It takes time to build speed and fitness for soccer. When players get injured, time does not stop. Too often, performance gains diminish, leaving athletes stressed and frustrated. Injuries are a part of the game.
Over 65 percent of soccer injuries involve the lower body. Soccer players are uniquely susceptible to muscle and ligament injuries due to the quick changes in direction and the rapid accelerations and decelerations involved.
Soccer ACL injuries are too common, especially in female players, who have the third-highest ACL injury rates in NCAA sports behind men's spring football and women's gymnastics. For both male and female athletes, ACL injuries account for the longest time lost from any injury (up to 159 days out of play.)
The good news is that risk of ACL injuries in both male and female soccer players can be reduced. Soccer players need to be fast, fit and functional to perform at their best. Spending time developing these qualities correctly will decrease the likelihood of a soccer ACL injury.
It is not hard to convince soccer players they need to be faster. Speed wins games. Most ACL injuries are non-contact, meaning they result from poor joint position and movement patterns. Improving speed and moving better will not only help you get faster but also stay healthy.
Specifically, you want to focus on applying the force in the proper direction and moving your body through an optimal range of motion. Applying force in the proper direction keeps your joints in line and takes stress off of structures—like the ACL—that are not designed to bear those loads.
For soccer players, mobility is something usually related to recovery and preventing soreness after games and practice. To produce big force and get faster, you have to be able to move through optimal ranges of motion, specifically in the hips, torso and ankles. While these may seem unrelated to ACL injuries, if a joint above or below the knee does not have the range of motion to meet the demands of a given movement in play, the body has to make up for that range somewhere else.
The knee is not meant to be mobile—its focus is stability and integrity. Make sure your torso, hip and ankles are mobile enough to make up the difference so you stay on the field.
The ability to perform for 90 minutes is no small feat, and that's a challenge even if you are 100-percent healthy. Being fit is about more than just staying fast throughout the whole game. Injury is more likely to occur when you are fatigued. During games, more injuries occur in the second half (51.2 percent) versus the first half (32.9 percent) of play.
Especially going into the season, soccer players can struggle as training increases and this can lead to injury. Staying fit after the season ends will help manage fatigue once training picks up again.
Building strength does not have to mean going into the weight room and getting big. Soccer players do not need that. Soccer players need to develop strength that is functional for their movement on the field and to protect them from injury. Being able to activate the right muscles and prevent imbalances is key to players performing well and staying healthy.
ACL injuries are most likely to occur under two circumstances:
- Athletes are not able to activate the anterior and posterior muscles in the right ratio leading to greater stress on the knee.
- Athletes are weaker on one side of the body than the other which creates risk for the weaker side.
Soccer players should develop the posterior chain (focus on the glutes /hamstrings) and make sure their strength program includes single-leg work. Movement in soccer does not always happen on two feet. To prevent injury, soccer players need to train to prevent imbalances from side to side and anterior to posterior.
Want to Prevent ACL Injury?
Training for performance and injury prevention should go hand in hand. You can start with the exercises and tips described in the videos above to help you stay healthy and be fast, fit and functional.
RELATED: 4 Exercises to Prevent ACL Injuries
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