Football teams take their time to warm up before every game, arriving early to loosen muscles and work out the kinks.
The opportunity for stretching is much shorter in the minutes between halftime and the start of the third quarter, especially as coaches use much of that time to huddle their teams and discuss strategy.
Getting loose for the second half is just as important as during pregame, said Jamey Gordon, a performance specialist for St. Vincent Medical Center in Indianapolis. It doesn’t take long for muscles to tighten up, even less as the temperature drops.
Gordon said coaches need to use those few minutes wisely and make sure players continue stretching on the sidelines, extending the opportunity until they are needed on the field.
“The first priority is to get the heart rate back up,” Gordon said. “If it is cold, you can do that in the locker room before going out, then continue with the stretching when you get back to the field. If you are kicking off, prioritize the defensive players first. Your offense will likely have a little time. They can continue to stretch on the sidelines – or vice versa.”
Gordon recommends high strides, butt kicks, lunges and jumping jacks for all players. Coaches can then divide the athletes into groups for position-specific stretches.
Quarterbacks should throw. Defensive backs do drop backs. Running backs work on cuts.
Players shouldn’t confuse being warmed up with being loose. Sweating is the first indicator of activity but muscles can remain tight even with the heart rate going strong.
“When you start to feel the sweat, the heart rate, that is warmed up, and how long it takes for that can depend on what the temperature is,” Gordon said. “To get loose, players need to simulate the movements they will make on the field. If they are able to move smoothly and can test their bodies out, they are loosened up.”
Ewing (N.J.) High School athletic trainer Dave Csillan, a member of USA Football’s Football and Wellness Committee, said time limitations often cause teams to rush back to the field for the third quarter. But just as in pregame, coaches should start their players at a low intensity and gradually build up.
That means budgeting the minutes so players have the opportunity to re-stretch.
“After sitting in the locker room or sitting idle in the cold, players need that time to get their bodies ready,” said Csillan, who chairs the Athletic Trainers’ Society of New Jersey Secondary School Committee. “Light calisthenics followed by stretching the hip flexors, quads, hamstrings and calf muscles would be best.”
Gordon said players who do not stretch properly after halftime often come out flat for the first five or six minutes until their bodies adjust. A short, intense dynamic warmup can sometimes be the difference between gaining and losing momentum in the game’s final two quarters.
“Teams need to know – and players individually – that their re-warmup is no less important than pregame,” Gordon said. “When it’s warm in the locker room but cold on the field, players can get in trouble if they don’t get back into the cold early enough to start stretching along with acclimatizing to the weather all over again.”