The importance of a good warm-up
© AFP

The sight of substitutes jogging and sprinting along the touchline or following the action while performing a stretching exercise or two is commonplace during games.

To most fans, these activities might look relatively innocuous and not particularly strenuous, but experts are agreed that the pre-match warm-up plays a vital part in enhancing player performance and reducing the risk of injury.

As the game becomes ever more competitive and demanding, so the need for greater specialisation in all areas related to football grows, among them physical preparation, a field that has witnessed significant developments in recent years. And as numerous in-depth studies have revealed, the right kind of warm-up routine can provide effective protection against injuries.

Four good reasons
The reasons for warming up before taking part in any physical exercise are fourfold: To raise the body temperature; increase metabolic activity; quicken the heartbeat and breathing rate; and prepare the muscles and nervous system for exercise. Furthermore, such exercises encourage the psychological stimulation of the player, allowing him or her to reach the level of concentration required to ensure optimal performance.

Oscar Garcia, fitness coach with Spanish Primera Liga outfit Getafe, explains the benefits of warming up further.

It's been proven that warming up has a series of positive effects on the body as it raises the temperature of the muscles.
Oscar Garcia, fitness coach at Getafe, stresses the positive effects of warming-up.

" And as they contract that also improves speed and strength. It also activates the cardiovascular and respiratory systems with the result that heartbeat and the circulation of blood around the body increases.

"As a result more nutritional substances and oxygen are supplied to the muscles, helping them contract and also encouraging the dispersal of by-products such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid. What is more, warming up improves coordination and boosts players' concentration during games."

Eleven ways to prevent injuries
In co-operation with a group of international experts, FIFA's Medical Assessment and Research Centre (F-MARC) has developed a very simple yet highly effective injury prevention programme entitled 'The 11' for amateur players, a series of ten functional exercises that can be completed in around 15 minutes with the aid of a ball. Especially designed to prevent injuries, 'The 11' should be carried out in each training session as part of the warm-up . A shortened version of the routine (exercises 4, 5 and 8 only) should also be performed before each match.

We strongly recommend to every player to perform the exercises of 'The 11' as part of their playing routine, whether they are a professional or just kick the ball in their leisure time
Prof. Jiri Dvorak on the benefits of 'The 11'

"Regularly performing this programme does reduce the frequency of injuries in football," says Prof. Jiri Dvorak, FIFA Chief Medical Officer and Chairman of F-MARC. " ." The programme is available here on FIFA.com.

We usually see teams come out on the pitch about half an hour before kick-off to go through their final warm-up routines. These normally include a series of aerobic exercises without the use of a ball, starting with a gentle jog.

Dressed in their sweatshirts, the players then engage in some stretching exercises, with special attention being paid to key areas such as knees, abductor muscles and leg muscles. To round off the warm-up, players should do a little ball work, following a plan that starts with team exercises and ends with individual ones. Naturally, goalkeepers ought to follow a separate programme to their team-mates as that is a position requiring altogether different preparations.

Ways and means
Although the effects of the warm-up can be noted within a matter of five minutes, it should ideally last for more than 20 minutes. As well as taking into account the physical condition of the player, these routines should also consider factors such as the weather. On hot days less time should be spent on warming up, with the reverse being the case in cooler conditions. The appropriate clothing should also be worn.

Players need to warm up not just before matches but also prior to their daily training sessions. The intensity of the exercises should increase gradually although it is important coaches do not to wear their players out by making them warm up for too long.

So as you can see, there is a very good reason why substitutes get up off the bench and limber up pitchside, and coaches should make sure they are given enough time to prepare properly before sending them on to the field of play. However, the positive influence of warm-up does not apply only to professional players. It is as important and effective for everyone playing football just for fun - and helps in ensuring that the fun lasts.