If you are involved in female athletics, you are probably aware of female athletes’ significantly higher injury rates than their male counterparts. This is especially true for lower half injuries, particularly at the knee. Among the worst of these is the dreaded ACL tear. Female athletes sustain 2-8 times more ACL injuries than males, totaling tens of thousands of surgeries each year.
There are many reasons for the high injury rate. They all revolve around anatomy, biomechanics, and hormonal differences. In a nutshell:
- Females have wider hips. This inherently increases stress to the knees with movement.
- Wider hips create altered running, jumping, and deceleration mechanics. Females, in particular, need stronger muscles around the hip to support a neutral knee position in a stressful environment such as when in sport.
- Hormones. Females generally have looser ligaments that aren’t as strong as male ones. In addition, menstrual cycles increase the amount of a hormone called relaxin, which further creates laxity in ligaments. In other words, the days leading to that time of the month can increase the vulnerability to a ligament injury.
There are other reasons, but those are the big players why female athletes’ knees get hurt so much. It’s sad, but reality.
But of course, there are things we can do about it. Building strength in the right places seems to be the most effective tool we have to prevent these injuries. There are many exercises female athletes should do to prevent common knee injuries, but here are my top three.
3 Single-Leg Exercises Every Female Athlete Should Master
Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift (RDL). This is my favorite exercise of all time. It accomplishes many things in one relatively simple movement. Lumbar stability, rotary stability, hip strength and mobility, hamstring flexibility and strength, knee, ankle, and foot stability, balance, and coordination. Every athlete should possess these essential qualities for both performance and injury prevention, particularly for the knees.
Rearfoot elevated squats (RFEs). These are also commonly called Bulgarian split squats or just split squats. This is a fantastic movement to strengthen the hips and knees. It is also a healthier and overall superior way to squat over the traditional two-leg squats.
Single-Leg Hip Thrust. No exercise strengthens the glutes more than the hip thrust. Strengthening the glutes, especially on one leg, is crucial to leg stability. Optimal leg stability dramatically reduces the risk of injury.
Those are my top three. Hopefully, you noticed the similarities. They all strengthen the hips and knees and are done on one leg. Almost all movements in sport are done on one leg. We run, jump, cut, throw, punch and pull with one arm and one leg at a time. All athletes should train on one leg because it replicates their sport and creates an element that requires balance, another key to preventing injuries.
These movements require no weight and zero equipment. RDLs can be done anywhere, RFEs only need a step or something to prop the foot up, and hip thrusts can be done off the floor, but from a bench is best. These movements should be practiced until perfected with no weights at all. Once mastery of technique is reached, then you can begin adding weights. You can eventually add massive weights to these exercises. But I can’t stress enough that technique is the most critical factor. Only use weights you can handle without compensations in technique.
These three exercises won’t make you bulletproof. But I guarantee you that your knee injury chances will decrease if you learn to execute these moves correctly. In addition, your performance will also go up if you get brutally strong with these exercises while ensuring sound technique.