Youth: Studies Reveal That Neuromuscular Warm-ups Reduce Soccer Injury
Nov 11, 2019
***This article is part of an educational series for soccer parents and youth players new to soccer***
Just because you do a warm-up, it doesn’t mean that your body is fully ready for a bout of exercise. A typical stretching routine may prepare the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments for movement, but not efficiently activate the system that makes these tissues perform well - the nervous system. When the nervous system isn’t properly activated, athletes will likely perform at a reduced capacity with a greater risk of injury to go along with it.
That’s why players of all ages should incorporate a neuromuscular warm-up into their practice routines. This style of warm-up ensures that the nervous system is “awake and alert” for vigorous play on the pitch. More importantly, these warm-ups can reduce the risk of injuries that often keep soccer players on the bench.
What is Neuromuscular Warm-Up?
Essentially, a neuromuscular warm-up is a form of exercise that trains the nerves and muscles to react and communicate better. You’ve no doubt heard the expression “mind over matter” before, and it aptly describes how nerves and muscle function - the brain sends messages to the muscles via the nerves. These messages are codified “instructions” that tell the muscles (and limbs) to move a certain way.
Of course, when these “instructions” inform the muscles to move correctly and safely, an athlete will perform at their best both in terms of safety and efficiency. The opposite is true as well - inefficient movements coded into the brain will reinforce poor movements, leading to poorer performance and a higher risk of injury.
A neuromuscular warm-up trains the brain and nervous system what effective movement feels like so that players move more efficiently. These warm-ups combine aerobic, strength, agility and balance exercises. They train the sensorimotor functions of the brain so that players develop a better awareness of their bodies in space and bodily control.
Key Benefits of Neuromuscular Warm-Up
- Improved joint position sense and stability
- Greater body control (players often feel more “loose and limber”)
- Reduction of lower extremity injuries common in soccer players (knees, ankles, thigh, groin, hips, legs)
- Increased speed and agility (turning performance)
- Higher output of strength and power (due to more efficient motor unit recruitment)
We’ve discussed in the past how certain products can improve performance and decrease injury risks. For example, our SpeedGrip® insoles increase traction and foot stability, allowing players to be more agile on the pitch.
We also offer plenty of protective gear that can reduce the effects of hard impacts on players. However, the effectiveness of these products is bolstered when players throw neuromuscular warm-up routines into the mix. And there’s scientific research to prove it.
Researchers at the University of Calgary made a critical discovery in recent years - injury prevention programs in youth soccer keep more kids playing and decrease healthcare costs. It’s a win-win situation.
Additionally, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that neuromuscular training reduces injury risk by 38% and overall healthcare costs by 43% when compared to traditional warm-up programs.
Another study examined two neuromuscular training protocols - Harmoknee and FIFA 11+ (more on this later) - and their effects on player safety. They demonstrated that these neuromuscular-based training protocols were effective at reducing lower extremity injury rates in teams practising at least twice per week.
How to Run Neuromuscular Warm-Up Drills
As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are differences between typical warm-up routines and neuromuscular warm-ups. These nervous-system boosting activities include dynamic warm-ups, aerobic exercises, core stability and strengthening exercises and more.
There are different variations on neuromuscular drills, especially when they are soccer warm-up exercises. With that said, here is a look at some of these possible routines.
FIFA 11+ Neuromuscular Warm-Up Drills
The FIFA 11+ program is an injury prevention program developed by a team of international experts in sports science, kinesiology and biomechanics. This training regimen was designed mainly for soccer players age 14 and up (although it can be adapted for players of younger ages).
The 11+ program can be broken down into three components:
1) Slow-speed running exercise coupled with an active and partner.
2) Core and leg strength exercise combined with balance, plyometric and agility exercises.
3) Moderate/high-speed running exercises integrated with cutting and pivoting movements.
The FIFA 11+ soccer warm-up exercises condition the body with exercises gradually increasing in intensity. For example, a quick look at the FIFA 11+ handbook reveals 10 exercises that encompass the three components mentioned above. They are as follows:
- The bench - Strengthens core muscles and increases core stability.
- Sideways bench - Strengthens the lateral abdominal muscles and increases core stability.
- Hamstrings - Strengthens the hamstrings.
- Cross-country skiing - Improves overall muscle strength.
- Chest-passing in single-leg stance - Improves coordination and balance in addition to strengthening leg muscles.
- Forward-bend in single-leg stance - Improves coordination and balance in addition to strengthening leg muscles.
- Figure-of-eight in single-leg stance - Improves coordination and balance in addition to strengthening leg muscles.
- Jumps over a line - Improves jumping power and technique.
- Zigzag shuffle - Improves jumping power and technique.
- Bounding - Improves jumping power and technique.
These exercises are carried out in sequence. The handbook, mentioned above, is available for download for coaches and provides detailed instructions on how to carry out these exercises correctly. To demonstrate to players, coaches can also have players watch FIFA 11+ videos like the one below.
Coaches can use a dynamic stretching regimen as an alternative to the FIFA 11+ program. A dynamic stretching program for soccer will gradually prepare one’s muscles for movement. Dynamic stretching routines can vary but a typical program may include the following exercises:
These exercises bring various benefits to customers including core stability, increased speed and power, flexibility and a reduction in injury risk. They are superior to static warm-ups which when practiced before a game, can make a muscle too flexible and thus more prone to injury.
Warm Up Your Brain for a Better Game
At its core, a neuromuscular warm-up is a brain exercise because it focuses on increasing the efficiency of an athlete’s nervous system. The nervous system is the foundation of elite athletic performance and thus needs to be trained accordingly.
In conjunction with soccer protective gear and performance equipment, warm-up exercises such as the FIFA 11+ program or a dynamic stretching routine will improve players’ neural efficiency. These exercises will help them execute their physical skills and prowess more flawlessly while reducing their risk of injury. Ultimately, young players will play with more intensity without sacrificing their longevity.