On replacing warm-ups with a pill

NBC’s coverage of EPL games regularly features occasions when we’re transported early to the stadium, way before kickoff. Both teams are on the field, usually in track suits, going through their various warm-up routines.

I’ve taken to studying these warm-ups as closely as the cameras allow (they keep cutting away or giving us close-ups of an individual player). My interest is hardly professional. Frankly, I don’t give a damn what the players do during their warm-ups, but I do find it amusing to watch the way that the gymnastic exercises vary from team to team.

Some deploy in circles, some run in straight lines, some do little leaps, others zig zag, suddenly sprint, or raise their knees, or stoop down to touch the ground, while others fling their arms towards the sky. There is even some referee-type running backward. I think I’ve even seen some cones in use (a bit jarring that, as cones have a reputation of being old-fashioned).

Standing more or less at the center of things is the ring-master physiotherapist, doing all the exercises -- indeed putting more into them than most of the players do -- and most probably admiring his own choreography.

I have no doubt that each physio designs his own routine -- it is, really, quite similar to a dance. But the main requirement, I suspect, is that it be different from everyone else’s. Which ought to mean that one of these routines is better than all the others. Yet I doubt that -- because after watching all these apparently different warm-ups, it seems to me that they’re really all the same, all basically simply running to and fro and jumping up and down, but not too strenuously.

Which means they all work equally well. Or maybe none of them works. The possibility that warm-ups might be superfluous has been raised before, but it’s clear that warm-ups will be around for a long time -- one of those things that no one would dare not to do because everyone else does them.

And now comes the news (surely we’ve known this was coming?) that all that prancing about may be joining the cones as something that’s “not done any more.” Totally unnecessary. Not because it doesn’t work, but because it can be replaced by a pill -- The Exercise Pill, as an article in a recent New Yorker magazine called it.

As so often, mice were the first to sample the benefits, or otherwise, of the exercise pill, which doesn’t yet have a name, only a research number GW50516, usually shortened to 516. In San Diego’s Salk Institute laboratory mice treated with 516 rapidly increased the time they spent spinning around in the exercise wheel by as much 75 percent.

All that extra exercise showed in a rather human way. While mice would not normally be thought of as having a waste line, the lab boffins measured the “cross-sectional area” and found it decreased, along with the body fat percentage.

All of that news was published in 2008, but these things take a while to catch on. There seems no reason to doubt that 516 is now well and truly established as a performance-aid drug for athletes.

You can tell that it is showing up well on that front, because the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was quick to add the drug to its banned list, and to start testing for it -- back in 2009. Five-one-six -- strongly disapproved by WADA -- has yet to be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. As the New Yorker reports, for 516 (still nameless) to acquire the respectability of FDA approval, there needs to be proof that it is an effective treatment for a recognized disease -- recognized by the FDA that is. “Lack of exercise” does not qualify.

As to how 516 works, let’s just say that it appears to mimic the effect of exercise-training -- which means that athletes or Sunday-morning joggers who take it can run longer before their muscles start to complain -- before they hit the dreaded wall.

Which is cheating as far as WADA is concerned.

When the time arrives for the FDA to pay serious attention, it won’t be just 516 applying for a license. Other scientists, in other labs, are proceeding merrily with their own versions of an exercise pill. Exercise hormones are being discovered, irisin for one. And Compound 14 is a competitor from England -- discovered rather serendipitously during research on an anti-cancer drugs.

For the moment, the not-yet-licensed 516 is -- inevitably -- available on line. Presumably it’s a risky buy, there will be no checks on purity of product yet, nor dosage schedules.

Dosage is obviously of the greatest importance. As far as my rather paltry research on warm-ups goes, I’m thinking that, as those exercises are deliberately of the low-energy type, then a pretty small dose of 516 should be able to emulate them. That will not alter WADA’s stance, which is one of zero tolerance for everything they disapprove of (and that, believe me, takes in a lot of compounds, both ones that actually exist, and others -- usually conceivable derivatives -- that have yet to be synthesized).

I guess I’ll stick with WADA with this one. Not because I necessarily agree with the puritanical rigidity of its judgments, but because I want to continue being amused by these soppy warm-up ballets. The thought that they might disappear, that the players would turn up at the stadium half an hour later, having already “warmed-up” by taking a baby-dose of 516 does not sit well with me. The sport needs all the human touches it can find.

10 comments about "On replacing warm-ups with a pill".
  1. Ric Fonseca, December 27, 2017 at 3:52 p.m.

