Dynamic Warm-Up Exercises for Water Polo
Dynamic warm-ups are a good alternative to static stretching or jumping straight into a workout, both of which can lead to strains, pulls, and underdeveloped muscle groups. Dynamic exercises are also a good warm-up for water polo players, especially when space in the water is scarce. Practice them with your team on deck to monitor each other’s form.
The Benefits of Dynamic Exercises
A dynamic warm-up is designed to raise your core body temperature, elevate heart rate, and increase mobility, preparing muscles and joints for sports-specific movements. Not only do they offer some variety from a pool-only workout but they also allow for different movements and resistances than an aquatic environment. This kind of cross training forces you to use new muscle groups, increasing overall strength and balance.
The following dynamic exercises target the main muscle groups used in water polo. As with any exercise, be careful and pay attention to your body. The goal here is gentle stretching, light resistance, and increasing blood flow. Ask a coach to evaluate your form if something’s uncomfortable; if anything causes serious discomfort, stop immediately and see a doctor if pain persists.
Arms & Shoulders
These stretches and exercises loosen up and strengthen the small muscles in your shoulders – the same ones used when swimming, passing, and shooting. Repetitive-use shoulder issues are among the most common injuries water polo players suffer, so adding these movements to your dynamic warm-up can prevent a lot of problems in the future. Start out doing 30 seconds or 15 reps of each exercise, and add time or reps as your endurance increases.
Stand with feet hip-width apart and both arms straight overhead. Let one arm fall forward and the other fall back. Let each arm make a full circle to bring them back to the top. Keep circling them for the designated time or number of rep, and then change direction. If you can’t swing your arms in opposite directions at the same time, just swing one arm at a time.
Lie face-down on the ground. Put your hands under your shoulders and come to hands and knees. Keeping your hips where they are, lift and straighten your legs. Keeping your head up, back straight, and elbows close to sides, lower yourself to the ground then push back up.
Resistance Band Work
Internal and external resistance band work is excellent for warming up shoulders as well as building shoulder strength. Check out the full list of resistance band exercises for aquatic athletes in the Resistance Band Exercises for Swimmers guide.
Wrist & Forearm Stretches
Straighten your right arm in front of you. Let your hand drop down, fingers pointing at the floor. With your other hand, gently press against the front of your hand until you can feel a stretch in your forearm. Raise your hand so that the fingertips point up. Press against the palm and fingertips until you feel a stretch underneath your forearm. Hold for a brief time, and then switch arms.
These exercises engage the core, creating the strong abdominal muscles used when shooting and changing direction in the water. Start out doing 30 seconds or 15 reps of each exercise, and add time or reps as your endurance increases.
Plank & Side Plank Position
Lay face down on the ground. Put your hands under your shoulders and come to hands and knees. Keeping your hips where they are, lift and straighten your legs. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Transition to side plank by rolling to one side and balancing on the outer edge of the bottom foot. Your entire body should be in one straight line from head to toe. Hold briefly, and then roll to your other side.
Lying on your back, put your hands beneath your head and position your knees and legs as though you were sitting in a chair. Twist your torso so that your right elbow meets your left knee, while simultaneously straightening your right leg. Go back to your starting position and repeat, this time bringing your left elbow to your right knee and straightening your left leg.
Legs & Hips
Treading water can put quite a strain on your hips and the hard kicking that heads-up freestyle requires often leads to leg or foot cramps. It’s a good idea to warm-up and stretch the large muscles in your legs before starting an aggressive water polo workout.
The following exercises are intended to strengthen and increase the flexibility of your legs. Start out doing 30 seconds or 15 reps of each exercise, and add time or reps as your endurance increases.
Standing Hip Circles
Standing with feet hip-width apart, lift one leg up in front of you. Swing it up and out, as though you were swinging it over and around an exercise ball. Repeat the movement but in the opposite direction, swinging your leg back, out to the side, then forward. Repeat with the other leg.
Standing with feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, hold your arms out in front of you and slowly sink down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Keeping your back straight, straighten your legs so you’re standing upright again.
Kicks, Skips & Walks
Mix and match five or more of the following, and do two sets of each for around 25 yards (the length of an average swimming pool).
- Knee Hugs (Glutes & Hips): Bend your right knee and bring it to your chest, wrapping your arms around it. Keep your torso upright and hold for two to three seconds, release, and then repeat with the left leg.
- Frankenstein Walks (Hamstrings): Keeping your right leg straight, raise it in front of you and touch your toes to your outstretched right hand. Step forward, land, and repeat with the left leg.
- Lunge Walks: Take a long step forward with one leg. Lower your back leg until your knee lightly touches the ground, keeping your torso upright. Your front knee should be directly over your foot and you should feel a strong stretch through your back leg. Rise up, step forward, and repeat with the other leg.
- Heel Walks (Calves): Walk forward balancing on your heels.
- Other options: high-knee skips, high-knee runs, butt-kicks, straight-leg skips, straight-leg runs, and backward runs.
Dynamic or Not, a Warm-Up is Important
Many coaches prefer their players to spend as much practice time in the water as possible, leaving little space for a dynamic warm-up. Regardless, be sure to loosen up the various muscle groups that water polo uses, since the aggressive movements it requires can be dangerous to stiff, cold muscles. Doing a dynamic warm-up with your team is a fun way to get through the exercises, but if that isn’t an option consider doing them earlier on your own.