Warm-up Drills: where to start?

by Gerald Lafon

Experts tell us that warm-ups prevent injuries and prepare the body for the more strenuous workout that follows.  I like to take it a step further and kill two birds with one stone. While the warm-up period prepares athletes for the training that follows, it also presents the coach with an opportunity to teach participants gross motor skills and kinesthetic awareness, which are so necessary in the performance of Judo. With a little creativity, the warm-up period can be the most exciting part of Judo rather than the most boring and dreaded. This article will help you understand which skills need to be developed, what formats need to be used and how to vary warm-up drills to create a relevant, dynamic, fun training environment.

Skills to Develop

Not long ago, I ran a Judo clinic for one of my colleagues in Canada. He’s been pushing hard for years to improve and modernize Judo programs in British Columbia. And like many reformers here in the U.S., he’s bumped into his share of hard heads. When I asked him how the other local clubs warmed up their players, he looked me straight in the eyes and with a slight grin said, “Fifty push-ups, fifty sit-ups, fifty leg raises.” Thinking he was joking, I again asked him, and again he said, “Fifty push-ups, fifty sit-ups, fifty leg raises.” OK, so I shouldn’t have been that surprised. After all, many clubs still use the same Japanese warm-up model that I was subjected to decades ago when I was a student. That’s the model where players rotate necks, hips, knees, ankles and wrists, interspersed with a few side bends, butterflies and hamstring stretches.  In either case, both models miss the boat. Boring and monotonous, they are stuck in a time warp, almost never changing from practice to practice. More importantly, neither one scores big points in improving Judo abilities because both fail to address the dynamics of Judo: basic psychomotor or gross motor skills, balance, movement, and kinesthetic awareness.

While fifty push-ups, fifty sit-ups, and fifty leg raises have a place in a conditioning session, they should not be part of a typical warm-up session in a regular class.  Rather, the emphasis should be on training locomotor, non-locomotor and manipulative skills, which form the bulk of gross motor skills.  These are more precisely the skills that will be needed to perform Judo techniques and to do randori:

  • Hopping, jumping, running, crawling, rolling, dragging, pushing, pulling, carrying, cartwheeling, climbing
  • Bending, twisting, lifting
  • Grasping or manipulating objects with hands and feet

Warm-Up Formats

Warm-up drills can be performed alone, with a partner or in a group. They can also be cooperative (non-competitive) or competitive.  It makes sense to mix all formats during a single session. It’s important to devote considerable time to non-competitive drills done in solo because it allows coaches to make sure that skills are being performed properly. Sloppy mechanics during warm-ups will most likely lead to sloppy mechanics in Judo practice. Partner-assisted exercises are also important for they help build teamwork, necessary in developing good training habits. Finally, competitive group drills (team games, relays) pitting one half the class against the other half are important because they tie together many of the factors we encounter in randori and shiai. Oh, and they are lots of fun, even for adults!

Training Aids

You can greatly increase the scope of your warm-up drills by investing in a few training aids, some of which are free or inexpensive. You can get tennis balls for free by going to a tennis club and asking for flat balls no longer useable. You can make an agility ladder for under $10 by buying 1” web strapping and having a volunteer sew it together. Commercially available ladders run as high as $70-80. Traffic cones make great agility and obstacle courses in conjunction with PVC piping which can be found at your nearest Home Depot. Judo belts can be used as pulling or jump ropes, or can be cut up in smaller lengths for fun gripping drills. For substantially more money, you can pick up a climbing rope, tug of war rope or a climbing net.

How to Vary the Drills

To assist you in keeping monotony to a minimum by making drills appear to be new or different, and to add challenge to basic drills, consider the following variations:

  • Solo or partner(s) assisted
  • Cooperative or competitive
  • Direction of movement (i.e. forward, backward, sideways)
  • Involvement of training aid (i.e. cones, ropes, balls, obstacle)
  • Location of partner in relation to drill performer (i.e. in front, behind, on top, underneath, face to face)
  • Starting position of the drill performer (i.e. standing, on all-fours, sitting, lying down)
  • Points of contact with the ground (i.e. one foot, one foot and opposite hand, two hands and one foot)

Example: let’s consider the simple drill of a player dragging or pulling his partner across the mat. Here are a few variations to change the degree of difficulty and to keep things interesting:

  • Both players stand and take a grip
  • Both players sit and take a grip
  • Both players stand, face each other and grab the ends of a belt stretched out between them
  • A stands and grabs B’s collar and belt. B is on his fours or lies face down
  • A sits and B lies on his back
  • A is on his hands and feet with B under him lying on his back. B grabs A’s belt or lapels

Resources for Drills

For those of you who need a little more help in developing warm-up drills, find a used (cheap) edition of any book that covers physical education for elementary school children. I have Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children, but any book on physical education for elementary school children will most likely do. I also highly recommend two very inexpensive but valuable books: Strong Together and Strength, Speed and Endurance for Athletes. Both books are translations from the sports literature of the German Democratic Republic, the former East Germany.

Exercise in Creativity

Now that you’ve read the article, here comes the challenge! See how many variations you can create from the drill that follows. Feel free to email me your findings at glafon@judoamerica.com.


Two players stand and grab the ends of a belt stretched out between them. Your players must remain standing and must use the belt between them. Other than that, you are free to change the parameters to create new drills.

Last Words of Wisdom

Keep the warm-up period short (10-20 minutes), make sure it’s not exhausting, and stretch after you are warmed up. Ask the participants to help you devise new warm-up drills if your creativity bank account is overdrawn. And most importantly, remember to have fun, fun, fun.


A Taxonomy of the Psychomotor Domain by Anita Harlow, David McKay Company, New York, 1972
Dynamic Physical Education for Elementary School Children by Victor Dauer and Robert Pangrazi, Burgess Publishing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1975
Strong Together by Walter Gain and Jurgen Hartmann, Sports Book Publishers, Toronto, Canada, 1990
Strength, Speed and Endurance for Athletes by Jurgen Hartmann, Sports Book Publishers, Toronto, Canada, 1990

2 thoughts on “Warm-up Drills: where to start?

  1. A favourite in our club is Sumo wrestling at the end of a session. The adult class has to throw opponent out; small kids push or pull; older kids given a koshi waza technique to use. The one who gets 10 out is “champion”… Also, for very young kids 6 to 9 years; volley ball with a balloon – I use a rope but belts tied together can do.

  2. I came across this when searching for warm-up ideas for yr/grade 1 involving loco-motor and non loco-motor movements. What a great resource you’ve put together! Thanks!

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