Warming up and cooling down: What does new research tell us?
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
What keeps athletes and weekend warriors in the game has a great deal to do with what happens before and after their "real" workout or competition.
New research shows that longer, more intense warmups may be key to reducing injuries a whopping 40 percent for sports like soccer and basketball. On the other hand, some popular post-exercise recovery techniques don't hold up to scientific scrutiny.
What comprises a sufficient warmup?
Recently, scientists examined two popular warmups used by professional and amateur soccer players, the FIFA and FIFA 11+. The differences between the original FIFA warmup and its upgrade are significant.
The first is a light, 10-minute warmup including jumping, shuffling and balance, whereas the FIFA 11+ is longer in duration, with a greater emphasis on strength that involves repetitive sprints, vertical leaps, squats and lunging, as reported in The New York Times.
Interestingly, the new FIFA 11+ warmup was indeed an upgrade. Results from more than 4,000 amateur athletes surveyed — ranging from teens to middle-age adults — showed that those who practiced the FIFA 11+ routine before practice and competition had a 40 percent lower chance of injury to the hips, hamstring, groin or knees during the season than people using other warmups, which included jogging and the lighter FIFA warmup.
Researchers concluded that the success of FIFA 11+ in reduction of injuries was due to the improved muscular strength, coordination and balance needed for sports like soccer that involve sprinting, quick directional changes and acceleration. This proven reduction in injury has led to the adoption of the workout in youth teams. For example, more than 44 youth workshops have been held throughout Brazil to promote the warmup through a program called FIFA 11+ Kids.
"We have seen the effects of the FIFA 11+ warmup program to protect high-level players from injuries, and the same results have been identified within amateur football," said FIFA's chief medical officer, Jiri Dvorak. "If we manage to implement FIFA 11+ all across Brazil, sooner or later the incidence of training and match injuries will be reduced by up to 50 percent."
Which post-exercise practices benefit muscles?
Cooling down is also quite important to prevent the muscles from contracting and to help release uric acid build-up that leads to soreness. These practices should involve slowly reducing heart rate and breathing back to normal and stretching muscles.
However, other common practices used by professional athletes after a grueling competitive events such as icing and anti-inflammatory painkillers have been brought into question by a series of recent studies, according to another NYT article.
Taking an ice bath is a popular practice thought to help reduce muscular inflammation and aid in more rapid recovery. Psychologically, cooling may reduce pain by numbing nerve sensors so the athlete doesn't feel the soreness. But studies do not show a reduction in inflammation at the cellular level due to cooling. Painkillers have also been shown to neither shorten recovery time nor alleviate soreness in overworked muscles.
On the contrary, warming the muscles along with ingesting increased carbohydrates does seem to reduce tension at the muscular level. In a study published in Physiology Today by Swedish scientists at the Karolinska Institute, participants were given an intense arm-pedaling workout designed to exhaust the muscles in their arms.
In the first session, this was followed by consumption of carbohydrate-loaded snacks. In the second session, the eating was the same, but the arm was placed in a cuff set to about 100 degrees for two hours. In the third session, the arm was cooled instead of warmed in the cuff.
After all three of these sessions, participants returned to complete another interval of exercise. According to the researchers, all the men and women in the study pedaled the hardest and fastest after having the muscle heated while ingesting carbohydrates. On the contrary, the session that showed the lowest-power output was when the arm was cooled.
Given that subsequent research with mice showed that simple warming had no effect, the scientists concluded that "warming the muscles probably aids in recovery by augmenting the muscles' uptake of carbohydrates."
While these new studies strongly suggest that warming and carbs make a better choice than ice and ibuprofen, rest and time are still considered the most tried-and-true method for recuperation and reducing soreness.
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