How to Warm Up for Contact Sports

To properly prepare to compete in contact sports, the need for a proper warm-up is paramount.

A proper warm-up is often neglected in sports.

Regardless of the sport or the level of play, whether it's high school football or NHL hockey, preparing for the demands of training or competition is critical to an athlete's health and success. But the value and science of a proper warm-up are often not properly taught to coaches and athletes. Neglecting it, however, leaves athletes susceptible to injury.

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This is especially true for athletes who play contact sports. To properly prepare to compete in contact sports, a proper warm-up is paramount. Athletes must not only prepare their bodies for the activity, but also prepare to accept and deliver contact. Contact sports demand that athletes transfer ground force and deliver it on one end, while accepting impact force and dissipating it on the other. The neuromuscular system and all of its components and the cardiovascular system must be adequately primed.

Often, the only warm-up done consists of light stretching and light running, but they do not adequately prepare athletes for the intensity of contact sports. Athletes must provide as much information as possible to their brains about range of motion and neuromuscular intensity without causing unnecessary fatigue. In track & field, elite 100-meter sprinters have been known to warm up for more than an hour to prepare for a mere 10 seconds of competition!

A good rule to follow is "the faster the sport, the longer and more extensive the warm-up." Another good rule is "the faster or stronger the athlete, the more extensive the warm up." Whether in the weight room or on the field of play, I vigorously insist that my athletes warm up properly.

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The following is a sample five-part warm-up routine for football or soccer players. I refer to it as a Brain & Body Warm-Up!

1. Systemic Cardiovascular Movement

(6-8 minutes)

Begin with a light jog or rope skipping. (Ref 1) The heart and breathing rate need to be elevated and the body temperature should go up enough to start sweating. (Ref 2) The benefit of skipping rope is that it is more neurologically demanding and elicits a global proprioceptive benefit to the athlete.

2. Osteo-Articular Drills (Drills for Joints)

(4 minutes)

Start with the foot and ankle and work up through the pelvis and spine. Finish with drills for the neck. Consider everything from neck circles to side-bending and rotation in order to excite receptors in the neck, which are extremely important in protecting the athlete when receiving contact. (Ref 3)

3. Neuromuscular Dynamic Drills

(6 minutes)

A-Skips, B-Skips and similar track & field drills prepare the athlete to coordinate movement, accept and communicate ground force and move efficiently at a higher speed. (Ref 4)

4. Global Proprioceptive Drills

(2 minutes)

This may raise some eyebrows, but I like gymnastic tumbling drills. They force athletes to adapt to where they are in space, while changing their center of gravity at a high speed. Forward rolls to a double leg jump or cartwheel done a few times each do the trick. (Ref 5)

5. Light Contact Drills

(1 to 2 minutes)

These get athletes mentally prepared for contact on the field of play.


For most contact sports, approximately half an hour is all you need for a solid warm-up. The brain and body should be adequately primed to perform. The warm-up should be performed in a fast and precise manner, with focus and purpose on every drill and movement.

Failing to properly warm up decreases an athlete's chances to perform at his or her best and increases his or her risk of injury such as a muscle pull or a concussion.

The ultimate goal of the warm-up should be to turn on all the lights and keep them burning bright throughout the duration of the game.

Now that you know, suit up and roll!

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