Whether through sports or gym class, most of us were taught to warm up before playing sports. Generally the warm up consisted of jogging a few laps, static stretching and some arm or neck circles. Well forget about this method of warming up, even if you already have. The truth is that this method of warming up did not prevent injury or prepare people to play sports. So yes, those of you that were perpetually late to practice or that dropped the warmup as soon as a coach wasn’t watching can rejoice. Luckily though sports scientists have come up with a new method of warming up that does help to prevent in game injury and can also improve sports performance and reduce overuse injury.
The new method of warming up is more accurately referred to as neuromuscular training. While designed to be used before training or games, it can also be beneficial to do on its own. Neuromuscular training is helpful for anyone from kids to adults and from pro players to weekend warriors. While neuromuscular training programs have primarily been studied and developed for team sports which involve running and change of direction, programs are also being studied and developed for other sports like dance, swimming and track and field.
Neuromuscular training has four main components. The first part is an aerobic warm up mainly designed to get your body moving and warm, similar to previous warm up practices. After that the warmup focuses on building strength, agility and balance so that your body is moving optimally for sport and is less likely to be injured. Some common drills used are sprinting and change of direction drills, planks, dynamic stretching, nordic hamstring curls and balances on balance boards. One major difference from the previous warmup methods is that there is little static stretching involved as it has been found to hinder athletic performance, rather than help it.
While this may seem like a lot to learn for a pre game warmup, neuromuscular training programs are a whooping 40%-70% effective at reducing non contact injuries. As the majority of non contact injuries are knee and ankle injuries in team running sports, it helps keep a lot of players in the game. Neuromuscular training programs can also help improve player’s performance as they improve their running mechanics, improve their fitness and build strength. Once players are familiarized with the program, it only takes about 10-30 minutes, around the same time as a traditional warmup. Efforts are also being taken to try and create programs that can be done in an even shorter amount of time but will still have all the same benefits. And while the program is more useful the more frequently it is done, it is still effective for people that do it once a week.
Check out the resources below for some neuromuscular training programs, including some developed at the University of Calgary. All the programs have different levels that you can progress through as you get more comfortable with them. If you feel you need assistance contact a physiotherapist or strength and conditioning coach.
General Field Sports
General Sports/Gym Program
Thanks to Dr. Oluwatoyosi Owoeye for the interview informing this article.