Warming up is an important part of a PE lesson, not only for the physiological benefits of increasing blood flow to and temperature of the working muscles, but also to give students time to switch their focus to the lesson ahead, get comfortable moving in the space alongside their peers and activate the neural pathways for key motor skills that they will use throughout the lesson.
Now, although a couple of laps around a field, some star jumps and a couple of calf stretches might do the job, I’m sure we’d all love to have a few more fun warm up activities up our sleeves!
So, I caught up with Alice, a PE teacher working at a London secondary school to give us her top warm up games that we can all use with our students. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be a PE teacher to do these!
What are your top warm up games for...?
Now to be clear, none of these are games I invented! They have almost all been magpied at some point, but they are ones I have found to work really well with my students!
For something like Football, I always try to keep it active and fun whilst involving the ball! Setting up a game with ‘gates’ and getting the students working in pairs, passing through the gates is always a fun one as it gets them recapping on their passing and moving into space.
All you need is a few cones, a number of balls and lots of keen bean students (they feed off you, so be enthusiastic and they’ll quickly follow suit!) It’s easy to differentiate as well by simply changing the size of the gates. Set a time limit and see how many gates they can pass through in a certain amount of time.
If you’re feeling really adventurous, use the colours of the cones for different levels of points. Make it more difficult by adding in defenders - the possibilities are endless!
For rugby, if they are beginner level (as most of my students are) a fail-safe game of Rugby Netball works fantastically. They can pass off in any direction but they can’t run with the ball so it is a great one for getting them to think about what they can do in a tricky situation.
Set up playing areas (as a rough guide, 10x10m works well with teams of 5v5) with a ‘scoring zone’ at each end. Students can score a ‘try’ by passing the ball into the scoring zone and placing it on the ground.
This activity is super inclusive because everyone in the team has to touch the ball before their team can score.
Well when it comes to Netball, all students want to do is get moving and play with the ball! The game ‘End Zone’ works a treat! It warms them up quickly and gets them varying their passes. Simply set some conditions e.g. only chest passes, only bounce passes, each player in the team must touch the ball before you can score.
If you wanted to simulate a goal with a more challenging game, you could place a hoop or smaller coned area in which they have to bounce the ball to either score the point, or score a greater number of points. You can play in varying team sizes e.g. 3v3 and change the size of the area to suit - one third of a netball court works great!
My failsafe badminton warm up is always King of the Court (although you may know it as something else). Start off with a number of people on each side, e.g. 5, and they take it in turns to hit the shuttle. Once they have hit the shuttle, they run around the side of the court to the other side of the net….and so on! Each time they miss the shuttle they lose a life (or if you want a quicker game, they only start with one life!)
Set up a range of targets (e.g. hula hoops) on the floor, almost like a large game of noughts and crosses! Students take it in turns to throw their items (e.g. bean bags, tennis balls, spots) towards the targets. See who can hit the most targets in a row! Alternatively, you can use cones to set up 'throw zones' and have a points system: 1 point for landing an item in the closest zone, 2 in the next and 3 in the furthest zone. This type of activity encourages accuracy and is great for prepping students for fielding!
Kwik Cricket is a great starter game! One person bats, one person bowls. The same person will keep running and the bowler will keep bowling until they get them out - they don’t have to wait for them to be ready! The batter must run from side to side instead of forwards and backwards and run on every bowl. The fielding team work to get the balls back to the bowler as quickly as possible so they can keep bowling. If the bowler hits the stumps, the player is out and the next player tags in. See who can get the most runs!
The Bean Game is a classic which encourages lots of movement! In this game, students run around the room, you shout out a type of bean and they get into that shape.
String bean = arms stretched above, tiptoes
Broad bean = star shape with arms and legs outstretched
Chilli bean = shivering
Runner bean = running around
Baked bean = laying on the mats
Quiet bean = they have to move as quietly and aesthetically as possible, making little/no noise with their movements
Anything that keeps them warm and moving is an absolute winner. If you have access to dive toys, a game of ‘Supermarket Sweep’ works fantastically. Simply throw the toys in the pool and task students to collect as many as they can! It works best and lasts longer if you add the condition that students may only collect one toy at a time.
If you have hoops (ones that float, sink or a mix for differentiation), then throw the hoops in various areas of the pool then give your pupils a time limit (e.g. 30 seconds, 1 minute) and see who can go through the most hoops in that time.
To warm up for Water Polo, play a game of tag but using a ball to tag with. Students cannot move with the ball and cannot be tagged if they are swimming underwater. If you have no equipment, you can still play this as a normal tag game.
Another one that is good to build confidence and just to get students moving is to get them to go across the pool widthways and dive down and touch each line they cross over. If there are no lines, get them to walk / swim a set amount of paces and then go down.
Love all those ideas Alice - will definitely give those a go! Last couple of questions:
What warm ups can you do if you have no equipment?
Rats & Rabbits
For Rats & Rabbits, students start in pairs standing back to back, one step apart in two parallel lines (one line are rats and the other are rabbits). Use anything you’ve got handy to mark a point 20m away in each direction.
Call either “rats” or “rabbits”. Students whose title is called must sprint to their marker while their partner tries to catch them.
Two people start holding hands and they run after people. Each time you catch someone, they join your chain! If your chain breaks, you cannot keep catching people until your chain regroups. Final one standing is the winner!
Skin the Snake
Students start in two lines with equal numbers of people. This one is great for team building activities as well! Each student reaches through their legs with their left hand and grabs the right hand of the person behind them. On ‘GO!’, the person at the ack (staying attached) has to crawl through the legs of the people in front…..and so on, until all of the line is through! First line done are the winners!
Fishy Fishy Sharky Sharky
Note: This game has remnants of bulldog so needs to be done carefully. One person is nominated as the ‘Shark’ and they stand in the middle of the playing area. It is their job to initiate the first catch! Everyone else stands on the starting line and is a fish. Depending on the age group - younger ones are more receptive! The shark will shout “Fishy fishy come swim in my sea” at which point, the fish respond with “sharky sharky you won’t catch me!” and all run forwards. If they’re older you may simply want the shark to shout something more like ‘go!’. You know your own students. When caught, they become ‘seaweed’ - they aren’t allowed to move off the spot they were caught at but can instead sway like seaweed! Last person standing is the winner. This one is great because you end up with ‘seaweed’ all over the area!
And finally, should we include stretching in the warm up and if so, what is the best kind?
I would always advocate for stretching that reflects the activity they are doing - I make it dynamic always, if the space allows! Always focus on the muscles the students are going to be using and try to layer in the muscle names as well. Make your tasks purposeful and relevant to the sport or activity you are doing (however loosely!)
Thanks Alice! We can’t wait to hear more of your amazing ideas and insights in the future! :)
If you're after a grab-&-go fitness activity, check out these printable exercise station cards!