THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON NEW YORK TIMES.
Athletes could be increasing their risk for sports injuries or simply wasting their time by practicing certain types of warm-ups and cool-downs, according to two practical new studies. Together, the new research indicates that a rigorous warm-up could keep you running smoothly during a sports season, whereas a popular cool-down technique, the ice bath, is likely only to leave you cold.
Anyone who plays sports or otherwise exercises has almost invariably heard that we should warm up before every training session and competition, and cool down after.
The warm-up is meant to ready us for the physical exertions to follow, allowing us to perform better and, in theory, not hurt ourselves.
The cool-down, on the other hand, is supposed to soothe tired muscles, easing some of the damage caused during training and preparing our bodies to return to exercise in the days ahead.
But there has been little scientific or anecdotal consensus about the ideal ways to warm up or cool down.
So for the first of the new studies, which was published in January in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and is being presented next week at the IOC World Conference on sports-injury prevention in Monaco, scientists from the University of Copenhagen and other institutions decided to systematically examine the effects of some of the world’s best-known warm-up programs, the FIFA 11 and its recent update, the FIFA 11+.
Designed by sports scientists affiliated with FIFA, the original FIFA 11 warm-up is light and quick, lasting about 10 minutes and involving various kinds of jumping, shuffling and balancing exercises.
The updated FIFA 11+ is more intense, requiring repeated sprints and exercises such as squats, leg lifts and vertical leaps.
While many experiments have tested whether these warm-ups keep athletes healthy, most have been small and their results inconclusive. But the new study systematically pooled data from the best earlier studies, those that randomly assigned athletes to warm up either with a FIFA program or some other routine (usually stretching and jogging) and then tracked injury rates for at least a season.
By combining the results, the researchers wound up with information about almost 4,000 male and female recreational soccer players, ranging in age from adolescents to middle-aged adults.
And the outcomes were striking. Those boys, girls, men and women who regularly completed the FIFA 11+ warm-up before training or games were about 40 percent less likely to sustain knee, ankle, hamstring, and hip or groin injuries during the season than athletes who warmed up in other ways.
Interestingly, the easier FIFA 11 warm-up did not substantially reduce the incidence of subsequent injuries.