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Soccer Warm Up: Why It's Important + 12 Drills, Exercises and Stretches

Soccer Warm Up: Why It's Important + 12 Drills, Exercises and Stretches

The standard of information and knowledge surrounding sports science, fitness and nutrition in soccer has grown exponentially in recent years. Every professional club now has a dedicated team of experts whose job it is to ensure that each player steps onto the soccer field in tip-top physical condition, ready to compete at the highest level.

A variety of different factors play into this, from strength and conditioning work done in the gym, to thoughtful nutrition and dieting, and fitness work completed on the training ground each day. But all the effort that goes into match preparation would be wasted if it wasn't for the effective implementation of the soccer warm up.

Warm ups are a crucial aspect of association football, at any level of the sport. In this article, we'll be offering you an in-depth guide to the role played by the warm up in soccer, with a guide to the different static and dynamic soccer warm up exercises, stretches and drills regularly used by top pros.

Soccer Warm Up Stretches

Anyone who loves playing football knows the feeling of sprinting out onto the pitch and instantly blasting balls around, shooting on goal and delivering crosses to teammates. This is a standard sight at any level of amateur or youth football; but at professional level, players can't get away with this kind of behaviour. The fact is that launching straight into powerful shots, explosive sprints and intense physical movements without properly warming up is dangerous and can cause injuries and strains. Any time a pro steps onto a pitch — whether it's at a huge, packed-out stadium or simply on the training ground — they need to have done a proper soccer warm-up. And even for players operating at a much lower level, the same risks apply — warm ups are essential.

When you go to watch professional football live in the flesh, it's common to see players warming up on the pitch before, but fans might not always take in exactly what's going on. It's common for highly-structured passing, pressing, dribbling and shooting drills to take place as part of a warm-up; however, before progressing to that, it's crucial that players perform a varied range of dynamic stretches.

#1. Forward Lunges

Activating various leg muscles including hamstrings, glutes and knee joints, forward lunges are a key pre-game stretch for footballers. To do a lunge, stretch out your leg in front of you while looking straight ahead, and gradually lower your back knee towards the ground. Then, push the bent leg back to your starting position to complete the rep, before switching to your other leg. Do several lunges for each leg.

#2. Open/close the gate

Named after the physical movement of opening your legs wide before closing them again, this stretch is all about loosening up your hips and activating your groin muscles. It involves standing straight, lifting up one leg and opening up your hip to shift the leg to the side in a semi-circular motion. Repeat for each leg 5-10 times, before then performing the inverse action (aka "closing the gate").

#3. Heel Flicks

This is all about raising the heart rate; place your hands on your bum, look forward and jog straight ahead for a distance of 10-15 metres, flicking your heels high towards your bum. This will help stretch the quads and generally help get you ready for more intense running.

#4. High Knees

This is another dynamic stretch that gets you moving faster. Here, you'll jog looking straight ahead while holding your arms outstretched straight in front of you. When you run, raise your knees high in order to repeatedly hit them against the palms of your hands. This stretch targets glutes, hamstrings, calves and quadriceps (a group of muscles at the front of your thigh).

#5. Jockeying

Bend your knees to form a slightly crouched position, and shuffle backward from side to side, repeating a two steps left,then two steps right motion in order to move as if you're a defender jockeying an opposition player. This will warm up a range of different leg muscles including the quadriceps.

As well as completing a dynamic soccer warm up, it is also important to do some static stretches before a match, stretching out individual muscles in a fixed position, slowly pushing those muscles to the end of their range. Static stretches can be performed as part of a warm-up, during a training session or match, or as part of a post-game cool-down. Here are a few static stretches to loosen you up (each one should be held for 20 seconds):

  • Standing Quad Stretch: stand straight, bend your right knee, bringing your heel toward your bum. Hold your right ankle so that you feel the stretch on your quadriceps.
  • Standing Calf Stretch: With both feet flat on the floor, extend your right leg behind you with a straight right knee.
  • Seated Hamstring Stretch: Sit on the ground and extend your legs straight in front of you, keeping them together with your knees straight. Point your toes to the sky and touch them, or get as close as you can to touching them.

Once you've stretched out properly, it's time to work through some exercises and drills with your teammates.

Soccer Warm Up Exercises

After you've spent around 10-15 minutes working through a selection of static and dynamic stretches, the muscles should be nicely loosened up and it's time to start moving on to more football-related activities. The next phase of the warm-up should focus on basic exercises for sharpening up ball control skills and bringing in some more explosive bursts of energy.

#6. Short Sprints

To pick up the pace following the dynamic stretching, it can be useful for players to complete a series of short 10 metre sprints. Set up four cones in a straight line, each one 10 metres ahead of the last; players should line up at the first cone, then sprint to the second cone, jog back to the starting point, sprint to the third cone, jog back to the starting point, and then sprint to the final cone to finish the exercise.

#7. Zigzag Dribble

For this soccer dribbling drill, cones should be distributed in a zigzag formation, with each cone around 1.5 metres apart. Each player will grab a ball and take it in turn to dribble through the cones, first leading with their strongest foot before completing the exercise using their weaker foot.

#8. Passing Pairs

The team should split into pairs and spread out into two lines, with each pair facing each other around 5-10 metres apart. The exercise itself is simple; remaining on their toes and alert at all times, players will complete a series of first touch passes to the other person in their pair, using both feet to sharpen up their ball control skills pre-match.

Soccer Warm Up Drills

Now, it's time for the third and final stage of the warm-up: match situation drills that simulate the kind of conditions players will face once a soccer game begins. Below are a few of the best soccer warm up drills for any coach to employ during this final stage of the warm-up.

#9. Two Line Combinations

Here, all the soccer players on the team should split into two lines opposite each other. Using one ball, this exercise ramps up the tempo by asking the players to pass to the player opposite and follow the pass to join the back of the other line. Little alternations can be brought in here, for instance adding one-twos or short dribbles within the drill.

#10. Passing Grid

This soccer training exercise is built around a square grid set up using four cones. Players will be distributed equally behind each cone, and then asked to rotate the ball around the square using a series of diagonal passes and lay-offs. The player on cone 1 will pass diagonally across the grid to cone 3, before moving forward to join the back of the queue at cone 2. The player who received the ball at cone 3 will then lay it off first time to the player at the front of the queue at cone 2, who will then play it diagonally to the player at cone 4. They will then lay it off first time too, and the cycle will be continued as part of this dynamic, coordination-centred passing warm-up.

#11. Rondo

The soccer rondo sets up players in a circle, with two players situated in the middle of the circle. For players on the outside, the aim of the drill is to rotate the ball around the ring, passing quickly and using a maximum of two touches. The players on the inside are tasked with intercepting and blocking passes, to practise their defensive skills.

#12. Possession Game

This will help prepare players for in-game situations in a more targeted way than any other drill. It's a simple possession game, with the players split equally into two teams and set up inside a rectangular grid. The space should be fairly tight while also giving the squad enough space to string sequences of passes together and sharpen up their ball control skills, passing, agility, and off-the-ball movement.

Once a group of players have completed this series of stretches, exercises, and drills, they should be well stretched out, alert, focused and ready to engage in a proper match. In total, a soccer warm-up should take around 30 minutes, and once it's over players should be raring to go.

If you'd like to spend more time diving into a specific warm-up exercise, check out our in-depth guide to the soccer rondo.