Knee injuries are not always caused by faults within the joint. They are often caused by weakness in the ankle and hip, which cause instability and place excessive stress on the knee ligaments.
To prevent knee injuries, young athletes—especially females—must learn to control their bodies when landing from a jump and decelerating from a sprint. It's important to maintain strong and stable knees that stay in line with the hips and ankles. If a knee tracks inward, excessive stress may cause an ACL injury.
During your speed and plyometric training, think about the movements you are doing. Pay close attention to position of your knees and do what you can to maintain proper alignment. If you see a knee collapse inward, perform the drill or exercise again at a slower pace or with lighter weight until you master the proper biomechanics.
If you still have trouble maintaining proper knee alignment, you probably have weak gluteus medius muscles. These muscles are responsible for abducting your hips (i.e., moving your leg to the side away from your body). Whether you have weak glutes or not, it's a good idea to regularly activate and strengthen them.
Perform one of these exercises during your dynamic warm-up prior to each workout. Do 2x12 of each exercise.
Side-Lying Hip Abduction
- Lie on your side with your legs straight and one hand supporting your head
- Lift your top ankle vertically while maintaining a straight knee
- Squeeze and hold for a one count
- Lower slowly and repeat on other side
Lateral Band Walks
- Place a resistance band around the ball of each foot
- Stand in a half-squat position with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart; the band should be taut but not stretched
- Keep your feet in line with your shoulders and distribute your weight evenly between your feet
- Maintaining half-squat position, step laterally (sideways) with small steps; do not drag your feet
- If you are having trouble keeping your hips level during the movement, reduce the tension on the band or move the band to just above your ankles
- Try not to bounce up and down or sway side to side
Single-Leg Hip Hinges
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your toes pointed forward or slightly out
- Shift your weight onto the heel of one leg, push your hips back and extend your opposite leg without bending your knee
- Bend forward at the hips until your torso is midway between vertical and parallel to the floor
- Keep a slight bend in the knee of your grounded leg throughout the movement
- Contract your glute and push your hips forward to slowly return to start position
Also, it's important to strengthen your ankles and feet to improve stability. Since they are the main contact point with the ground, any instability is directly translated to the knee.
Learn more about preventing knee injury:
- How to Prevent Jumper's Knee
- 5 Tips to Avoid Knee Pain
- 5 Simple Knee Injury Prevention Exercises
- ACL 101: Get a Leg Up on the Nastiest Knee Injury
Watch this video from SMARTER Team Training for more info on landing mechanic considerations.
Editor's Note: Coach Taylor has developed the SMARTER Team Training Audio Interview Series, dedicated to promoting critical thinking, reason and public understanding of prudent, purposeful and productive strength and conditioning practices for clients and athletes. Listen to episodes featuring some of the best experts in the fields of strength and conditioning, personal training, sports nutrition and sport psychology here.
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