Female Athletes and ACL Tears - Exercise Considerations

John Barban

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Female and male athletes have all of the same demands placed on them when it comes to their competitive sports. They all must perform at a high level which usually requires, speed, strength, and agility. As a varsity strength and conditioning coach for a women’s ice hockey team my goal is to improve our teams performance in all of these areas. The principles I use to train our girls are the same basic principles I use with guys. After all athletes are athletes whether they are men or women. Now with that said there are a few considerations to be made for women that we do not have to account for with men.

First of all women have a higher prevalence of tearing their Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in their knees. The most common way a girl tears her ACL is from jump landing. This is much different than men who typically tear an ACL from a direct hit to the knee. The angle from a woman’s hip to knee is greater than on a man and changes the way they typically land. This difference in leg angle is the major reason for the high amount of ACL tears in female athletes compared to males.

In order to keep the ACL healthy girls should incorporate proper landing technique drills that emphasize strong safe landing position. On top of that, female athletes should be incorporating exercises that strengthen the muscles of the hip and butt that keep their legs and knees in a strong landing position. Good exercises to include would be lunges, reverse lunges, side lunges, sumo squatting, wide stance squatting, sumo deadlifting, and lateral leg raises. Another issue that is getting attention from the research community is the laxity of female ligaments related to the menstrual cycle.

Research has shown that the ligaments can become more lax in the ovulatory and post ovulatory phases of the menstrual cycle. Although there are some research papers that are not conclusive in support of this, there are definitely research papers that support this theory. It is also possible for a team of girls to have synchronized cycles from spending a great deal of time together. This could theoretically create a regular time interval when the whole team is more susceptible to ACL tears. If a team trainer wanted to take extra precautions, they could back off of the high intensity workouts during this phase of the team’s cycle and focus on lower impact workouts. This however obviously will only work during the off season, as you could not schedule regular season games around every teams cycle phases.

With a growing amount of research and information on women in sports we are now able to create better workout programs that suit the specific needs of women compared to men. Female athletes are just the same as male athletes and need to be able to perform all the same skills. A few minor adjustments to their workout programs will ensure that women will get all the benefits they need as athletes. This will also give them the extra strength and protection they need to keep their rate of ACL injuries down and, keep them on the playing field.

John Barban is a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a varsity strength and conditioning coach as well as a successful entrepreneur. John has trained with world class level powerlifting teams and athletes at the professional level. Most recently he has specialized in training female varsity athletes, specifically women's ice hockey players. John has his masters in nutritional science and human physiology from the University of Guelph, and further graduate work at the University of Florida where he taught principles of strength training and conditioning in the department of health and human performance. John also has extensive experience developing and formulating nutritional sports supplements, and has worked for some of largest nutritional supplement companies in the world. John is the author of a new workout book for women only called The 6 Minute Circuits Workout, http://www.6minutecircuits.com John is also the performance training advisor to http://www.grrlathlete.com and writes for http://www.womensworkout.blogspot.com


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