In high school and college football, there are at least as many injuries in football practice as there are during games. This is because a lot of players don’t know how to practice safely, putting them at greater risk of injury. By warming up properly and focusing on the right habits, players will not only minimize their injury risk, they’ll also perform better and get more out of football practice. That’s the kind of practice that helps players get better and stay healthy.
Warming up starts with stretching to increase the mobility of muscles. Proper stretches help football practice become more safe because it allows the stretched muscles to achieve a greater range of motion than muscles that haven’t been prepped. Stretching muscle fibers increases their elasticity and ability to absorb tension. Like a rubber band that is slowly pulled becomes longer and more difficult to snap apart, stretched muscles can sustain more forceful use without failing.
In football practice, the muscles around the ankle, hip, and shoulder joints should be properly flexed and stretched as these joints need the most mobility to get in the right position quickly. With those muscle groups well stretched, the player’s ability to make quick football moves like lateral cuts and explosive pushes will be maximized.
After stretching, players should finish their warm up with explosive movements such as “burpee” jumps or full sprints out of a 3-point stance. Muscles that are warm and loose are primed for these types of quick, maximum-effort moves. This is also a good time for skill-position players to practice safe landings. There are many injuries in football practice (twisted knees, rolled ankles) that could be avoided by doing this, but it’s best not to engage in such moves until after stretching.
Work Smarter BY Working Harder First
Once stretching and warm ups are done, it’s time to get to the meat and potatoes of football practice. It’s best to start off with the toughest, fastest movements first. One-on-one drills such as linemen attacking from a 3-point stance or wide receiver/running back executing explosive football moves at the point of attack are good examples of these moves. Muscles that are stretched and warmed up are at their most pliable and strongest point immediately after the stretching and warm-up period ends, so this is a natural time to execute the most demanding moves in football. Towards the end of football practice, these moves become more dangerous when players are fatigued and muscles become overworked.
Practice Does NOT Make Perfect
It’s often been said that practice makes perfect, but that’s not true – practice only reinforces habits. Whether players are practicing good form or bad form, those habits will become ingrained in them. Focus on technique rather than the number of sets of repetitions, as fewer repetitions with better technique is better for a player’s skill development and also minimizes injury risk. Extra reps done just to “hit the goal” when the player is not executing the proper form or is too tired to do them properly will yield little conditioning benefit and an increasing likelihood of injury. That’s true in the gym, and it’s true on the field.
Football practice is a place to learn and maximize a player’s skill, not to “push through the pain” and work until the risk of injury becomes high. Warming up the right way maximizes the body’s ability to apply the correct techniques and makes playing football more efficient at creating better, stronger players. By warming up properly and practicing smart, players can gain better technique and minimizes the chance of injury.