Warming up and stretching prior to training and competitions during pre-season is a vital component of the overall pre-season training plan. It ensures that players can prevent injuries and perform optimally throughout this hectic period. 

Another varsity season is – finally – upon us, and in North America, that means players across the country are gearing up for 1-2 training sessions per day in pre-season, followed by 2 back-to-back games per week starting in September.

With this increase in training and game load comes an increase in injury risk, and one of the best ways for athletes to mitigate this risk is with a properly conducted warm-up.

In the varsity pre-season – a uniquely short (2-3 weeks) but intense preparation period in which players frequently train two or even three times per day during the majority of days in a week – coaches and fitness coaches are faced with the unique challenge of choosing the appropriate warm-up and stretching protocol to minimize injury risk while at the same time, building and maintaining fitness levels prior to the start of the season.

This article aims to shed some light on what the science has to say about optimal warm-up routines, and to provide a simple, easy-to-follow warm-up protocol, proven to help athletes reduce injury risk, and perform better in match play.

The frequent high-intensity actions performed in most sports, including sprints of different lengths of distance and time, jumps, as well as rapid accelerations and decelerations, all contribute to a high training and game load, which is exacerbated during the pre-season period.

Warming up and stretching prior to training and competitions during pre-season is a vital component of the overall pre-season training plan. It ensures that players can prevent injuries and perform optimally throughout this hectic period.

A proper warm-up protocol for pre-season should consist of exercises and movements that raise the body’s core temperature and increase the elasticity of specific muscles used in the sport.

Because of the heavy training load – two or more practices per day, plus two or three games per week – which players are placed under during pre-season, the total time duration of the warm-up period should be extended, to as much as 30 minutes, from a typical time duration of 15 minutes.

Movements and movement sequences used should also mimic as closely as possible the actual movements of the sport, including an eventual progression into sprint and high-speed agility running, plus technical exercises with the ball.

A good sequence of movements, used in the FIFA 11+ Injury Prevention Program (a soccer specific injury prevention program), includes some of the following exercises. These exercises are proven to decrease injury rates in training and match play (Soligard et al., 2008).  The movements, followed by the stretching routine provided later in this article, should be the first two forms of exercise that athletes do before introducing sport-specific exercises – into their warm-up.

Below is a summary of some selected movements from the program:

Hip Opening:  2 x 20m: Jogging forwards, stop at 3-metre intervals and raise one knee up to a 90-degree angle, before abducting (moving away from the mid-line of the body) and externally rotating the thigh, before straightening the knee and bringing the foot back to the ground; repeat with the opposite leg.

Hip Closing:   2 x 20m: Following a similar pattern to the Hip Opening exercise, abduct and externally rotate the thigh at the start of the movement, before bringing the thigh inwards by adducting and internally rotating, and then straightening the knee and bringing it down to the ground; repeat with the opposite leg.

Side Shuffle: 2 x 20m: Jogging forwards, stop at 3-metre intervals, stand in an athletic stance with feet wide than hip width, and knees and hips bent, and move sideways for 5 steps to one side, around a cone placed about 5 metres away, before shuffling to the opposite side and back to the starting position.  Focus on not allowing the feet to touch, and staying low in an athletic posture throughout the movement.

Gazelle Run: 2 x 30m: Running fast forwards to build up momentum, bound forwards, alternating legs in a long running stride, aiming to make each stride as long as possible, and spend as little time on the ground as possible with each foot.  Aim to perform 5-6 bounds with each leg over the 30-metre distance.

Following these movement sequences, stretching should be the next phase of a warm-up.  When choosing a stretching protocol, dynamic stretches are preferred over static stretches.

A study by Little et. Al. (2007), comparing the effects of both static and dynamic stretching protocols on high-speed running capabilities of professional athletes in England showed that dynamic stretches were more effective in preparing players for the high-speed running.

Players who performed dynamic stretches as part of their warm-up in this study had faster times in 10- and 20-metre sprints, as well as in a 20-metre sport-specific agility test, than those who performed static stretching.

A dynamic stretch is one in which a muscle or group of muscles is stretched while movement occurs at a joint or group of joints. These stretches should involve the major muscle groups used in sports, including the hip (gluteus maximus, iliopsoas) thigh (quadriceps, hamstrings) groin (adductors) and calf (gastrocnemius / soleus). These stretches are to be done only following the 20-minute warm-up described above.

