The fear of sustaining an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) sprain or tear haunts many athletes, because the damage can be career threatening and rehab can take over a year. When we think about ACL injuries, the image of Bernard Pollard rolling into the side of Tom Brady's leg may come to mind; however, fewer than half of ACL injuries are caused by collisions. Studies show that 50 to 80 percent of them are non-contact in nature, usually occurring when an athlete lands, plants or changes direction and the muscles surrounding his or her knee are unable to maintain stability in the joint (1).
Proper injury-prevention training should incorporate exercises to build strength and stability in the knee joints, while maintaining flexibility and range of motion in the hips and ankles.
Note: no training program can guarantee to prevent injuries, since too many factors are beyond your control. However, a training program that includes proper exercises should minimize the risk factors for ACL injuries.
1. Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Single-Leg Glute Bridges are an excellent way to strengthen the glutes, specifically the gluteus medius, which acts to stabilize the knee and prevent it from caving in.
Key Focus: Initiate movement by squeezing the glutes and driving the heel into the ground.
2. Rear-Foot-Elevated Split-Squat
Similar to the Single-Leg Glute Bridge, the Rear-Foot-Elevated Split-Squat forces you to maintain balance on a single foot. In addition to working the glutes, it strengthens the quads to provide stability at the knee and increase the joint's ability to absorb force.
Key Focus: Keep the front foot flat on the ground and don't allow the knee to move laterally. Be sure your stance is wide enough to maintain an upright posture.
3. Lateral Hops
Lateral Hops incorporate takeoffs and landings, which is when ACL injuries are most likely to occur in competition. It is important to teach the muscles to absorb force associated with jumping and stabilizing the knee.
Key Focus: Speed is not as important as control. Land in a single movement, without shuffling or taking steps.
4. Single-Leg Lowers
This corrective exercise is used to improve hamstring flexibility and hip mobility—two important factors in absorbing landing forces.
Key Focus: Keep core tight, don't allow lower back to arch or round and keep hips on the ground.
For more information on the ACL please see the STACK ACL Guide.
1. Serpell, Benjamin G., Jennie M. Scarvell, Nick B. Ball, and Paul N. Smith, comps. "Mechanisms and Risk Factors for Non-contact ACL Injury in Age Mature Athletes Who Engage in Field or Court Sports: A Summary of Literature since 1980." Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2011): Web.
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