What are the Key Principles to an Amazing Football Warm Up?

How should you warm up for football? – A coach educator once told me many years ago “How do you know, what you don’t know” which has always stuck with me, especially when I am coaching players or educating coaches. Our first thought is, that if something is simple, players/coaches should already know this so I won’t go into too much detail. 

Good Football Warm-Ups are one of those things, even on coaching courses, I have seen tutors deliver some fantastic warm-up sessions but not go into too much detail or explain the session as they are preparing the coaches for the main practical topic elements of the qualification.

Whereas, the coach may prefer to know more about the warm-up as they might want to use it with their players back at training.

Why warming up is important

The harsh fact remains, that players, begin to lose flexibility as early as the age of ten, therefore, warming up before training or competitive games is essential. 

The use of an effective football-specific warm-up will not only extend a person’s playing career but also decrease the likelihood of risk of injury.  Warm-ups should be done with quality, be progressive and specific to the activity players are preparing to perform, to produce maximum benefits, such as:

  • Reduced risk of injury
  • An increase in range of motion
  • An increase in body temperature
  • Activation of the cardiovascular and respiratory systems
  • Mental preparation and Improved focus

How long is a football warm-up?

Good effective football warm-ups should last a minimum of 20 minutes to get the most out of the activities and prepare your players for training or a match. However, if time is not on your side, you must understand how to manage it more effectively.

This will still add benefit to your players because it should, eliminate the stress of being late by focussing their minds on the game or session, and also give their bodies a little additional energy and protection from injury. As long as the warm-up stretches out their bodies, increases their core temperature and sharpens their skills both physically and mentally, you can use whatever time you have available.

Key principles of a warm-up

  • Warm-up intensity should begin at around 65% of an individual’s heart rate maximum (around 120 bpm), progressing to 90% (around 175 bpm).  The heart rate maximum can be calculated as a function of age, using the formula HR Max = 220 – (age in years). 226 female.
  • Since players start to lose flexibility from the very young age of ten, they must do plenty of stretching activities during the warm-up, cooldowns and their spare time, if they want their careers to last for as long as possible.
  • For a strong cardiovascular system, any exercise that increases the heart rate, such as jogging etc. enhances the heart’s ability to supply more oxygen with less effort. To increase aerobic capacity, it is necessary to work the heart for a minimum of twenty to thirty minutes, three times a week.
  • Being prepared mentally as well as physically is essential to the success of any athlete. Just as runners train their leg muscles to perform at their peak ability, players must train their minds to become focused, relaxed and have a positive attitude.
  • During the warm-up, the ball must be brought into play at some point. Running around is all well and good but getting plenty of touches with the ball is what prepares players for the game ahead. Practising headers, short and long passing and controlling the ball can give a player the confidence to make the best possible start to the match.

Good football warm-up examples

The warm-up should start with some exercises that activate large muscle groups, for example jogging. After a few minutes of whole-body exercises, some light stretches can be done.

The warm-up can then be continued with exercises for the main muscle groups used in football, usually achieved by playing a passive small-sided game. The intensity of the warm-up activities can then be increased after another series of stretching.  The key elements of a football-specific warm include, activities to raise the heart, stretching work, game-specific movements and activities and ball manipulation.

Football warm-up games are a great way of keeping players interested and engaged in the warm-up process. These games engage both the body and the mind, encouraging tactical and reactive thinking while sharpening technical skills.

  • Tag games – Adapted to incorporate the ball and can be as simple as any playground game, for example – stuck in the mud.
  • Relay races – 2 teams are dribbling against each other over various distances before passing the ball to their teammates to control, creating competitive spirit and intensity.
  • Rondos – Set up an area where they can play 4v2, keeping possession away from the defenders by passing and moving around the area.
  • Mini-games – Simple 3v3, 4v4, or 5v5 games with engaging activities that provide players with the opportunity to get more touches of the ball than they would during a full-scale game.


An effective warm-up is about preparing your players physically and mentally for the tasks ahead. It doesn’t need to be long and tedious and it certainly doesn’t need to be like a professional football team might use (unless it’s for a professional football team).

It needs to be designed around your players, there is no research or data out in the world that suggests one particular warm-up prepares players better than another one, so as a coach adapt any warm-up you want to suit your players. Just cover the basic principles to structure an efficient warm-up.

Make sure the warm-up is football specific and includes movements that the players will use in the game (jumps, changes of speed, changes of direction, etc). If it’s a training warm-up try and link it to your coaching topic so the session flows from start to finish. The warm-up is what it says it should not drain the players of their energy, so gradually increase the intensity to reduce the risk of injury or burnout.

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