    Oh boy, given that it is the "winter break" for most everyone, including PG, all I can say, is come, come, now Senor Jardinero (that is P's surname in Spanish!!!) surely there are other subjects for you to select and write your ditty and regale us with it!  One question, though: Senor Jardinero, indeed you know something about the sport, however, did you ever play futbal-soccer other than school-yard kind while growing up in jolly England.  Yes, of course you do know something about-of the jogo bonito, but pray tell us, just at what level did you play the game?  I ask 'cause then I could probably surmise that you did play at a high competitive level, amateur, semi-pro, or even say, the pro level, and thus perhaps would not had written this piece? But please, I'd wager that the FDA has other "pills" to write and warn us about than a "pre game warm up pill 516..."  Oh, well, PLAY ON, I say!!

  2. Ginger Peeler, December 27, 2017 at 5:04 p.m.

    I was following the article well until I got to the subject mice’s “waste line”. Okay, it’s a typo and should have been “waist line”...I know just how subversive autocorrect can be. Still, I just can’t take it seriously. I usually find PG’s comment on subjects to be thought provoking...but not this way. Heh, heh! “Waste line”. There’s absolutely no way I can read this with a straight face. Thanks, Paul, for bringing me laughter today!!! Waste line!!!!

  3. uffe gustafsson, December 27, 2017 at 5:40 p.m.

    Call it whatever, warm ups are critical to youth injuries 
    especially to girls, FIFA 11 have decreased ACL injuries and data support it.
    so let’s not take this lightly it’s important.
    to many youth have had their soccer playing time come to an end.

  4. Wooden Ships, December 27, 2017 at 7:08 p.m.

    Now, if some could find a pill to have them mentally warmed (ready) up. Kidding, (mostly).

  5. frank schoon, December 28, 2017 at 10:29 a.m.

    I'm glad PG finally covered the subject of "warm up" drills, which, to me is a joke of much greater proportions. Apparently, we go through 'waves" or "trends" or "fads" in soccer thinking every 10 years or so.
    Remember the 'cool down" method employed right after the game ,in which the whole team runs back and forth the width of the field...what ever happened to that?? Or remember the 'stretch-a-thon 30 minutes before the game, the whole team laying on individual rubber mats do all kinds of stretches. I remember Michelle Platini with Juventus coming to JFK stadium to play a friendly, doing this stretching routines. Meanwhile, all the coaches and wannabes took lots of notes on the stretching routine of uselessness. I even thought maybe there is some to this "stretching" craziness. Well, as a result, I somehow experienced more muscle pulls ,which I never get, during the season of play. I thought, perhaps, it was me, but when  Van Gaal while coaching Ajax, had the similar 'muscle pulls" experiences as I had, told me that this was not to be done. Van Gaal  stated that in all life his of playing ,he has never experienced so many muscle much for that stretch fad.
    Today, we have what I would describe as a "three ring" circus of warm up routines. I mean, it is getting so rediculous, that I have to laugh watching this nonsensical display on the weekends.  All the coaches do the exact same thing in their warmups. Obviously, all have been secretely "chipped" while going for their coaching license. These coaches all look like the "Stepford" wives unleashed when you watch them perform, doing the same thing during their pre-game warmup routines. The coaches come out with a big bag and spread the cones out, their pinnies sorted out, the little ladders for their running drils and what not , then  topping it off with a small sided game.(I might have missed something, but that's the jest of it). The only that is missing is the coach dressed as the "Big Top" ringmaster, performing this circus routine.
    I remember one of my parents complaining about my warm up routines for it lacked the elaboration and Hollywood extravaganza. My answer to her was "if I knew it would make my players, play better ,I would make it a six ring circus, including dancing bears, than the three ring circus you see out there now.

  6. frank schoon, December 28, 2017 at 11:02 a.m.

