We decided to put warming-up and movement preparation back on the radar in light of some stuff we’ve seen in the field and read from strength and conditioning coaches and physiotherapists, over the past 12 months. Just so there’s no confusion, neuromuscular warm-ups (NMWU) including the FIFA 11+ are  warm-ups that can assist in reducing soft-tissue injuries in individuals applying them. We advocate applying their principles in your warm-up! But a trend we’ve seen on the field and have been privy to debates on of late, relates to the use of a general NMWU where a “one size fits all” approach is being applied. This has led to a few interesting problems that we wanted to have a poke at here.


The general versus specific problem

To recap, NMWU consist of: general movement, strength & balance, plyometrics and high intensity running. In this context, the FIFA 11+ is a general NMWU (as there is nothing inherently specific about strength, balance, or plyometric training). However, given that warming-up is the key part of a training session, it should apply the training principle of specificity. Why should a warm-up be general, and then the remainder of the training session be specific? Surely the two should be linked so that the training session has a continuity from start to finish. The lack of specificity we’ve seen in some warm-ups is a potential loss of training time as it relates to match tactics preparation (15-20min per session) and subsequent team performance. (Calculate 15-20min of lost tactical training by the number of sessions per week and by the end of the season, you may have lost a lot of time!).

Specifically applying the NMWU to your team tactics allows for the benefits associated with reducing injury risk to soft tissue, while also introducing the specific tactics of the training session at hand. We advocate introducing specific match tactics to the training session as early as possible as it heightens players awareness of the session from the outset, it allows for more specific focus on the technical and physical gestures to be emphasized in the session, and it links strength and conditioning to the sport which is really what S & C is all about!


The crossover sport problem

I saw a post a while ago arguing that the FIFA 11+ NMWU should be applied to GAA, given that the 11+ reduces injury risk in soccer players and as such should do the same for GAA players. This perspective misses the point of what strength and conditioning is all about. Best practice strength and conditioning coach will apply the principles of NMWU and apply it specifically to the locomotor demands of the sport. For example, the jump ability demands of soccer and GAA are entirely different, so too would be the jump ability demands of GAA to tennis, or of soccer to basketball. Therefore the plyometric components of a NMWU should vary for each of the sports mentioned! A soccer player who jumped like a GAA player would find himself ineffective in training and in match.

Similarly, the HIT aspects of NMWU for soccer are entirely different than those of tennis. In tennis, the majority of locomotion demands include multiple side skips, cross-steps, and single leg jumps combined with upper & lower body dissociation. Most of this movement does not occur in the sagittal plane unlike in soccer, where the locomotion demands of running and jumping are entirely different.


The athlete development problem

What type of athlete does a coach want? Is it an athlete with perfect running form, maximal strength, or is it an athlete who is great at their particular sport? It should be the latter! Proponents of developing the athlete with track and field exercises or Olympic weightlifting techniques (which I am a huge fan of) have a logical point given that good movement mechanics can lead to more efficient movement patterns and as a result should reduce energy leaks associated with locomotion. We echo these sentiments and we like the logic! So some time should given to developing to “plugging” energy leaks in each athlete in a team. But two words of caution: 1) have you found the precise energy leak in each of your athletes? 2) sprinting is its’ own sport, just as is Olympic weightlifting and power lifting. Individualisation of the training programme is they way to address athlete development and reduce risk of injury, not with general NMWU … or general movement preparation which leads me to our final point.


A word on movement preparation

Something we heard a while back resonated well with us, advocating movement preparation as a long-term strategy towards developing a better athlete. It’s a component that can be included in your NMWU, but is something that really needs to be addressed by systematically training deficient neuromuscular movement patterns, correcting functional and specific muscle weaknesses, improving locomotion and posture all at the same time as developing the sport-specific athlete. This takes a lot of time, and a close integration of strength and conditioning, physiotherapy and/or osteopathy/chiropractic and sports specific training.


A general NMWU on its own won’t do the trick!