We’ve covered in a previous post the 5 steps that you can take to minimise your risk of injury playing 5-a-side. One of the methods mentioned there was performing regular exercises to strengthen you against injury.
Whilst most forms of exercise will be beneficial in helping you be fit for 5-a-side, the biggest benefits come through performing the three specific types of activities on a regular basis.
The three key components of an injury prevention exercise programme:
1. Core training
As the name implies, your core is your centre, and you want to get this as strong and tough as possible as it effectively powers the rest of your body, underpinning most of your movements and range of functions for playing football. The core includes the muscles of the trunk (abdominals, back extensors) but also of the pelvic-hip region.
More and more attention has been paid to strengthening the core these days with the understanding developing that this area of the body acts as the driver and controller of most football specific movements. As amateur footballers, it’s an area which we frequently overlook. What players don’t tend to realise is that core strength is a big driver behind most leg movements and will help protect against knee injuries.
2. Neuromuscular control and balance
Neuromuscular control refers to the way that your brain controls the muscle and tendon movements for various activities. In the heat of a game, your brain unconsciously drives a lot of your body’s movements as you focus on reacting to what is going on around you – this is known as neuromuscular input. Some people are blessed with natural grace and efficiency in their movements, but for others there are likely to be things we’re doing in running, jumping, turning etc which are simply an invitation for injury – allowing your knees to buckle when you land from a jump, for example.
The theory of neuromuscular control is that by training how your knees and ankles move, especially when jumping, landing, and pivoting, you can make sure that you’re providing the proper stability to the key joints in order to avoid injury.
3. Plyometrics and agility
Plyometrics describes the method of training that aims to enhance your explosive reactions through powerful muscular contractions. By performing eccentric contractions followed by concentric contractions, plyometrics are an effective way to train the body for the explosive reactions needed in 5-a-side football or any other sport.
Plyometrics sound complicated when described in these scientific terms but they are actually fairly straightforward. An eccentric contraction is where your muscle elongates, normally as a result of a braking force. You experience this every day: it’s the stretch you feel in your muscles as they lengthen as you’re going down a flight of stairs, running downhill, or lowering weights.
Concentric contractions are the opposite to eccentric contractions, they are where your muscle shortens while generating force. So that would be walking up stairs and lifting weights.
The essence of plyometrics is to combine these two forces in a single exercise, minimising the time between each of the two types of contraction. By doing this it should allow the player to strengthen and improve the muscle groups used to create explosive actions.
This stuff really works and is now applied extensively in athletics training where explosive reactions are needed for things such as sprinting and jumping. One of the most common plyometrics exercises involves an athlete dropping off a small height (say a small bench, a foot high) triggering a breaking action, which is the eccentric contraction part. The strong eccentric contraction prepares the muscles to switch to the concentric contraction allowing them to quickly jump to a much greater height (say waist height) than they dropped off initially. It’s a little bit like stretching two ends of an elastic band before letting them ping together. This method provides much better training for the muscles than an athlete simply jumping up from a standing position.
Through plyometrics you can train specific movement patterns with the correct form, strengthening the appropriate muscles, tendons and ligaments to cope with the many demands that football poses on your body. This has been shown to help prevent ACL injuries as well as other knee and ankle injuries.
How do I apply these three principles into my exercise routine?
Unless you’re a trained sports professional, it’s going to be very difficult for you to actually devise a practical routine around these concepts. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s going to be fairly dangerous as well.
Fortunately, you don’t have to create your own routine. The boffins at FIFA’s sports science department have developed a warm-up programme specifically tailored around these principles: they call it the FIFA 11+.
We’ll be covering the 11+ in future weeks, focusing on how you can use it in your 5-a-side preparation.