Have you ever participated in full contact sports? Have you been involved in the tussle for the ball, the shoulder barge from the attacker, the cheeky shove in the back to gain that extra half a metre on a sprint? It all adds to the rough and tumble that contact sports bring, making them physical, exciting, competitive and emotional. If you’ve been there, then you’ve experienced advanced warding patterns. But what are warding patterns? Why do we need them? How do we get better at them? In this article, we look at the concept of warding patterns, the benefits they can bring for everybody and how we might incorporate them into our training plan, whether we play competitive contact sports or just want superior core stability to do battle with the kids.

The concept of warding patterns was first introduced to me by Michol Dalcourt at the FitPro Convention in Loughborough University. It instantly struck a chord with me and many others in the room and went on to become part of Michol’s education programme at The Institute of Motion.

The word ‘ward’ means to ‘guard’ or ‘protect’: “He was the King’s ward”. Warding is a defensive movement and/or state of mind. It’s the kind of movement pattern we see frequently in contact sports where opposing sides are physically competing for advantage. For example:

  • Basketball. An enthusiastic player holds a ball-hungry defender at arm’s length while bouncing the basketball and considering the next move.
  • Rugby. A speedy winger tears down the line with an arm outstretched and firmly held in place on top of the head of a low tackling back row battering ram.
  • Football. A wily midfielder dances around a moving football while holding back his opposite number to allow the ball to roll out of play to his team’s advantage.

Warding is a complex and dynamic movement that requires a combination of stability, rigidity, mobility and dynamic strength/power. Such a movement pattern is not, however, exclusive to athletes but is also something you may see more subtly in our day-to-day lives, for example:

  • holding open the heavy lid of a trunk to load it with clean sheets and towels
  • lifting up a small sofa with one hand while vacuuming up your buttons and small change with the other
  • holding back your excitable labrador while trying to close the garden gate in an effort to spare the neighbour’s cat

A warding pattern therefore involves holding a person or other item at bay, in order to either create space to move or shield something you need to protect.

Physical demands of warding

The shoulders

Not all but certainly the vast majority of warding patterns involve pushing away with the hands, typically at a full arm’s length, to create more space or effective shielding. This action relies upon the static strength of the arm muscles to isometrically contract and create a stiff, rigid limb. Any movement at play, such as a jiggling defender, then has to be simultaneously absorbed through the mobility of the shoulder, which articulates to track the target. This makes warding patterns great for developing straight arm strength and active shoulder mobility.

The lower body

First and foremost, the lower body acts to provide a solid base of support, holding you stable and upright. Typically working against a static force, this will mean a wide footing with bent legs for a lower centre of gravity. When dealing with a dynamic force or in locomotion, lower body positioning will fluidly adapt to find the strongest and most stable positioning. The muscles of the hips, knees, feet and ankles will not only need to stabilise your joints, but also eccentrically absorb force and concentrically produce force in a dynamic environment as a back and forth ensues. All of these lower-body challenges add up to help create more stable knees and more powerful leg muscles.

The trunk

The muscles of the trunk act as a force translator between the upper and lower body. All core muscles will co-contract, working together hard to stabilise the spine and uphold a rigidity that allows effective transmission of the forces produced by the lower body. A good term to use here is ‘bracing’ the core. If the pelvis has to rotate in order to leverage strength from the hips, this can shift the line of stress around the trunk, varying the demand on all the core muscles. This dynamic trunk stabilisation helps to develop a healthy and more resilient spine.

Controlling force from the hands all the way to the toes develops your whole kinetic chain, teaching your body how to co-ordinate effective muscle contraction and developing body awareness (proprioception).

Different sports, different demands

If you are training an athlete for a specific sport, then you will want to design your warding drills based upon the SAID (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand) principle, identifying common movement patterns you see in their chosen sport and position of play. As an example, a football player positioned on the right wing is most commonly going to be performing left-handed, single-arm wards with locomotion patterns while controlling a football. For any given sport, consider basic variables. Will they be more likely to ward with one hand or two? Will they be warding more from the front or back, left or right? Will they more likely try to hold ground (static drills) or make ground (locomotion drills)?

If you are just training a personal client to be strong enough to play the game of life, then you will want to design a drill which covers all common movement patterns to make them the best possible all rounder. There are many variables and intensities that we can tweak to match a client’s level of capability. Let’s take a look at some of these variables.

Training warding patterns

Warding patterns are physical and competitive, which means they can come with a risk of falling or poor biomechanics. It’s important to make drills fun and effective, while minimising risk of injury and promoting good body positioning.

Firstly, although we may be pushing clients around, it’s important to remember that you're not trying to push them over; the aim is to teach them how to hold their ground. This means that, ultimately, we’re going to let them win while providing a challenge. When applying force, do so gradually rather than in powerful bursts, and allow time to react. Apply force in safe areas such as hips and shoulders or through a tool such as a gym ball or ViPR.

