower leg and achilles area, that is very vulnerable to injury. As you take each step, extend the ankle.
This exercise is used to loosen up the hips and involves moving the legs in a long and exaggerated stride pattern in time with the arms. The torso must be maintained straight and erect.
The aim of sideways running is to stretch out the hip and inner thigh area, that are frequently over-strained in football.
Running gently backwards helps to prepare and strengthen the quads and calf muscles for rigorous working during the game.
Such striding warm-up exercises can be followed by static stretching to isolate individual muscles such as the hamstring or calf, all of which require individual attention.
Very young players will probably not require such a rigorous stretching workout - some light running at varying speed levels should prove adequate. However, older players must warm-up and stretch as thoroughly as possible to avoid those pesky injuries that keep you on the sidelines.
After a game player should take part in a cool down session to help the muscles.
We will now follow former England, Aston Villa and Wovles manager Graham Talyor as he guides us with the finer points about warming up.
A thorough cool down, like a warm-up, is essential following any game of football or training session, but it is still often overlooked by many footballers. The aim of a cool down is to allow the body to gradually make the transition from a full exercise mode to a non-exercise state, therefore avoiding injury, stiffness and muscle tiredness the following day.
The benefits of an effective cool down session are numerous. Firstly, it assists the removal of waste products that accumulate in the muscles during rigorous exercise, such as lactic acid. Secondly, it works to gradually decrease the body temperature, heart rate and blood pressure and also, releases hormones that counter the effects of adrenaline, that can make you feel restless after strenuous exercise. Moreover, immediately following a football match is the ideal time to work on improving joint and muscle flexibility. The muscles are warm and can be more easily manipulated using stretching exercises.
The overarching result of an efficient cool down is improved recovery time of the footballer or athlete. In the modern game, footballers are increasingly called upon to play two or even three games a week and a proper cool down is therefore essential. Indeed, in recent years, the cool down exercise has become increasingly pivotal in the match and training regimes of professional football clubs.
Sometimes players neglect doing a cool down session owing to the cold conditions experienced in the British winter. However, that's no excuse - parts of the cool down can be completed inside the gym, or perhaps in the dressing room.
5-10 minutes of cool down is generally considered adequate and essentially involves gradually decreasing the intensity of exercise. In general terms, a cool down consists of a hard paced run with gradual reductions to reach jogging level, finishing in a brisk walk, with muscle stretching exercises incorporated at intervals.
Slowly reducing exercise intensity in this way helps to lower the heart rate gradually, avoiding a sudden cessation of strenuous activity that can actually force the heart to work harder initially. A gradual decline in heart rate reduces stress on the organ.
Following the run, various muscle groups must be stretched, especially those that are frequently strained in football, such as the hamstring and lower back muscles. As well as traditional stretching exercises, it is also advisable to do around 5 minutes of calisthenic type exercises, such as alternate toe touches with your legs apart and lying on your back and cycling legs in the air.
The cool down session should be finished with 2 minutes of jogging at a slow pace, while kicking arms and legs loose. After all that, you should feel the benefits the following morning (or, rather, not feel the side-effects of the previous morning!).