ACL rehab and prevention has been a hot topic within the sports and rehab communities, as this is one of the most common injuries seen within many athletic populations (ie. soccer, lacrosse, football, etc). All of these sports involve rapid change of direction, jumping, pivoting – all of which require proper strength and movement mechanics in order to protect the knee and avoid excessive stress placed on the ACL.
If you are a coach, parent, or athlete reading this, you likely have witnessed an ACL injury in some capacity, along with the uphill climb that follows during the recovery process. The goal of this article is to provide each of these groups with a framework for how to keep themselves, their athletes, or their kid(s) healthy while competing in their sport.
Ensuring that athletes have a well rounded strength training program that prepares them to move well at higher intensities while under fatigue, is pivotal in order to decrease their chances of injury. Rehab following an ACL injury is a long and challenging process (9-12+ months), so properly preparing athletes for the demands of their athletic season should be a top priority so that we can help decrease the frequency of these injuries.
Below we will discuss several factors that should be considered when structuring an athletes training protocol so that we can effectively prepare them for a healthy season of competition.
Have a well-rounded strength program
All athletes, regardless of their sport, should be involved in some form of resistance training. Specifically, for athletes playing sports with higher prevalence of ACL tears, developing adequate lower body strength and stability is extremely important. Programs should include strength training for the quads and hamstrings, as these play a major role in active stability of the knee joint. Additionally, hip strengthening and unilateral training need to be highlighted. These factors will help athletes gain control of what their knee is doing in space, and prevent excessive frontal plane (side to side) movement of the knee, which often is part of the mechanism of injury for ACL tears.
Gaining raw strength is very important for athletes, but we want to make sure we train that strength in sport-specific movements as well. If nothing you are doing in the training room looks like what you are doing on the field or court, then you are missing a very important piece of a well rounded training program. Athletes need to practice jumping, change of direction, producing power in different planes of motion, and all the demands that they will undoubtedly encounter in their sport. Strength training doesn’t mean you always train like a bodybuilder – make it specific for your athlete.
Conditioning and training under fatigue
Athletes need to be prepared for the fatigue they will face during games and have the ability to not alter their movement patterns because of it. Training programs should work both endurance and strength training to get athletes used to still moving well when their heart rate is elevated and they are in an increased state of fatigue. This can be accomplished through adding circuit or interval training to athletes’ programs, and will be a major factor for keeping athletes healthy as they are getting worn down in the final minutes of the game.
Recovery and variability
Challenging athletes in the training room is important in order to create positive adaptations, however, adequate recovery should receive just as much attention. Muscles get broken down as we train them, and if we are not allowing ample time for recovery then not only may athletes get mentally burnt out and not witness the same form of performance gains, but they also can be put at an increased risk of injury. Having rest days and deload/taper weeks spread throughout athletes’ training cycles is a must in order to keep them healthy both physically and mentally. Additionally, research has shown that specialization in a single sport at a young age can increase risk for injury, so getting younger athletes invovled in multiple sports is recommended to add variability and keep them healthy.
A lot goes into keeping athletes healthy and properly preparing them for the stresses of their sport, and the factors listed above are just a few of many. However, if all of these factors are well implemented into your athletes training protocol, you are putting them at a lower risk for an ACL injury and increasing their chances of a long, healthy season.
Below you can sign up for a sample workout that highlight some of the points discussed in this post. We put a lot into this workout and l hope it can help you out as an athlete, a parent, or someone that works with athletes!
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always consult with a qualified healthcare professional before starting any exercise program, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition or injury.