What is a good warm up for sport?
Opinion piece by Eamon O Reilly (Read time 5mins) Target audience: Field based athletes(soccer/rugby/hockey/gaa)
Most people working in sports medicine and science have been asked about warm ups at some stage or another. Coaches, parents and athletes are always keen to learn on how best to prepare athletes for an impending game or practice session. The days of running a couple of laps around a pitch preceded by a couple of drop kicks from the side line or spinners off the outside of your boot are no longer acceptable before beginning drills!! The group static stretch was also a common site on pitch and still is, but more often these have been replaced by more dynamic training systems designed to prepare athletes for the movement associated with their individual sport.
There is a growing body of evidence supporting the argument that injury prevention programs have the inherent ability to decrease injuries and the time loss associated with such injuries.There are a variety of different concepts out there in terms of warm up but each consider the characteristics of the sport and integrating these characteristics into the warm is key.
The UK Strength and Conditioning Association takes a broader look at ‘the warm up’ and utilises 4 distinct phases as part of their RAMP protocol-
R – Raise: Elevate body temperature, heart rate, blood flow and respiratory rate. This begins with low intensity exercise with a gradual build-up in speed
A – Activate: Stimulate key muscles which will be worked during the training session/game. The idea is to activate and not fatigue these muscles so reps are kept low (<10)
M – Mobilise: Perform key movement patterns associated with the sport- Moving joints through big ranges of motion with little to no static stretching performed
P – Potentiate: Increase the intensity of skills involved with the sport, moving towards reactive drills
This framework was first introduced by Ian Jeffreys almost 10 years for rugby but several other sports have adopted similar frameworks to suit their sports.
Warm ups for Soccer
The FIFA 11+ was introduced a number of years ago to focus on decreasing non-contact injuries in soccer through the introduction of a standardised warm up focusing on 3 distinct phases. Part 1 begins with running exercises at a slower speed combined with controlled player contacts and dynamic stretching. Part 2 focusses on balance, plyometric, control and strength increasing in difficulty, and part 3 focusses on higher intensity running with the addition of multidirectional running. Technique is paramount to achieving the goals of an injury prevention programme. It is therefore important that coaches are skilled in its implementation and on the technical aspects of each individual movement skill(jumping/landing/cutting/sprinting). The advantages of a programme like this, is that athletes can be exposed on a very regular basis to technical movement focussed training without cutting into the actual skills coaching of footballers.
There is a growing body of evidence that injury prevention programs can decrease the incidence of soccer- related injuries. Previously programmes focused on female sport with a specific focus on reducing serious knee injury risk but these programmes are now expanded to include other joints and male athletes.
In terms of the advantages of the FIFA 11+ programme, studies have shown staggering results. A study (1400 athletes) from the University of Delaware demonstrated impressive statistics. They were able to show the Fifa 11+ decreased injuries by 46.2% in overall injuries, a 64% decrease in hamstring injuries and a 76.5% decrease in ACL injuries. These are massive numbers and are very hard to ignore if you are coaching at any age group.
Warm ups for the GAA
The GAA have also been very progressive in this area. There are currently two main warm up programmes utilized. The GAA 15 was developed by the GAA’s scientific and welfare committee and also the Activate warm up developed by Sports NI (SINI) along with the Ulster GAA council. Both programmes are largely based on the concepts of the FIFA 11+ but both give a GAA specific slant on the exercises within that particular programme.
There is currently research being published demonstrating the benefits of the GAA 15 and it shows very favorable results. Studies have reported injury incidence decreasing significantily. This is really important data to drive implementation of these programmes and is a very positive step and definitely something to be advocated. My choice of warm up though would be the Ulster GAA/Sports NI “Activate”. From undertaking both warm up’s, Activate allows for a higher intensity warm up with less standing/floor based exercise as well as much more inclusion of the football/sliotar.
Interestingly all of these aforementioned warm up programmes use Nordics in the warm up which I don’t particularly like players doing immediately prior to going into games and pitch sessions. Anything that adds this much specific muscle load immediately prior to pitch sessions should be minimized in my opinion. To counter this argument, the results in the FIFA 11+ demonstrate massive decreases in hamstring injuries so they are advocated in including. While Nordics are a good exercise to undertake I would rather players undertaking them away from pitch sessions due to the specific hamstring load associated with this exercise when executed correctly. I would rather see athletes exposed to a limited amount of higher speed running in a controlled environment immediately prior to practice/game. I am of course open to argument on this!
The use of max speed sprinting is something that is not included in any of these programmes. From speaking to S&C coaches, this is something that maybe more functional prior to sessions to prepare an athlete for games/practice sessions. Exposing an athlete to 100% sprinting for a low number of repetitions (2-4) over a distance of no greater than 30-40m. In the majority of field based sports, maximal running exposure is normally much less than 40m at one time and this type of exposure may add another layer of protection if the athlete is exposed to this on a regular basis.
So is it all positive? There are of course drawbacks to these type of warm ups. Compliance is an issue in studies undertaken. Cherry picking exercises may lead to key components such as landing/cutting/running skills being left out, leading to increased injury risk. The time taken to undertake the warm ups are often cited by coaches. In urban areas where the pressure on pitches is huge, taking 20minutes to undertake a warm up when you only have an hour of pitch time is something a coach may not be willing to give. There is probably an argument for the inclusion of more ball based work, but to include this will take away from what should be a technically correct movement skill. Players also struggle with the time required to undertake when all they want is a ball in their hands or at their feet. What I always try to explain to athletes, is the skills undertaken in this part of their training adds to their athletic performance and also decreases their chances of sitting on a sideline with an injury. It’s hard not to argue with that.
So overall, there are some drawbacks to using these programmes but they are very much outweighed by the benefits. The evidence for these movement skill based warm ups is overwhelming. It is important that they are sports specific and include skills associated with the given sport. The studies tell us we can significantly reduce injury rates and decreased time loss to injury. What is not to like about that! However, if you are like me and you still enjoy trying those shots from impossible angles that have managers with their heads in their hands, maybe stay on at the end of a session for 10minutes rather than allowing them to be the mainstay of your warm up programme!!
Fédération Internationale de Football Association. [Accessed March 25, 2017] FIFA 11+ website. 2014. Available at: http://f-marc.com/11plus/home/
Silvers-Granelli et al (2015) Efficacy of the FIFA 11+ Injury Prevention Program in the Collegiate Male Soccer Player Am J Sports Med. 2015 November; 43(11): 2628–2637. doi:10.1177/0363546515602009.