USA Field Hockey NEWS Tackling the Warm-up...

Tackling the Warm-up in Field Hockey

May 24, 2018, 11:54 a.m. (ET)

By: Nick Shedd, U.S. Women's National Team's Strength and Conditioning Coach

Nowadays there is a lot of debate around warming athletes up for sport. Most coaches have moved away from static stretching and utilize dynamic stretches. Warm-ups tend to be generic movements with the intent of preparing the athletes to play their sport and reducing injuries. Warm-ups can also be used to enhance the mental state and mood of the players. What exactly do we want to get out of a warm-up?

On the U.S. Women’s National Team, we use a four-step approach to our 15 minute pitch warm-up. The four steps are a) General Movement, b) Dynamic Stretch, c) Activation and d) Movement Integration. We incorporate some movements that are somewhat specific to our sport (i.e. change of elevation, squat patterns, multidirectional movement) but don’t necessarily seek to simulate field hockey, the players generally get enough of that in the first drills of practice.

General Movement (3 minutes)

The purpose of general movement is to increase core temperature, thus increasing tissue extensibility and range of motion. This is typically a light aerobic activity 3-5 minutes in duration. We often will jog a lap around the pitch or run a couple of light striders across the pitch and back. In the weight room we will add in jump ropes and biking as well.

Dynamic Stretching (7-10 minutes)

Dynamic stretching will increase range of motion and improve power output. We don’t typically do static stretching before training simply because we are preparing the body to move, not stay still. However, if the athletes have excessive soreness or tightness in their muscles, we will do some static stretching followed by dynamic stretching. Keep in mind that static stretching for less than 30 seconds has no positive or negative effect. Static stretching over 60 seconds can help increase range of motion but can also decrease power output. While performing our dynamic stretches, we actively move through full ranges of motion in every plane (forward, backward, lateral and rotational). Each stretch is held for 1-2 seconds.

Activation (2-3 minutes)          

Activation exercises are typically short, quick, and controlled bursts of movement. They help prime the central nervous system pathways to and from muscles and engage key stabilizers. Examples of good activation exercises are line hops (lateral or forward/backward), variations of light and quick hops and bounds or ladder drills. 

Movement Integration (3-5 minutes)

At this point the athletes should be feeling loose and ready to move at higher speeds. During movement integration, we start to get more specific with our movements. Shuffle drills, cutting drills, crossover and sprint drills, and strider build-ups are all good options. The key is to get the players moving near game speeds so they are ready to go the moment they enter their first training drill. This is also an appropriate time to incorporate some games or competitions to improve the team’s mindset before training. Some games our players like are, relay races with stick and ball, variations of tag, ultimate frisbee, handball, “tic-tac-toe” or “mountains and valleys.” 

There are several ways to execute an effective warm-up. The list above helps ensure we have prepared our athletes to play field hockey and reduced their risk of a soft-tissue injury. That being said, we will warm-up close to 2,000 times over the course of a 4-year cycle. It is important to break up the monotony and keep the athletes engaged. Sometimes we will blend various aspects of the aforementioned list together to change up the drills and stimulus. Our games are designed to be fun and mentally engaging while priming the athletes’ bodies to play field hockey. An effective warm-up requires informal communication between the coaches and players to assess their current physical and mental state.  Always remember that it is important to remain flexible and adjust plans on the fly while sticking to some basic principles of movement.

This article is featured in the Winter 2018 issue of FHLife Magazine. To read more inspiring, knowledge-packed and fun features revolving around hockey, fitness, healthy eating and how to strengthen your game, subscribe to our quarterly publication by clicking here.