by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Sport science research has changed how the best teams warm up. In this column I encourage coaches and team’s to review how they warm up before competition.
A comprehensive warm up includes both physical and psychological components. The warm up should strike a balance of demands by following the rule of SAID (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands). Using the rule of SAID when constructing a warm up means including similar physical movements while calling on the energy systems that will be taxed during a rugby match because, after all, that is what we are warming up to go play.
Consideration should be given to how much time or how many repetitions of a given movement are performed. Too often teams conduct almost an entire training session as a warm up before they play. This raises two major concerns; the large amount of time consumed and the accuracy of the energy systems that are challenged. For example, if a team employs a lengthy warm up, while accessing the appropriate energy systems, they will be exhausted. Consider these four stages when constructing your team warm up.
The first stage of a team warm up should be unstructured, generalized movements. During this stage athletes should be encouraged to begin a light individual warm up, gradually mobilizing their joints while progressively increasing the amount of movement they do, building toward the team warm up period. At the same time, they begin to narrow their focus while staying relaxed. Players engage in visualization of their roles while reviewing their mental assignment checklist. While coaching the national team, I designated specific areas of the field for different stage one warm up activities. This was done to ensure this first stage was safe and productive for the players prior to coming together at the start of the team warm up.
The second stage is designed to increase the player’s heart rates. Rugby is an intermittent sprint game; so the players should be encouraged to elevate their heart rates using intermittent movements. Don’t allow this stage of the warm up to be one speed…unless you plan to play at one speed. The intensity level of the players should be such that they are able to calmly converse with one another while performing physical activities with a high degree of specificity. Agility patterns that mirror the athlete’s movements during the match or applicable ball drills can be used to achieve elevated heart rates. Be sure to install any drills or activities that you might use during the warm up during training, so you are not left explaining the drill or activity during the warm up. Two to six minutes should be set a side for this stage. Key benefits of this stage are increased body temperature and greater elasticity of soft tissue. Elasticity is a vastly underrated athletic asset and something that I will address further in a future column.
The third stage of team warm up is comprised of dynamic flexibility and active, isolated stretching (AIS) movements. Performing dynamic flexibility is slightly more common practice now then it was a few years ago, but my experience tells me a more detailed focus on the exact movements, including why they are being performed, is needed for athletes to gain maximum benefit from this aspect of the warm up. Again, the dynamic flexibility movements employed should also the rule of SAID. Once the dynamic flexibility movements have been performed, we use an active, isolated stretching routine to finish the stage. AIS sees the athletes apply intermittent tension on the muscle(s) being stretched for several repetitions per muscle group. The departure from static stretching during a warm up is due to scientific research that suggests static stretching prior to athletic performance does little if anything to reduce the risk of injury and may even reduce power output and therefore performance. Additionally, static stretching runs counter to the rule of SAID. Rugby players are never in a static stretch position for 20-30 seconds at a time during match play.
The fourth and final stage of the warm up is movement specificity. Finish your team warm up performing the same physical activities your team will be doing on the pitch. This allows players to be fully involved, both physically and psychologically, before kick-off. Included during this six to ten minute stage are; ball handling, lineout jump, lift, and throw mechanics, kicks from hand or ground, tackle mechanics, and scrum cadence triggers.
All in, these four stages of team warm up should take no more than 30 minutes. Review what your team is currently doing during this important period prior to kick off and make adjustments where needed.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand (Bay of Plenty), the U.S. (The Old Blues), England (London Harlequins), and Wales (Pontypridd) for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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