While there are several different and equally effective dynamic stretching routines that can be used during pre-season, one particular protocol (that has been cited in numerous papers and has also been used by professional sports teams in a variety of sports) was developed by G.A. Frederick and D.J. Szymanski in 2001.

Below is a summary of the dynamic stretching exercises included in their protocol:

Quadriceps:   Backward Reach Run (“butt kicks”): 5 x 10m: Running forwards, quickly flex legs at the knee, exaggerating the movement and bringing the heel up to touch the bum

Adductors:  Walking Lateral Lunge: 2×20 (10 with each leg): Take a long and wide step to the side, keeping the other leg straight, and bend at the knee of the stepping leg, keeping the foot facing forwards and bum back, until a stretch is felt in the adductor muscles of the straight leg; repeat with opposite leg

Illiopsoas:  Walking Drop Lunge: 2×20 (10 with each leg): Take a long forward step, and bend at the knee until the knee reaches a 90-degree angle, or until a stretch is felt in the hip of the back leg; repeat with opposite leg

Hamstrings:  Straight Leg March: 2×20 (10 with each leg): Walking forwards, during each step exaggerate a kicking motion, keeping the knee completely straight on each kick, and kicking high enough to feel a stretch in the hamstring muscles

Gastrocnemius:  Heel-to-Toe Walk: 2×20 (10 with each leg) Walking forwards, step and land in maximal dorsi flexion (toe pointing upwards) and finish each foot contact in maximal plantar flexion (toe pointing downwards); repeat using opposite leg

After performing dynamic stretches, the final phase of a warm-up (prior to using the ball) should involve exercises designed to potentiate – that is, increase the force and power producing capabilities – of the muscles and the neuromuscular system.  Potentiation of muscles is achieved following specific exercises designed to activate those muscles, a process termed post-activation potentiation.

This may sound complicated, but a simple and proven way to achieve this enhanced force and power production is to perform either heavy resistance training, or plyometric training, prior to sport or exercise participation (Wilson et al., 2013).

In sports that require lots of running and/or quick movements, the ideal warm-up choice for potentiation is plyometric exercises – they require no extra equipment and can be easily completed on the field or court, right before the end of the warm-up and start of training or match play.

What exactly are plyometrics?  Exercises that involve repeated jumping or bounding movements, with an emphasis placed on minimizing the time that the feet are in contact with the ground, and at the same time, maximizing the power of each jump.

Below is a sample plyometric routine that can be added into a pre-training or pre-game warm-up, as the final actions players perform prior to working with the ball:

2-Leg Squat Jumps: 2 x 6 Jumps: Standing with feet hip-width apart, jump as high as possible, landing with feet in the same position, making the landing as quick as possible with a bend in the knees and hips, prior to repeating the jumping movement.

Skater Jumps: 2 x 4 Jumps to Each Side: Stand on one leg, and jump laterally, landing on the opposite leg with a bend at the hip and knee.  Minimize the time the foot is in contact with the ground, before repeating the movement by jumping to the opposite side.

Gazelle Run: 2 x 5 Strides with Each Leg: Run forwards to build some momentum, then leap forwards, exaggerating the running stride and aiming to make each stride as long as possible, while at the same time, minimizing the time that each foot is in contact with the ground.

Ultimately, there are thousands of ways to achieve a good warm-up for varsity athletes in pre-season, specifically, but also in general.  Following an evidence-based approach, choosing exercises and protocols that have been proven to reduce the risk of injury and improve athletic performance – like the ones mentioned in this article – is always the best strategy.



Fredrick, G.A., & Szymanski. D.J. (2001). Baseball (part 1): Dynamic flexibility. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 23:2130.

Little, L., Williams, A.G.. Effects of differential stretching protocols during warm-ups on high-speed motor capacities in professional soccer players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 20(1), 203-7, 2006

Soligard, T., Myklebust, G., Steffen, K., Holme, I., Silvers, H., Bizzini, M., … Andersen, T. E. (2008). Comprehensive warm-up programme to prevent injuries in young female footballers: cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ : British Medical Journal, 337, a2469.

Wilson, J. M., Duncan, N. M., Marin, P. J., Brown, L. E., Loenneke, J. P., Wilson, S. M., Jo, E., Lowery, R. P., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2013). Meta-analysis of postactivation potentiation and power: effects of conditioning activity, volume, gender, rest periods, and training status. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 27(3), 854–859.


Photo Credit – Riley McCullough, via Unsplash

WordPress Video Lightbox Plugin