    (con't). To me warming up before the game has always been an individual thing. If you need to stretch, than stretch; if you need kick a ball at goal then do so, or do a couple sprints, or pass back and forth with a teammate. To me ,the warm ups is more in line to fit in my way of concentration that I need to have to feel lose and unburdened. Every player is different as well as every line is different. Front line players are more individualistic in their thinking, and playing , as  compared to the back line who are more team oriented and therefore , therefore I allow the players to do what they feel good about and want to do tehmselves. But I certainly wouldn't put them through this 3-ring circus for it doesn't fit all players, mentally, physically and personality wise.
    The "trends' ,or better "fads" in training are so rediculous. British players 10min before the game used to lay in a warm bath to loosen their muscles.
    Guardiola should pull a joke on the soccer community as whole. He should a place a bucket of water by the bench for each player as they come out on the field and pour it over their heads. The reason for that is Guardiola found that players tend to think better ,as he has discovered. And who is to debate a successful coach on this point. I'm willing to bet to college coaches, MLS coaches, youth coaches will immediately follow the bucket of water routine, and of course to give the latest new trend a blessing  it will be supported by the USSF coaching School.
    Remember, pulling the shirt off to celebrate a goal and all of a sudden one of the US women in the world cup perform the same idiot routine. 
    Everything in soccer has become so programmed , copied, group oriented, follow trends, and their is such a lack of creative thinking. I'm willing to bet if the team that won the world cup employed a monkey on the right wing, than you will see the following season college coaches employing a monkey on the right wing and later on MLS start begin to employ a monkey on the right wing....obviously it shouldn't make a difference in their quality of play one bit.....

  7. Goal Goal, December 29, 2017 at 12:17 p.m.

    If US Soccer gets wind of this it will change their entire program.  To bad the "Pill" wasn't avaialbe for the mens team in the World Cup Competition they might have had better results.

  8. Bob Ashpole, December 29, 2017 at 7:46 p.m.

    Warmups and cooldowns are of particular interest to me. Warmups actually have 3 separate objectives, but generally speaking their purpose is to prepare for playing at 100% intensity from the first instant of a match. There is actually a lot of research and information available about warmup practices. Now cooldowns are something else.

    My guess is that professional trainers consider their expertise in cooldowns to be trade secrets which they do not share. In professional and college sports having a more effective recovery program is a competitive advantage. I find a lot of general information available which hints to possibilities, but no where is a professional trainer sharing publicly what is the path to the shortest recovery time. If recovery in 72 hours is acceptable, then any cool down routine would work including sitting on a bench drinking beers and smoking cigerettes. I am exeragering a little to make a point. Recovering in 48 hours or less rather than 72 hours is what cool down routines are searching for.  

  9. Kent James, December 31, 2017 at 12:23 p.m.

    An unusual PG column, but as usual, an interesting topic.  As an adult player, my warm up was get to the field, get my shoes on has fast as possible, and get on the field (time is short, and traffic sucks).  I've always been flexible, and generally injury free (until arthritis in my knees ended my playing career at age 55).  As a player, I came of age when coaches emphasized "static stretching" (first it was bouncing, then it evolved into just holding a stretch).  When studies demonstrated this did no good, and might even increase injuries (oops!), as a coach, I moved to dynamic stretching prior to games and practices, and static stretching after.  I never bought into the cool down phase (light jogging to cool down after a game).  I think dynamic stretching, gradually extending the range of motion of muscles prior to using them to their max, made sense (and this was really how I had always stretched).  Static stretching afterwards seemed appropriate to extend the range of muscles to avoid injury in the future (and you could conduct your post-game talk while the players stretched).

    As for the complex ballet of warm-ups PG belittles, I disagree. There are 3 main aspects of a warm-up; first, everyone does dynamic stretching (the major muscle groups; doing it in unison as a team building exercise v letting each person do their own thing is not an easy issue, though I tend to compromise; doing them at the same time to encourage everyone to do them, but not in mechanical precision, because I don't think soccer should be played that way).  I do think this process should be done quickly (and give a few minutes after the group is done to let individuals focus on specific stretches they might need).  A subset of this aspect of the warm-up can be doing quickness/agility exercises, which is essentially part of training to get better (as well as warming up).  

    The second aspect is doing some sort of small-sided keep away game, so that people get touches on the ball and get the blood flowing.  During this time, I might have defenders (and anyone else who needs it) take and recieve long kicks, so people more likely to use those skills have some practice (and to give the goalkeepers time to warm up).


  10. Kent James, December 31, 2017 at 12:25 p.m.

    Finally, I have players shoot (mostly moving balls, one-touch shooting after recieving a pass (through ball, e.g.) from a teammate.  I have as many players shoot as can shoot efficiently (so no one is waiting in line), and start with players most likely to get a shot off during a game (so I'll move the defenders who had been taking long kicks into the keep away game, and pull out the more offensively oriented players to practice shooting).   With enought time, after shooting, I might have some corner kicks, primarily to prepare the keeper.  All of this can be done in about 30 minutes.  Much longer, and I would worry about tiring players out.  Which is another reason as a adult player, my warm-ups were short; the transition from warm-up to exhaustion gets shorter as you get older!
    So for PG's topic, I don't think the pill will eliminate the need for warmups (unless there's a pill that replaces touches on the ball!).

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