ACL Prevention for the 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. It doesn’t matter if you are looking at scientific studies and/or 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), including soccer. Furthermore, female soccer players are at twice the risk than other female athletes and four times more likely to tear their ACL than their male counterparts.

soccer acl

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 and power. 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?

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 many other sport for that matter.

torn acl

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.

RFE Split Squats

Slide Board Lunge

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/concentric 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.


Slide Board Leg Curl

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 tissue quality (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. A great, simple example of some linear and lateral single leg plyometric’s progression is shown here by MBSC Coach Marco Sanchez.

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. Does that mean we shouldn’t be doing any bilateral lower body training with a female soccer athlete? No, but the majority of the strength training should be single leg based. It’s time we look at these programs and adapt for the health of our athletes.

Takeaways from the NSCA Maine State Clinic

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend the day at the University of Southern Maine for the NSCA Maine State Clinic. This is the first time that I have attended a NSCA seminar/clinic and the first seminar/clinic that I have had the time to attend so far in 2014. The clinic was very well organized and had a handful of great presenters.


Here are a few thoughts and highlights from a few of the presentations.

Cracking the Crossfit Code by Eric Cressey

eric cressey

I was definitely looking forward to this one because Crossfit is such a polarizing topic in the world of strength and conditioning. Crossfit gets people emotional. They love it or they hate it. People that aren’t Crossfitters don’t get it, Crossfitters think everything is Crossfit.

As Eric said, Crossfit looks like it’s hear to stay, whether you like it or not. As a result, it’s time to start identifying the good that Crossfit brings. Crossfit has insane camaraderie, it’s a social experience, they have created great brand recognition, and they prefer compound movements and high intensity interval training over aerobic based conditioning work. All good things that everyone can learn from and/or would agree with when it comes to programming.

On the other hand, there is the bad of Crossfit. For starters, there is an extremely low barrier to entry. Anyone can open a Crossfit gym and start training people the next day. To be a Crossfit coach you need to pass a weekend certification course that basically anyone could and do get through. Literally anyone can start or affiliate gym or become a coach with very little schooling or education. In addition to this, there is no assessment for the clients that are coming into the Crossfit facility. As any reputable strength coach knows, certain people need to be regressed from time to time based off of injury concerns or lack of movement efficiency. Crossfit uses one-size-fits-all programs that is a disaster waiting to happen. And finally, Crossfit uses technically advanced exercises performed under conditions of fatigue, without adequate coaching, without a solid movement foundation, all in a group training environment – a recipe for injury.

All in all, Crossfit has something to offer. If we can learn to actually learn from what they do well, we can build better facilities of our own and build a better business. We don’t have to agree with everything they do, as some of it is absurd, but we also have to understand that it is here to stay. Take and learn from the good, and let them stick to the bad.

Training MMA Fighters by Mike Perry

mike perry

Since MMA is becoming more and more popular you are now starting to see strength coaches that specialize in MMA training just like you would see strength coaches that specialize in football, ice hockey, or soccer. In the last couple years, Mike Perry from Skills of Strength in Chelmsford, MA has become one of those people developed a niche in training MMA.

After listening to Mike’s presentation, I had two major takeaways. One, like with most other sports, there are way more similarities between training MMA athletes and other sport athletes than there are differences. MMA athletes need to squat, hip hinge, press, and pull just like all other athletes. MMA athletes need

The second big takeaway is the need to understand conditioning and understanding why you are performing the conditioning that you are performing. Like strength training, you need to understand the demands of the sport and condition appropriately. Work to rest ratios are critical in conditioning and too many strength coaches arbitrarily choose work:rest ratios based on typical/old school methods. Are you training alactic power? Lactic power? Lactic capacity? Aerobic? Whatever it is, the rest:work ration changes and you need to change the variables to cater to the athletes needs. Mike probably made energy systems as easy to understand as I have heard anyone explain it before.

Scapular Control: Implications for Health & High Performance by Eric Cressey

CPAnyone that knows Eric and follows his work knows that talking about the shoulder, shoulder function/dysfunction, and the scapular is right in his wheelhouse to say the least. After listening to Eric talk about the shoulder I realized two things; one, I need to get my knowledge of the shoulder up a little, and two, Eric has forgotten more about the shoulder than I know. It was an impressive presentation to say the least.

The first takeaway was that the traditional YTW’s for rotator cuff and shoulder health isn’t as useful as we once thought. In order to keep athletes shoulders healthy, especially overhead athletes like baseball, volleyball and swimmers, we need to ditch YTW’s for some useful, dare I say functional, movements and exercises. Eric emphasizes exercises like various different wall slides, 1-arm bottoms up kettlebell carries, along with bear crawls and inchworms.

Additionally, Eric contends that we need more “free scapula” pressing. Exercises like push ups fit this bill, along with landmine presses and cable chest presses. Eric rarely programs DB bench presses for his overhead/baseball athletes, and never programs bench press with these athletes.

Finally, Eric touched on some of the rowing exercises that he likes to program for his baseball athletes. Standing 1-arm cable rows along with split squat low cable rows are staples, as they create more asymmetrical rowing from one side to the other. This allows for greater functional carryover because of an increased challenge to rotary stability.

Needless to say, some interesting stuff from Cressey, who clearly could talk about the shoulder all day.