ACL Injuries and the Female Soccer Athlete

Anyone who trains athletes is well aware of the issues facing the female soccer athlete. 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. According to both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence, 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). 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.

Soccer

So the question is, as a strength/sport performance coach, how do you help to minimize the chances of your female soccer athletes tearing their ACL’s?

In my opinion, the simple answer that is overlooked in too many training programs is improving single leg strength. Over the years, more and more strength/sport performance coaches are using single leg strength exercises in their programs, but are we choosing the best exercises and are we doing enough of them?

In my opinion, when designing a program for female soccer athletes, their strength program should be built around improving single leg strength, maybe going as far as using only single leg exercises in their program. Remember, improving single leg strength will not only help in minimizing potential ACL injuries, single leg strength will also enhance acceleration, power, and improve running economy, all things that are wanted in our female soccer athlete or any sport for that matter.

Soccer ACL Tear

When we look at single leg strength we have two different qualities to train, both quad dominant single leg strength as well as hip dominant single leg strength, both of which are very important. One without the other is missing the big picture.

For quad dominant single leg strength, exercises like split squats, (goblet split squat, barbell split squats, front split squat, rear foot elevated split squats) single leg squats to parallel, skater squats or slide board lunges (linear and/or lateral) are all effective and worthy of being included in the strength program.

As for single leg hip dominant strength, two movements shoot directly to the forefront; single leg RDL and slide board leg curls. Single leg RDL’s are not new to the strength and conditioning community, but slide board leg curls are not as common. The slide board leg curl has a lot of bang for the buck – isometric glute activation coupled with eccentric hamstring strength – a combo that is critical for athletic performance and injury reduction. The glutes and hamstrings have to work together while the hamstrings flex the knee all while in hip extension. A movement that should be a no-brainer in every program.

All that said, single leg strength should only be a part of a great strength program for a soccer athlete. Don’t overlook other qualities like foam rolling and stretching before every strength training session, practice and game. For every athlete, there may be no quality more important than tissue quality.

Other aspects of quality training like an activation period, a thorough dynamic warm up, and a well thought out progression based plyometric program need to be addressed, along with total body strength and a proper conditioning program.

At the end of the day, single leg strength rules all when it comes to minimizing ACL injuries with your female soccer athletes. I know bilateral lower body movements have been an essential part of these athletes strength programs for years, but the amount of ACL injuries are still on the rise, meaning our current training systems are not protecting these athletes from potential injury. It’s time we look at these programs and adapt for the health of our athletes.

Four for a Hard Core

The days of doing crunches after crunches after crunches are over. Researchers like Dr. Stuart McGill has shown over and over again that repetitive flexion of the spine will eventually lead to you having a bad back – so stop doing it. Unfortunately these thoughts and feelings haven’t been heard far and wide and too many people are still doing core exercises that are either worthless or a ticking time bomb.

Core

Rollout Variations

Year and years ago you could find rollout wheels on late night infomercials being sold by some annoying salesman. Then they went away for a long time to be forgot about. Just like the Palloff press, rollout variations are becoming more popular over the last 5 or so years. First start with the swiss ball, then move to a smaller ab wheel. The smaller the ball/wheel, the harder the exercise becomes. This, by the way, is a great progression for someone leading up to getting into the body saw.

Body Saw

Probably my favorite and go to move when I’m looking for a quick core exercise in-between my compound movements. A plank on steroids. Simply hold your plank position with a tight core while sliding back and forth on your forearms. Reach as far back as you can to make it more effective. Be warned though, they aren’t for beginners and they aren’t nearly as easy as some people make them look.

Front/Side Plank

Old reliable. The front/side plank is boring to most people but they are still one of the most effective core exercises you can do. I think one of the reasons people get bored with planks is because they don’t know how to properly progress them. From a progression standpoint, going from a regular plank to a feet elevated plank is an easy progression. Still easy? Keep the feet elevated and put a plate on your back are grab a kettlebell to hold during the side plank. Still to easy? Add more weight. Still not tough enough? Add some front/side plank rows. And by the way, doing planks for 60+ seconds is boring. Stick with 20-35 seconds and when that’s too easy move on to a tougher progression.

Palloff Press Variations

5 years ago the idea of a Palloff press was confined to a small group of strength coaches doing them with their teams or at their facilities. There was no way you would see anyone doing them in a typical big box gym. Still, too many trainers and trainees in the big box gyms are still missing the boat on the Palloff press. Progress from tall kneeling to half kneeling, to standing and then finally standing on one leg. Perform presses on one day then come back with some holds later in the week, both being extremely effective.

What do all these exercises have in common? A couple of things.

One, most people don’t do them and have no idea how effective and worthwhile these exercises are. Take these four core exercises for a spin for the next month or two and I’m willing to bet your core will be better than it ever has before.

Two, zero flexion of the spine in any of these exercises, making them a great alternative to crunches and other worthless core exercises. No flexion based exercises in this program. They aren’t good for long-term health of your back and there are plenty of ways to train your core effectively without performing any type of flexion.

Third, these exercises will spice up your training. Whether you care or not about the possible long-term health of your back or not, and you should by the way, these exercises can add some variety to your core training. There is nothing more boring than doing the same thing, over and over again. Spice it up and have more fun in the gym.

9 Ways to Increase Productivity

Productivity

Plan Your Day the Night Before

If you are really serious about getting things done, take a couple minutes the night before and plan out your day. It works wonders, especially when you stick to the plan. Try it out for a few weeks or a month and see how much more you get done throughout the course of your day.

Prioritize the More Important First

We all have numerous things that we need to get done in the course of our day. Start by tackling the most important things first. Prioritizing everything that you need to do allows you to get the stuff done that is more important first, then focus on the issues that aren’t quite as important.

Don’t Leave Emails Sitting in Your Inbox

We all do it, and to be honest, it’s pretty stupid when you think about it. We take the time to log on to our email account, read an email that is in our inbox, and then close our email without responding. From now on act on all those emails you read. Save yourself the time of coming back and re-reading an email and having to respond. Plus, this will eliminate that email that gets lost in the shuffle for a few days that we forget to act on.

Email

Get Started

This seems so obvious but it needs mentioning. The only way to get things done is to start. Stop procrastinating and start getting things done.

Internet

Avoid Disruptions

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Get off them and get stuff done. You’d be shocked how much time we actually spend messing around on social media and the internet in general. Stay off these sites until you get your actual work done.

No Multi-Tasking

We all think we can do it, none of us do it well. When we try to get 3 things done at once we either get nothing accomplished or we get half assed results from all the things we are trying to get done. Stick to one task, complete it, and repeat.

Be Slow and Make Sure You Get Things Done Right the First Time

To piggyback off the no multi-tasking thought, get things done and get them done right the first time. Spend the time to do things correctly. If you don’t have a ton of time to do things, having to do things over and over again because you never do things right the first is a simple way to make sure your productivity is terrible.

Deadline

Set and Respect Deadlines

I think it’s safe to say we all set deadlines. I think it’s also safe to say many of us don’t respect those deadlines. Keep setting deadlines but make them realistic – then hold yourself accountable and respect meeting those deadlines.

Keep a Notebook and Write Things Down

This is one of my favorites and something I learned from Mike Boyle, someone who has a ton of stuff going on in his life yet gets everything done and then some more. Simply get some type of notebook and write things down. Ideas pop into our head at the most random times – write things down immediately and stay on top of everything that you need to get done.