The anterior cruciate ligament, better known as the ACL, has become a huge focal point when discussing how to reduce injuries in the athletic population. It is reported that there are an estimated 150,000 ACL-related injuries a year occurring in the United States. (1) The chances of this injury occurring do increase when certain sports are played, such as football, basketball, soccer and skiing. With that being said, 70% of ACL tears are non-contact injuries that might be preventable. (1) How do we make it a focal point then to reduce these injuries from happening in the athletic population? The answer is to have a well-rounded strength and conditioning program. There are five key attributes that will be included in a properly designed ACL prevention training program.
First, the exercises performed will be closed chain, compound, and multi-joint movements. This means that exercises are performed with the feet on the floor. The exercise selection will include Olympic lifts, power lifts and single leg exercise variations. These exercises are not the starting point, but it is the goal to reach this level. No one is going to be doing leg extensions on this program!
Second, the anterior and posterior chain should be trained evenly. This refers to training the front and back on the lower body. Too many times we focus on the “mirror” muscles and forget about what is on the backside, even though that is the most important part. Make sure to include single leg deadlift variations, rack pulls, cable pull-throughs, and slideboard bridge variations.
Third, single leg exercises will be part of all training sessions. This one is definitely important seeing that I have already mentioned it in the previous points. When you are playing sports you are ALWAYS on one leg, unless you are standing watching the grass grow. Sure there are some exceptions, but you get my point. Training has to involve being on one leg because that is how sports are played. There is huge selection of lunge variations, single leg squat and deadlift variations and plyometric and speed drills.
Fourth, proper mobility in the hips and ankles will spear additional force being applied to the knees. If the hips and ankles do not move properly the stress will be applied to another part of the body and in this case it’s the knees. Make sure to include some mobility work if these areas are an issue. Single leg lowering and three way ankle mobility are two great options.
Fifth, perform the exercises with full range of motion and proper biomechanics. This goes along with point number four. Once you have perfected your mobility, your range of motion should be fine as long as you continue to go through a full range of motion when performing each exercise. It’s just like your car, if you do not have sound mechanics something is going to break.
There are five great ways to reduce ACL injuries from taking place. Make sure to check our video section for these exercises and mobility drills that will be posted soon.