Why are muscle pulls, strains and tears a major problem for athletes today? Many of these injuries result from inconsistent warm-ups, which fail to address minor details that athletes need to focus on. (Watch Justin Upton warm up.)
Warm-ups are primarily used to increase the body’s temperature. There are three major categories: passive (increasing temperature by external means); general (increasing temperature with movements not specific to the upcoming activity); and specific (increasing temperature by working body parts in a similar manner to how they will be used in the upcoming activity).
Research shows that specific warm-ups are best, because they engage muscles in the same movement patterns that they will later perform, better preparing the body for the unique demands of a workout or sporting event. Warm-ups are also designed to increase muscle and tendon suppleness, stimulate blood flow and coordinate movements.
Elevating body temperature has various athletic benefits relating to improved nervous system function and how well your body utilizes oxygen. It also appears to reduce the incidence and likelihood of sports-related injuries.
When performing a warm-up, focus on all three of the stretching categories—dynamic, static and PNF stretching. My basketball and volleyball athletes are taught to maintain good flexibility only through dynamic movements, which aid in the prevention of injuries to muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. (Check out this warm-up you can perform anywhere.)
According to the Norwegian University of Sport and Physical Education, structured warm-ups are clinically effective at preventing 50% of acute knee and ankle injuries to both male and female athletes at all ability levels.
In a previous article, Basketball Workout Program: Different Methods, Better Results, I touched on the importance of warm-ups, and of executing them barefooted to stimulate muscles that athletes typically use and often injure. I provided a beginner or intermediate-level routine that focused on neuromuscular coordination. Within the same framework, below is more advanced and complex warm-up that will recruit both small and large muscle groups and fibers, in addition to priming the body for sport-specific energy transfers.
My athletes perform the following multi-phase warm-up at the beginning and in the middle of the week. Their warm-up routines also include band stretches, wall stretches and mobility work, depending on what is programmed for a particular session.
Note: Perform barefoot. I train in a gym where it’s usually about 30 to 40 degrees on a good day; if you train in an environment like that, start your dynamic warm-up with stretching progressions layered and take the layers off as your body heats up.
Phase 1: Joint Mobility – 4x
- Neck Rotations
- Shoulder/Arms – wrist movements, shoulder circles, fist exercises and arm circles
- Trunk – hula hoop
- Pelvis – knee exercises and hula hoop
- Knee circles (individual and together)
- Calf/Anterior tibialis – ankle circles
Phase 2: Quadruped Movements – 5x
- Spiderman with arms rotating internally and externally
- Downward Dog into Quad Squat
- Inchworm to Leg Kick Backs
- Pigeon to Lateral Low Stretch (each side)
Phase 3: Dynamic/Form Running – 5x
- Knee Hug Lunges
- Single-Leg Deadlift Walks
- Lateral Lunge Stretch to Crossover to Dynamic Side Kick With Leg Crossing Over Hip
- Lateral Lunges (4) to Shuffle (both ways)
- Reverse Lunge with Hands on Ground
- Heel Stretch to Rocking Hamstring Stretch
- Frog Jumps
- Duck Walks (forward and backward)
- Hip Openers
- Jogging Hurdle Hip Openers (forward and backward)
- Straight-Leg Kicks
- Straight-Leg Jump Kicks
- Frankenstein Walks (forward and backward)
- Toe Walk
Phase 4: Sport-Specific Full Court
- Counter-clockwise Jumps Over Line (Full Court)
- Jumps Over Line (Forward and Lateral)
- Jump Rotations (feet in/out; concentrate on moving hips)
Use a wooden stick or PVC pipe.
- Stick Displacements x 5 each side
- Trunk Rotations x 7 each side
- Side Bends x 7 each side
- Stick In-Air Side Bends x 7 each side
- Squat With Stick x 4
- Overhead Squat x 4
- Lateral Squat x 4 each side
- Rotate foot behind opposite leg (holding stick) x4 reps each side
(Advanced athletes must turn the rope backwards)
- High Knees
- Jumping Jacks – feet in/out
- Crossing Feet – moving feet front to back
- One-Foot Hops Forward (each leg)
- Low-Level Pogo Jumps
- Broad Jumps (low impact with jump rope; don’t go for distance)
Research has proven that a high-intensity warm-up (volume and intensity) leads to significant improvements in performance in athletic events. An athlete’s warm-up should always transition into movements he or she will use in the game. That’s why we include various low-level intensity jumps, jump rope and medicine ball complexes at the end of warm-ups, which are skill transferable.