Why the FIFA 11+ Program May Be the World's Best Warm-Up

Teams who integrated this warm-up saw their rate of overuse and severe injuries cut in half, plus measurable improvements in agility, balance and jumping.

If you've played organized sports at any point in your life, you've probably been involved in a crummy warm-up.

You know—the ones that entail actions like limply pulling an arm across your chest or weakly reaching for your toes. Such moves do little to prepare you for the action you'll encounter during training or competition. In fact, they're often straight-up counterproductive.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the FIFA 11+ program.

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If you've played organized sports at any point in your life, you've probably been involved in a crummy warm-up.

You know—the ones that entail actions like limply pulling an arm across your chest or weakly reaching for your toes. Such moves do little to prepare you for the action you'll encounter during training or competition. In fact, they're often straight-up counterproductive.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the FIFA 11+ program.

Created with the help of an international group of sports performance experts, the warm-up is designed for amateur and recreational soccer players aged 14 and up. I saw the U.S. Women's National Team perform many of the moves included in the 11+ program prior to a training session and match last summer.

What makes this warm-up program so amazing? One, it requires no special equipment or advanced knowledge. Two, it gets amazing results.

By eschewing static stretching for movements that more closely mimic what you'll encounter during play plus moves that activate and strength key core and leg muscles, the 11+ program both significantly reduces injuries while also measurably enhancing performance.

A 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal detailed that youth soccer teams who performed the 11+ program at least twice a week saw 54.4% fewer overuse injuries, 47.7% fewer severe injuries, 37% fewer training injuries and 29% fewer game injuries.

Similar results have been seen at the collegiate level. Any way you slice it, that's a massive success.

Young players rarely like warming up, however, because they often feel like they're invincible. But both players and coaches alike can appreciate the performance-enhancing effects of the 11+ program. Translation—it can help you play better. A massive 2015 narrative review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that consistent use of the 11+ program resulted in outcomes such as:

  • Improved agility
  • Enhanced jumping ability
  • Improved functional balance
  • Improved static balance
  • Better hamstring/quadriceps strength ratios
  • Quicker stabilization times of the lower extremity and core

A collegiate athlete will likely be more advanced than a high school freshman, and the 11+ program includes a variety of progressions to account for this. A beginner will perform a regression of the Side Plank where their bottom knee is on the ground, for example, while an advanced trainee will perform a full Side Plank with Leg Lift.

The program also doesn't have to be limited to just soccer players. The movements included translate well to a wide variety of field and court sports.

For example, a 2012 study found that the FIFA 11+ program is also effective at reducing injuries in young male basketball players. The study, which included 120 players with an average age of about 14, found the warm-up resulted in significantly fewer overall injuries, training injuries, acute injuries and severe injuries over a 9-month season compared to a control group.

A few other important details to know before I link to the full program:

  • The program takes about 20 minutes to complete and should be performed in full prior to training. Only parts 1 and 3 of the program should be performed prior to matches, cutting the time commitment in half
  • Proper execution of the movements is key to the program's effectiveness. Coaches should always be vigilant of a player's knee collapsing inward during a move, for example
  • Performing the program at least twice a week is crucial for decreasing injury risk

With that, this guide provides the full program. You may also find this flashcard-like format more useful. If you're interested in implementing it yourself or with a team you're involved with, I encourage you to print out the sheet for easy access. This workbook provides more info, such as what constitutes proper execution of each movement and when players are ready to progress from one level onto the next.

If you happen to be a league administrator or official, a randomized controlled trial found that a "preseason coaching workshop" on the FIFA 11+ program was highly effective for adherence by coaches/teams throughout the season. Once they themselves are familiarized with the program, a team's head coach is the best person to promote and implement it with their players.

The 11+ program shouldn't be taken as a replacement for a proper strength and conditioning regimen, of course, but as far as warm-ups go, it seems to be quite effective.

Photo Credit: Tim Goode/Getty Images

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Topics: SOCCER | WARM-UP | SPORTS | YOUTH SPORTS | KNEE INJURIES | HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS | HAMSTRING INJURY