Warm-up and stretching guidelines for officials

Rugby League in action
Author:  David Pyne, Department of Physiology, Australian Institute of Sport
Issue: Volume 6 Number 1

Warm-up routines are widely adopted by players in most individual and team sports.  Officials performing physically active duties should also consider the benefits of a well-structured warm-up routine prior to competition and fitness training sessions. 

Although there is some debate in scientific and medical circles on whether warm-up and stretching routines actually decrease the risk of injury, there are several other benefits of a proper warm-up.  These benefits include elevating the metabolic rate, muscle temperature and cardio-respiratory function, the opportunity to gauge court/field surfaces and environmental conditions, and to finalise aspects of mental preparation including focus, attention and concentration.  The warm-up also permits practice of game skills such as the bouncing of the ball in Australian Football.

The basic elements of a warm-up and stretching routine typically include some easy jogging or running, stretching and some sports-specific drills to prepare the body for demands of the game or competition.  One approach is to alternate short periods of running with a few stretches with a gradual increase in intensity from easy to firm.  The final few running drills should involve some short acceleration from standing and jogging starts to near maximal speed.  There is no need to overload the intensity or length of the warm-up and officials should feel warm, with a light sweat, and ready to go.  The running drills should also include some acceleration/decelerations, agility work with changes of direction and where appropriate balance and coordination exercises.

Here is a typical 12 minute warm-up:

  • easy running (2 mins)
  • stretching (2 mins)
  • running drills – moderate intensity (2 mins)
  • stretching (2 mins)
  • running drills – moderate/firm intensity (2 mins)
  • individual stretching (2 mins)

The order, number and duration of drills can be modified to suit individual circumstances.

The following list details various stretches that can be used for different areas of the body:

  • lower back (standing or seated spinal twists)
  • hamstrings (seated or standing)
  • quads (standing one leg pull backs)
  • glutes (seated one leg pull backs)
  • calf (against wall, on step)
  • groin (seated or standing)
  • trunk twists and rotations
  • pecs/triceps (single arm)

Each stretch should be performed three to four times and held for approximately 10 - 20 seconds.  Individuals should be instructed not to force a stretch beyond comfortable limits and to breathe normally.  The best approach is to undertake a three-quarter stretch on the first effort and then increase the intensity to a full stretch by the third or fourth repetition. 

These examples are primarily static stretches. Other types of stretching include dynamic or ballistic (bouncing) stretches, and more advanced PNF (partner) stretches.  An exercise professional should be consulted if more specific advice is required.

In relation to the timing of the warm-up it is best to conduct the warm-up a few minutes before the start of the game.  This will vary depending on other pre-game activities and responsibilities of officials.  It is important not to leave the warm-up too late or officials may feel a little rushed in the important minutes before the start of the game.  It might also be prudent to conduct a short warm-up at the end of the half-time break depending on the time available and the weather conditions.

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