Anyone who trains athletes is well aware of the issues facing female soccer athletes. If you have spent any time around female soccer players there is a good chance you know one that has torn their ACL at some point in their career, whether it was in college or previously in high school. It is not secret that female athletes are at a much higher risk of tearing their ACL’s than male athletes, especially in sports that require twisting and pivoting (most sports) like soccer. Furthermore, female soccer players are at twice the risk than all other female athletes and four times more likely to tear their ACL than their male counterparts according to some studies. All that adds up to roughly 100,000 ACL tears are seen a year in athletes with by far the highest percentage coming from female soccer players – not exactly music to a female soccer players ears!
So the question is, as a strength coach how can you help to minimize the potential chances of your female soccer athletes suffering ACL injuries?
The simple answer is improving single leg strength, something that is unfortunately still overlooked in many strength programs. In my opinion, when designing a program for female soccer athletes, the actual strength training program should be built around improving each players single leg strength. If you analyze the movement patterns in the game of soccer, you’ll quickly see the the game is essentially played on one leg – therefore their strength training program should be single leg based.
The first step in developing single leg strength is through single leg plyometrics. Single leg, lower body plyometrics are essentially going to help develop bodyweight power through the hips and the legs as well as teaching the athlete how to land correctly in a single leg stance while controlling their own bodyweight.
Here are two great single leg hurdle progressions, both linear and lateral, that should be a staple in any female soccer player’s strength program. (Thanks to Marco Sanchez of Sanchez Strength for putting these videos together). Don’t be afraid to hold an athlete back if they aren’t ready to move on to the next phase. Make sure the athlete masters a phase, otherwise you are putting them in a position to hurt themselves. Save your athletes from themself!
Single Leg Linear Hurdle Progression
Single Leg Lateral Hurdle Progression
With that said, the next obvious question revolves around what single strength movements you should be focusing on. Essentially variations of split squats, single leg squat, romainian deadlifts and others are what should make up the bulk of the strength training program. Here are a few of my favorite that I feel should be a staple in any quality strength program for your female soccer players.
RFE Split Squat (120lbs x 20)
Single Leg Squat
Slideboard/Valslide Leg Curl
Single Leg RDL
All that said, single leg strength should and is only be a part of a great strength program for a soccer athlete. Don’t overlook the basics that you should be doing with all of your athletes; foam rolling, stretching, activation, a quality dynamic warm up, conditioning and total body strength still need to be a part of the program. Upper body and core strength should need to be developed as well as single leg strength.
Finally, don’t be afraid to load these girls – they can handle it! Far too often I see a program emphasizing the right qualities (single leg strength) yet not loading their athletes very heavy. A lot of the girls that you come across will be/are stronger than they think they are and maybe even stronger than you think they are. As long as your aren’t compromising form, go ahead and load up these girls – it will do nothing but help minimize ACL injuries and prove to them that they are capable of a lot more than they think they are!