Dynamic stretching for football gets your muscles ready for a workout that will extend your range of motion. Focusing on one particular muscle group at a time, dynamic stretches help you increase your strength and protect your body against injury from overexertion.
This warm-up will help you activate the major muscles involved in sprinting through a series of dynamic stretching exercises that also help with stability and mobility.
Before warming up, do five minutes of roller work or your favorite ground dynamic stretches, focusing on tight areas. This will prepare your body and mind.
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Perform one set of 10 reps of each of the following movements. The movements increase in intensity and range of motion as you get closer to positional drills.
1. Walking Knee Hugs (hip mobility and glute stretch). Rise up onto your toes for each hug to activate your calf muscles and work your balance.
2. Dynamic Lunge with Rotation (hip stretch/opener and T-spine mobility). The hips, especially the hip flexors, are often tight in football players and sprinters. This stretch helps increase mobility for better sprinting power and reduces the risk of injury. It also helps you with T-spine (i.e., thoracic spine) mobility. If your T-spine is restricted or “locked” and cannot rotate properly, your lower back will rotate instead. Not a good thing, because it reduces sprint efficiency and increases the risk of injury. Like pretty much all of these dynamic stretches, the Dynamic Lunge also improves stability.
3. Backward Ninjas (glute activation and hamstring stretch).The true name for these is “Inverted Hamstring Stretches,” but one of my high school players called them “Backward Ninjas,” and it stuck. Try to keep your hips square. Easier said than done. In the video, AJ is still working on it.
4. Hip Rotations (active leg and hip stability of the standing leg).
5. Lateral Lunges (gluteus medius activation). This “side butt” muscle is commonly overlooked. Like with rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder, you are only as strong as your weakest link. When this muscle is relatively weak, knee injury is more likely. This move also stretches the groin and helps prevent injuries there. Finally, it prepares you for all-important lateral movements.
6. Backward Skips (glute engagement). This is important because glute activation increases sprinting power and reduces the risk of hamstring strains. Swing the arms back, nice and loose, to increase mobility in the shoulders.
7. Inchworms (activate and stretch the core—abs, back and hips—in a manner specific to sprinting). Everyone’s favorite (not!). Although groan-inducing, Inchworms are one of the most important dynamic warm-up exercises. If you have to choose only three exercises, Inchworms must be included. And once you get good at them, they are not that tough.
- Slowly walk your hands out into a push-up position.
- Keeping your legs straight, inch your legs up as close to your hands as possible without bending your knees or taking your hands off the floor.
- Walk your hands forward to push-up position.
The key is to keep your back and hips straight. Do not let them sway. If you cannot do this, just go as far as you can while maintaining stable hips.
This drill is well worth the effort. A good sprinter is relaxed and fast with an engaged or “tight” core. An inactive core results in “energy leaks,” with other muscles forced to do the work of the core. The exercise also activates the shoulder muscles, reducing risk of injury, and dynamically stretches the glutes, hamstrings and calves. You play dynamically, so you want to stretch dynamically.
8. A-Runs (increase intensity within the range of motion for sprinting).
9. Backward Lunge Reach and Twist (stretches the quads, hip flexors and psoas [a muscle in front of the hip that goes into the abdomen] and increases mobility of the hip, shoulder and T-spine). After ramping it up a bit with the A-Run, tone it down with this dynamic stretch, which targets all the major muscles used when sprinting.
10. Punters (dynamic hamstring stretching and hip mobility). Doing this near the end of the warm-up is key—after mobility and increased blood flow. Doing it cold can result in a hamstring injury. Start conservatively and increase the height as tolerated.
11. Backpedal (works the athletic stance and engages the glutes). This is an especially important warm-up drill for linebackers and defensive backs.
12. Carioca. This is like the A-run, but is more specific for lateral movements.
Note: If anything feels extra tight, do an additional dynamic stretch of that area. Sometimes we include one or two additional stretches or movements, like the Sumo Squat Stretch for 10 reps; Leg Swings with a partner; or Tuck Jumps. Once the basic series is done, include what makes you feel good and ready.