Take time to assess a client’s position, either by stepping away from the drill for observation or using a mirror to check positioning. Key points to look out for include:

  • always keeping the target in their peripheral vision
  • maintaining a long neck and avoiding excessive elevation in the shoulder girdle
  • keeping a long and strong spine
  • using the hips to drive power
  • maintaining alignment of the hip, knee and foot, specifically avoiding toes and knees pointing in different directions while under load.

Plenty of variables means that you can really cook up a variety of drills and challenges. Some basic considerations could be:


You can drill one or two hands pushing forwards, backwards and sideways and at various heights (e.g., knee, hip, shoulder height). You can also use all of the above options to create a complete drill.


Feet may be positioned wide or narrow, offset left or right.


The drill may be static, with a step and return, walking or running. Again, consider which you deem to be most relevant.

Training tools

Just a partner can work really well and safe contact might be created by holding shoulders, linking arms or hands. The key to staying safe is preventing falls, preventing head/face contact and avoiding jarring fingers.

A variety of tools also fit the purpose for warding patterns, such as strength bands or bungees, ViPR, gym balls and more.


ViPR offers a mutual point of contact for both client and coach. The variety of grip options on ViPR means you can be much more specific about how you want to position the hands or arms. The variety of sizes and weights can also vary the intensity for clients. Client and coach working together with ViPR is very interactive and creates a fun, safe and intense client experience. As well as working well with a partner, ViPR can be pinned against a wall for effective solo drills.

Bands and bungees

The use of strength bands makes solo drills much more challenging. As a coach, putting a client on a band also frees up the coach to cue and assess movement quality during drills. Longer bands can also be vibrated and tugged by the coach to create random and unpredictable forces that test a client’s ability to react.

Note: Try attaching your band to ViPR for more grip variety and comfort.

Gym balls

Gym balls are large, soft and impact absorbing, which helps to make more advanced partner drills safer. Partners sharing a ball stay at a safer distance and generally don’t come into contact. Solo drills on a gym ball can further challenge stability. The one disadvantage of balls, however, is that they can be difficult to grip.


It is important for a successful drill that you match the appropriate intensity to a client’s capabilities; remember, they need to win. If you're unsure of what a client is capable of, start at the easiest threshold and promote them to a harder intensity until they feel challenged but in control. Consider programming at three different thresholds:

  • Threshold 1: Static force application, predictable force and movement focused in one direction.
  • Threshold 2: Dynamic force in a predictable pattern but one or more directions.
  • Threshold 3: Dynamic and unpredictable forces in multiple directions, possibly with an additional multitasking skill such as throwing and catching or kicking.


Training drills

I have designed some training drills for you to try using the above guidelines. I understand that training partners may or may not be available at times and so I have developed drills both in solo and coach/client scenarios. I would encourage you to try them and consider how you might adapt them to be more specific for both your own and your clients’ goals. Time under tension can really vary depending on the specific sport or training goals but would usually be between 10 and 45 seconds for one to three sets.

Coach/client drills

Threshold 1. ViPR Forward Ward & Reverse Lunge / Progressing to ViPR Lateral Ward

Threshold 2. RIP Drive Ward & Lateral Pivot Lunge / Progressing to Lateral Ward

Threshold 3. Reactive Bungee Ward & Shuffle / Progressing to Throw & Catch

Threshold 3 Gameplay. Defend the ViPR with a Gym Ball

Solo Drills

Threshold 1. ViPR Forward Pin & Reverse Lunge / Progressing to ViPR Lateral Pin

Threshold 2. Gym Ball Forward Ward Pin & Lateral Pivot Lunge / Progressing to Lateral Ward

Threshold 3. Bungee Ward & Shuffle / Progressing to Hacky Sack Juggle

Threshold 3. Gameplay. Bungee Lateral Ward & Reaction Ball Throw/Catch


Warding patterns provide us with a great functional workout with a multitude of benefits. Before attempting warding patterns with clients, plan ahead to develop safety measures you can put in place to keep both client and coach injury free, identify relevant movement patterns for the client and assess the correct training threshold for the client. These drills are interactive, fun and offer a novel alternative to common functional core exercises.

Stephen Tongue is Head of Education for ViPR and was first introduced to ViPR by inventor Michol Dalcourt back in 2011. Stephen ’s passion for movement training and success as a Freelance Personal Trainer and Presenter led to him joining the ViPR Master Trainer Team at FitPro back in 2013. Stephen has remained a part of the team until this day as well as picking up Master trainer positions with other big fitness brands such as TRX, PowerPlate and MyZone. His enthusiasm for ViPR training throughout his career has always kept him close to FitPro and he is delighted in his new role as Head of ViPR Education.