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If you could increase your soccer skill level efficiency, drastically reduce your chance of injury, and help your body feel better before and after soccer, would you want to know how?

Warming up is one of the most forgotten, overlooked and neglected parts of a soccer training program. It’s not everyone’s favorite, improperly warming up or even altogether skipping it can be detrimental to your practice. In my years as a soccer athletic trainer, here are some reasons and some of the poorest  excuses I have heard for not doing a warm-up:

  • “It’s boring"
  • “Stretching is uncomfortable”
  • “I just want to play soccer”
  • Laziness
  • Misinformed and uneducated on adequate warm-up techniques
  • Coaches have limited time with players and want to utilize that for soccer only

You read that correctly – sometimes even coaches skip the warm-up!

These are NOT acceptable excuses. 

Unfortunately, most players don’t care until they’ve experienced the pain of having to watch their team play from the sidelines with an ice bag strapped onto them. Read on to find out how you can keep the ice in the cooler and focus on how you’re going to score that next goal, not on how bad your hamstring hurts.

What is a warm-up? A warm-up is elevating your core temperature, increasing blood flow to the working muscles, and dynamically stretching the body in functional ways that mimic movements you will perform on the field. A warm-up is NOT static stretching and kicking the ball around for a few minutes. But the first thing I see players do when they get to the field is open up the ball bag.

Here’s a new rule to live by: Nobody touches a ball for the first 10 minutes of practice. Start a stopwatch when you get to the field and begin your warm-up. Let's go over a few key warm-up movements you can begin to incorporate in your routine.

  • Jog two full laps (gradually increasing pace)
  • Perform skips, side shuffle, carioca, butt kicks, high knees
  • Perform calf raises, toe walks, heel walks, inchworms
  • Perform hamstring sweeps, leg swings, forward leg kicks (Frankensteins)
  • Perform squats, walking lunges (forward, backward, side)
  • Perform hip circles (open/close the gate)
  • Work on quick feet/change of direction drills
  • Do mini hops, controlled jumps for height, squat jumps
  • Focus on gradual build up sprints – Jog to Stride to Sprint

These are just a few of the many dynamic movements used by soccer teams around the world to prepare for training. A good rule of thumb is you should have at least two exercises for each body part/muscle group. I suggest you learn as many warm-up exercises you can and find which ones make you feel the best. Then you can create a routine that best prepares you.

An effective warm-up routine at the pro level is planned with just as much detail as the practice itself. Many professional athletes get on the field early to go through their own personal routines before the organized warm-up begins. This not only prepares you physically but gets you mentally ready to train as well.

Pro tip: Next time you're watching a professional sporting event, take some time to observe what each player is doing during pre-game. The best athletes in any sport have extremely detailed preparation plans, and they become obsessed with it.

All in all, implementing a great warm-up routine is absolutely crucial for both injury prevention and performance enhancement. Don't wait until you're injured to start taking it seriously. Once you experience the boost it can give your training and performance, you'll become addicted. While it may not be as glamorous or exciting as scoring a goal, it will help you keep scoring goals for a long, long time. 

Kevin Thornton, M.AT, LAT, ATC is an athletic trainer with OrthoCarolina Randolph Sports Physical Therapy.  He is an avid soccer fan and has worked with several college and professional soccer teams. 

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