As every professional footballer knows, warm-up exercises are a sacred part of every pre-match and pre-training routine. In preparing players' bodies for the exertions to come, a proper warm-up not only improves performance but as importantly also helps prevent injuries.
The FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC) therefore developed a complete exercise routine called "The 11+ - a complete warm up to prevent injuries ", which can easily fit into any professional player's schedule and which helps to reduce injury occurrence if carried out correctly and assiduously.
A study published in the prestigious British Medical Journal showed that "The 11+" in fact reduced the number of total injuries by a third and serious injuries by nearly half , a so far unique result of an exercise based prevention programme . This programme is based around both slow jogs and sprints, interspaced with exercises designed to improve strength, balance, muscle control and core stability (for details see www.fifa.com/medical).
Meanwhile, former Czech Republic star Pavel Nedved is a firm supporter of this warm-up routine, which is along similar lines to the ones he performed throughout his 19-plus years at the top of the game, as he explained in conversation with F-MARC Chairman Prof. Jiri Dvorak.
Prof. Dvorak: Mr Nedved, it's quite a coincidence that your shirt number during your successful spell at Juventus was 11 and FIFA/F-MARC's injury-prevention programme is called ‘The 11+'. What's your view on injury-prevention programmes in general, as regards those who play for fun as well as professionals like yourself?
Pavel Nedved: It seems the number 11 and I are destined to be together! I'm very excited to be part of this fantastic programme which I totally support. Injury prevention is important for amateur players as well as professional footballers. I wouldn't hesitate to advise youngsters to get used to following this routine. I'm convinced it will help them develop their footballing skills and prevent injuries.
It's vital for professional footballers to be in good shape. How did you used to go about this?
It's true that we have to stay in good physical condition. That means being always ready to give your very best, not just for matches but for every training session , too. And it's vital to warm-up before matches and do the right strength and stretching exercises to prepare your body for each training session.
You were a creative and technically brilliant midfielder during your playing days. What are the main risks for footballers playing that kind of role?
Naturally, over-physical play is the biggest threat, particularly when you're involved in heavy challenges with your opponent. The sequences of play that skilful footballers perhaps fear most are unexpected and deliberate tackles from behind and from the side as well as the use of elbows. If you're very quick and aware it can help you to steer clear of these. A skilful player must work on changes of pace and bursts of acceleration and as a result must be totally focused, both in body and mind. That focus must start with warm-up exercises, just like I was taught as a youngster. These injury-prevention methods help you in every match and every training session.
When did warming-up before training or playing start becoming second-nature?
I started playing for a local club at the age of five years. When I was 12 we moved to Plzen (in western Bohemia) and I was fortunate enough to join a really good club. There I had a very good coach who taught us how to get our bodies ready to play football. He was great and he really motivated us every day. Warm-up exercises became routine: we did stretches, strength work and a competitive warm-up before each training session. Being kids we thought that there was no need for all of that but, over time, I realised how important it was to prepare your body for the stress it will be under in a game. Even as a youngster it became an automatic ritual that I continued throughout my professional career. And I think that it's important for all boys and girls to get into that habit as early as possible.
What advice would you give to younger generations who see you as a role model to follow?
When I look back I realise that the key to my success, to being able to play at that level for so long without a serious muscular injury, were those foundations I laid at 12 years of age. I'd tell youngsters to try and stay in good shape, to work on that every day. In my experience that's the right track to be on.
Have you really never been injured during your entire career?
If we're talking about muscular injuries, which are probably the most common ones, I've never had a serious muscle strain or even tear . That's probably due to my routine injury-prevention programme . However, I have suffered three more serious injuries, all of which were caused in clashes in matches against rival teams and fouls were given on each occasion. I injured my meniscus twice and once I received an elbow to my head which left me unconsciousand I had to stay in hospital for 10 days. Elbow-to-head is really bad and needs to be banned from the game. Otherwise, I've been very lucky (with injuries).