For any high school athlete, the most difficult situation to remedy is the return to competition following a major knee injury. In this issue, even though we’ll be focusing in on some of the challenges facing female athletes, the guys should note that these same devastating, and in many cases preventable, injuries are also on the rise for men.
Lost practice and play time, coupled with the injury, may produce the gap that denies you the ability to receive a collegiate scholarship and move to the next level.
Over 70% of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries result from non-contact mechanisms (i.e., jumping, cutting, running) which create a rapid knee imbalance leading to ligament tears. Serious knee injuries occur at a frequency 2-10 times higher in female athletes compared to male athletes. These injuries increase in likelihood with increasing competitiveness, meaning 1 out of every 100 high school female athletes will suffer a major knee injury, compared to 1 out of 10 in college athletics.
There are many factors related to the increased risk of ACL injuries in female athletes compared to their male counterparts. There are obvious physical differences in the structure of the pelvis which leads to greater stresses at the knee. The hormone, estrogen, has been suggested to cause weakness in the connective tissue.
Finally, there is a significant difference in the mechanics of strenuous exercise between men and women, which leads to the fact that women are more likely to use the quadriceps (upper front of the leg) musculature as a braking mechanism during high velocity and power exercise (such as the vertical jump landing) compared to male athletes using the hamstring (back of the upper leg) and gastrocnemius or calf muscle groups to perform the braking mechanism.
These mechanical and chemical differences, combined with the fact that women generally have greater anterior knee laxity and significantly lower relative strength levels than their male counterparts, is believed to be the major cause for the increased incidence of ACL injury in female athletes.
How does proper training help correct these problems? Research has indicated that female athletes who engage in a training program that follows a systematic and planned approach to teaching better movement mechanics for sprinting and changing direction, coupled with appropriate jump training and moderate strength training, can reduce their rate of injury equal to that of their male counterparts. This would equal an over 400% drop in the likelihood of suffering knee injuries.
Research also reflects that athletes who work solely under the premise of getting stronger by following programs that preach a weight training priority approach do not benefit as much in terms of injury reduction or speed and explosive performance enhancement. Your body will adapt to the demands you place on it; if you train to be fast, agile and explosive, you become fast, agile and explosive. You will also be much healthier for sports participation.
When preparing for sports participation, ask yourself what the priorities of your sport are, and how your program matches these priorities. If your goal is to become healthier, faster and more explosive, how does your program accomplish this goal? If you want to train to move better, can the program and training facility provide you a safe environment to train? Remember: the will to win is nothing compared to the will to prepare to win. See you next issue.
Joe Marsit has trained a variety of professional and college athletes, as well as Olympians, and for the past 2 years, has worked with high school state champion teams in a variety of sports. He is the director of Athlete Performance at Velocity Sports Performance in Scottsdale.