In 1988 Steven Svoboda played offensive guard for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. During the first play of a game against Colgate University, he felt the “pop” in his knee that all athletes dread. He tore his ACL.
Today as the team doctor for all West Point athletics, Lt. Col. Svoboda is leading research to identify factors that indicate a predisposition for ACL injuries. His goal: to one day be able to identify at-risk soldiers and athletes before they get injured, and to create custom workouts that prevent those injuries. From his experience in the field, here are Svoboda’s top tips for preventing an ACL tear.
“Some people can lift a lot of weight, but they aren’t gifted with coordination,” Dr. Svoboda says. “Staying soft on your feet, using correct form and landing with your knees bent can help you avoid many different types of injuries.” Next time you go for a run or try a plyo workout, focus on little things like launching off the balls of your feet instead of your heels and keeping your knees from bowing in during landing, so good form comes naturally during a game.
What does core strength have to do with knee injuries? More than you think. “There’s some early evidence that shows if your core muscles are weak, you’re putting your weight-bearing extremities at risk of injury,” Dr. Svoboda says. Core exercises like Planks, Squats and Leg Raises aren’t just good for improving performance; they can actually help keep you healthy and on the field.
“Any extra weight around the waist can throw off a person’s center of gravity and increase their risk of injury,” Dr. Svoboda says. Soldiers marching with a rucksack don’t have a choice about carrying around an extra 50 pounds, but athletes do. ACL injuries often happen when weight shifts too quickly, and those few extra pounds could be the difference between a minor injury and a season-ending ACL tear.