Warm-up exercises that enhance flexibility, balance and strength can double as injury prevention programmes by successfully modifying players’ movements according to a study involving young soccer players aged 10 – 17, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina.
“Soccer players and other young athletes have a fairly high incidence of injuries, especially involving the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, a ligament critical for knee stability,” said Darin Padua, Ph.D., associate professor of exercise and sport science in the UNC College of Arts and Sciences. “For some reason, girls seem to be at greater risk of ACL injuries. You hear about a lot of these injuries in basketball, too.”
They videotaped the players jumping and landing, both before a new warm-up routine was introduced, and afterwards, to see what changes had occurred.
They found that those who had the poorest movement quality at the beginning of the study were the most likely to benefit from the exercises, according to the study.
The intervention involved warm-up activities designed to increase players’ flexibility, balance and strength, as well as their foot planting, jumping and cutting skills, since previous research has shown that approximately 70 percent of ACL injuries are the result of such non-contact movements.
The routine took 10 to 12 minutes before every game and practise and was used in place of the jogging and stretching warm-ups the players had been using previously.
“The players who had the poorest movement quality at the start of the study – those who landed stiff-kneed or knock-kneed when they jumped, or who landed on their heels or one foot before the other – benefitted the most from the intervention,” Padua said. “This was true for both boys and girls.”
Researchers also noticed that the older children in the study responded better to the warm-up exercises than the younger ones did. This may mean that younger children need to be trained differently as things that are successful in older populations may not work in younger children.
“That’s a take away from this study,” Padua said.