Female Athletes: How to reduce your risk of an ACL Injury!

Female Athletes: How to reduce your risk of an ACL Injury!

Emily R Pappas, M.S.


Preventing ACL Injuries?

While it is impossible to fully prevent an injury, you CAN reduce your risk through strength training. Not only does it get you physically strong, but it also helps improve the communication between your brain and your muscles!

In our previous article, we discussed WHY ACL Injuries are more common in female athletes.  The biggest take away from the article is that female athletes need to strength train, especially with hinge, squat, and lunge movements. Developing these movement patterns help get you not just STRONGER, but they help improve your neuromuscular coordination.

Strength Training & Neuromuscular Coordination

Neuromuscular-what? Think of it as how the brain tells your body what to move.    As you learn movements and progressively strengthen them with more load, your brain gets better at telling MORE muscle fibers to fire at the same time. This means stronger muscles that are better coordinated at getting your body to move in a way that presents less load to your joints.

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What’s Really Going On?

To perform movements, your brain tells your stronger muscles to fire FIRST.  Unlike male athletes who have more balance between their quadricep and hamstring strength , the average female athlete has stronger quadriceps.  This means the female is more likely to fire her quads FIRST in movements like decelerations where ACL injuries are common. When the quadriceps fire first to get your lower body to slow down, the movement that results puts high amounts of stress on your ACL.  When this stress is TOO MUCH for the surrounding muscles and tendon to handle, injury occurs.

Reduce your chance of Injury 

What can you do about it? While stronger muscles are more likely to absorb high forces (like ground reaction forces in sprinting and stopping), better coordinated muscles are able to prevent movements that improperly load your joints.

Strengthening your lower body as a whole improves your chances of being able to absorb the high ground reaction forces present in decelerations.

Developing better coordination helps increase the chance you replicate those movements in the uncontrolled environment of your sport.  Developing the muscular coordination for correct movements takes conscious effort.  Just completing more reps won’t work.  You must complete those reps with conscious intention!

First learn the movement, then strengthen it!  If you can’t perform a body weight squat without tipping over, there is no benefit of putting a bar on your back and banging out sets of 10.

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Think of it this way, you must crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. Any kind of resistance training will result in stronger muscles, but if you want to reduce your chance of an ACL injury, you must train your muscles to work well together.