Is Your Current Warm-up a Waste of Time?

I studied Sport Science at university and one topic that just kept coming up was the importance of 'warming-up' before playing sport. Some professionals believed it was vital, while others (especially some academic researchers) were less convinced by the proposed 'benefits' of a warm-up. Some were even suggesting they should be scrapped altogether!


Well, the generally accepted purpose of a warm-up is to prevent injury. We hear that cold muscles can tear so we have to get the warmed-up slowly before we start using them fully in our training. But the research was showing that athletes doing warm-ups were often just as likely to get injured as athletes that don't bother. Therefore, is the warm-up just a waste of time? A tradition? Is the importance of warming up muscles just another old wives tale?

To find answers to these questions we need to look at the types of warm-up we're actually doing. Then we can decide whether warm-ups as a whole are a waste of time or if it's just our current warm-up which is inadequate.

I've been playing and coaching table tennis for about 14 years, in a number of different schools, clubs, universities and academies. In almost all settings, regardless of ability level, the warm-up is the same. It involves jogging, side-stepping, sprinting, maybe some 'high-knees' and 'heel flicks', followed by a few minutes of stretching (by which time you are probably cold again anyway).

Is this true for you? It might not be. These types of warm-up might be restricted to just the UK but I imagine that is not the case (if you want further proof check out this video of the Indian table tennis team warming-up) and therefore...


Just something that we've always done and now do 'on autopilot' before training sessions. I cannot think of a single instance, in 14 years of playing table tennis, when I have flicked up my heel towards my backside during practice or a match! It's never happened. So why are we doing it in our warm-up?

The problem is that back in the day we probably stole our warm-ups from footballers or another sport that involves lots of running. And table tennis is not football! We don't spend a game walking, jogging and sprinting around. We generally never travel further than two steps and very rarely are the facing the direction we want to move towards.

So what should we be doing instead?

The buzz word in current Sport Science practice is 'sport-specific'. Everything we do should be specific to the sport that we play. So for table tennis, our warm-up should involve quick changes of direction over a short distance. We should be in our usual table tennis stance and could even incorporate some 'shadow-play' shots. Here are some ideas...

  • "Imitatsiya" - I first heard of imitatsiya from Daniel Coyle's book, The Talent Code. It's used at the famous Spartak Tennis Club in Moscow. A small club which over the past decade has produced many of the world's top female tennis players. At Spartak they view the ball as "a distraction" and believe practice can be just as useful without the ball is players just concentrate on 'making the swing'. This kind of shadow-play can be incorporated into a warm-up and is great because it uses exactly the muscles that will be used later in practice. You can do you imitatsiya at regular speed or you can slow it down (to work on technique) or speed it up (to overload your brain). 
  • Catching, Throwing and Hitting - This is a great way to become really comfortable with a table tennis ball. It also makes a good warm-up. Bouncing the ball on your racket may sound like the warm-up of an eight year old but it will help you understand the ball and how it reacts to your bat and spin in much more depth. Find ways to make it challenging. Perhaps you can throw balls at a partner which they have to catch using only their playing hand. You can throw wide to their forehand or backhand and make them move quickly to the ball. This is definitely something I would like to spend more time thinking about.
  • Side-stepping - But not up and down the hall, like footballers do along the side line. How about side-stepping around a table (always remove the net posts when doing something like this). You could even play 'cat and mouse' and have two players per table. Try to stay low, in your ready position, instead of bouncing up and down. Remember it's a warm-up. Start slow and build up the pace.
  • Resistance Bands - I spent some time helping with the strength and conditioning at Notts County Cricket Club and they always used resistance bands as part of their warm up. Resistance bands have long been used for the rehabilitation of injury but they are recently becoming a lot more popular in warm-ups as an injury prevention tool. Table tennis players can suffer from shoulder and elbow injuries and therefore performing certain band exercises on these target areas as part of your warm-up could be a clever idea. You can play slow motion forehands against the resistance of the band to warm up the muscle. The movement should be controlled rather than explosive as it's a warm-up and you'll have the resistance of the band working again you.


So there we have it. A few ideas for you to think about incorporating into your warm-up. Do I think warm-ups are a waste of time? No. A properly devised warm-up should decrease your risk of injury by getting your body ready to perform. A good warm-up can also have several other benefits such as technique development (if using imitatsiya, or something similar), increased agility (from footwork/side-stepping exercises), and even mental readiness. Performing a warm-up has been shown to help us focus more on a given task. It can clear our mind from the thoughts and worries of our day and get us mentally ready to perform.

So have a look at your current warm-up. You might benefit from switching some things up a bit. And remember, just because everybody else is doing something doesn't make it correct. 

Thanks for reading.

Ben Larcombe (

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