The Warm-Up – My ‘Systems Approach’

Inspired by Dan John’s ‘A Systems Approach to Coaching’ seminar – which is fantastic by the way – I thought it time to reflect on some of my own systems and approaches to training and coaching. Where better to start than with my philosophies regarding the humble warm-up.

What’s the role of the warm-up?

Ultimately, the role of the warm-up is to prepare the athlete for subsequent performance. The type and nature of the performance will change the type of warm-up required; for example, you wouldn’t prepare for a field session in the same way you would a resistance-based session. It’s not all about preparation though…

A ‘Golden Opportunity’ for the S&C coach

I’ll doubt I’ll ever be happy with how much time I get to spend with my athletes; I therefore want to squeeze the most out of every moment I do get to spend with them. If I were to solely look at the warm-up as performance preparation I think that I’d be missing a trick. We should be asking not only what can we do with this time period to warm the athlete up, but what can we do to provide them with additional benefits too.

More ≠ better

Now, adding additional benefits doesn’t just mean adding extra exercises. Nobody will buy-into a warm-up that looks like a never-ending to-do-list. Be efficient. Look towards exercises that serve more than one function. Consider the inchworm, for example – ankle mobilisation, anterior core activation and shoulder stability all in one neat little package. Also, try to integrate a ‘flow’ between positions; this allows you to prescribe several ‘exercises’ that appear as a single flow to the athlete.

My ‘system’

Now we start getting a bit more into the nuts and bolts of my system for warm-up design. The vast majority of my work with athletes takes place in the weight room, so there’s naturally a little bit of bias toward this side of training, but it’s the same approach I take out into the field too.

MAPP-ing the warm-up

Everyone loves an acronym so here’s mine:

MAPPMobilisation, Activation, Proprioception, Priming

These are the four pillars upon which I base my warm-up. I really value the addition of the proprioceptive element to my warm-ups, something I feel is lacking – at least by name – in the RAMP approach.

Four pillars, six questions

Upon my foundation of the four pillars, I ask six questions of myself and my athletes to then go on and build a more detailed warm-up framework.

020320115301.    Have they been challenged on their hands?

My philosophy on this is definitely an article in itself, so I’ll keep it brief for now. Crawl, roll, push up, hand walking, whatever – just get athletes on the floor for some part of the warm-up.

2.    Have they been challenged on one leg?

Single leg activities give you a lot of bang for your buck because of the asymmetric loading and reduced base of support. If you can use a unilateral version of an exercise then I’d suggest that you do.

3.    Have they hopped, skipped or jumped?

I’m looking at this more from a landing and neuromuscular control point of view so include submaximal, low-level variations of drills. Ideally, I’m looking for athletes to perform these without shoes as well.

Snatch Catch4.    Have they ‘mobilised’?

I don’t think I need to state the importance of mobilising the key ROM’s that you’ll need for performance. The specific areas will vary from athlete to athlete but the three that most commonly need targeting are:

  • Ankle
  • Hip
  • T-Spine

5.    Have they pre-conditioned?

Again, no need to state the importance of this. Typically I’m going to look at the following:

  • Calves
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Anterior Core
  • Upper Back/Posterior Shoulder

6.    Have they primed for performance?

Three generic considerations here – body temperature, neural activation, and mental readiness. Then we’re looking at readiness for the specific task/performance they’re about to undertake.


So, there you have my ‘systems approach’ to the warm-up. How does this compare with how you structure your own or those of your athletes? Drop me a comment below!

Coaching, Exercises, Performance, Prehab & Rehab, Psychology, Youth Training , , , , , , ,

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  1. Nice article Sean. Short and simple. Love the acronym and it fits perfectly for what warm-ups should ultimately trying to achieve. I personally think the sing-leg and proprioception work is vital and can often be left out. I follow a similar system when designing an implementing warm ups, doing my best to make sure each exercise and section flows nicely into the next.

    Could you give me your opinion/feedback on the following warm-up routine:

    If i was focusing on say T-spine and Hip Mobility, I would generally pick 1 or 2 exercises for both areas and then look to move from simple to complex movements, the complex movements would look at incorporating both aspects. For example:
    (1) – SL Knee lift Holds (Simple)
    (2) – Forward/Reverse/Side Lunges (Simple)
    (3) – T-Spine rotations in press-up position (Simple)

    (4) – SL Knee Lift Hold with forward lunge and T-Spine rotation and Knee drive (World’s greatest Stretch) (Complex)


    • Maloney Performance

      Thanks Andy. Looks sound on paper and I like the progression. As long as the coaching and performance are good then it should work well.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Sean. A proper warm-up is something that’s undoubtedly lacking in my training regime, especially as I’m getting older. Will definitely be giving some of this a go!

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