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Do young athletes really need to warm up prior to games?

Go to any youth sporting even and you will see some teams going through a rehearsed routine of warmups and stretches. And likewise, you'll see others that just hustle on the court or field and play. Do young athletes really need to warm up?

Guiding Principles

Anytime we are about to take our bodies to that state of "intensity", there is a high likelihood that we will be pushing our bodies to its extreme limits. These limits come in two forms: limits of our range of motion and limits of our exertion.

Range of Motion

Range of motion is constrained by two main factors: Joint mobility and connective tissue length.

Athlete Stretching

Joint mobility has to do with the degree to which our joints are able to rotate or flex. A prime example is the shoulder. Really good swimmers have great range of motion in the shoulders, allowing them to rotate their arm behind their back and over their head in a smooth freestyle stroke. Baseball catchers have to have good range of motion in their knees and achilles, to allow them to crouch low and stay there throughout the course of a game.


During sports, athletes will often work in bursts of energy. One glaring exception is a distance runner, who will maintain a nice steady pace throughout a long race. But for most sports, a number of quick energy bursts will be required all throughout the game.

These bursts put tremendous strain on the muscle fibers and the connective tissue. One of the most common injuries from these bursts is a hamstring pull or tear. These occur when the athlete demands so much, so quickly of the muscle that it literally rips apart. Healing a pull or tear can take weeks-to-months, and requires very limited use of the muscle while it repairs itself.

Warming up decreases injuries and improves range of motion during competition

Football Team Warming Up

While there are athletes that just seem to be "bullet proof", meaning they can just step onto the floor or field and "go". For most athletes, warming up the muscles and connective tissue will reduce injury and improve initial performance once the whistle blows.

Warm up for 5-10 minutes

Depending upon the intensity, 5-10 minutes of warmup is enough. I've seen coaches that stretch warmups to 20-30 minutes. This waist valuable practice and preparation time, as our bodies are very efficient at raising the core temperature of muscles in a short period of time.

A warm up session should be purposeful. You should ensure that you are adequately warming up the muscles in every part of the body. Many warm ups concentrate on the legs, and ignores other muscle groups. Ensure your warmups are well rounded.

Warmups will also get oxygen into the muscles and the bloodstream. Well oxygenated bodies tend to perform best. The old adage, "need to get the blood flowing", might better be stated: by getting the blood flowing, we increase oxygen flow and improve performance. That's the "why".

Stretch for 5-10 minutes

Athlete Stretching

Just as we get our muscles prepared with oxygen, we need to get our joints prepared by exercising their full range prior to calling on them to perform intensely. There are many stretches that you can incorporate into a nice warmup. I like have a set routine that my teams run through. They get use to it, and I've made sure that it adequately tests the range of every major joint.

It's best to hold stretches 10-30 seconds. I see many teams doing bouncing stretches. That's old school and can lead to injury. It's much better to hold the stretch and press a bit further, slowly, as the time ticks by.

Warmups are an essential at St. Louis Youth Fitness

In our sessions, warmups are an essential starting point. Ensuring that athletes are warm, and ready to work at intensity is not optional. Promoting safety and educating young athletes on the proper way to approach their workout or their sport is a foundational standard for us.

If you have a young athlete that wants to develop, we'd like to meet them. Give us a call or shoot us an email to set up a free evaluation.

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