I just finished presenting at our our second ACL Symposium of the year at the Athletic Performance Center last Saturday. Rehabbing and training female athletes has been a passion of mine for some time. Over the years, I have also developed a love for research and reading it, particularly studies on the ACL.
In my practice, I have incorporated jump landing, single leg training and deceleration based training for some time. While we all know females are 3-8 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than males, we have not isolated the exact reason why. Researchers have offered some clues such as: wider pelvis, narrow femoral notch, smaller ACL, ligament dominance, limb dominance, natural laxity (hormonal factors), wider Q angles, and faulty muscle firing patterns to name a few.
Many of the structural factors are beyond our control. So, as practitioners, we must focus on the training. Consider the following study just published in the August 2011 edition of the American Journal of Sports Medicine that basically reveals females develop peak valgus moments during deceleration during a drop landing maneuver, whereas males develop peak valgus forces during acceleration on the way back up:
This article adds more evidence that females recruit and fire their muscles very differently than males. More importantly, it reiterates that we as coaches, therapists and S & C professionals need to be working on deceleration mechanics. I believe this starts with simple soft two legged drills such as:
In addition, one of my favorite drills is a single leg forward leap (hop) and stick working on deceleration. The athlete stands on the right leg and then pushes off forward landing on the left leg. Coaching the athlete to land softly on a bent hip and knee while avoiding valgus is important. I usually perform 2-3 sets of 5 reps on each side. Cueing with a mirror, auditory corrections and tactile cues are useful in encouraging proper form.
It is important to keep in mind that the majority of non-contact ACL tears occur between 0 and 30 degrees of knee flexion. They also typically involve deceleration (landing, jump stop or change of direction), planting or cutting. For this reason, deceleration training must also involve programming for agility and change of direction.
On Saturday, I led the break-out session on deceleration training and covered a few key exercises I use with my athletes. These drills are layered on one another and the basic ones I begin with are:
These exercises are a small sampling of my ACL prehab/rehab routine. I also include an enormous amount of single leg PRE’s and balance training as well. I believe the most important things we can currently do to reduce ACL risk in this population are:
For now, the battle rages on. I hope you will join me in the quest to prevent these catastrophic injuries. I think as research evolves we will continue to see that the answer to promoting optimal stability at the knee will increasingly have more to do with addressing the hip and ankle. For now, we need to teach soft bent knee landing/cutting that shifts the body’s center of mass forward, while eliminating valgus loading as much as possible in the danger zone.
In this final post, I will show two simple yet very effective reactive drills I use with one of my clients training for Saber fencing for the 2012 Olympic games. In terms of reactive agility training, you can utilize audio, visual or even kinesthetic cues.
As it was difficult to video myself and the client, I chose to use audio cues for this post so you could see the drills. I also use visual cues to train her with these same reactive movements. In this drill, the focus is precise quick footwork in a linear pattern. I have also added in some left and right linear movements as the athlete does lunge or attack off center in certain instances during a match.
In many cases, success in fencing is defined by inches. The ability to anticipate the opponent’s movements and react faster is crucial. We use several of these drills to work on her footwork in space. Keep in mind that the progression from simple planned agility drills to more complex reactive agility training yields optimal results.
With that said, strive for repetition and mastery fo the most crucial movement patterns/skills and avoid temptation to get too creative. Use drills that train precise movements in applicable spaces for appropriate time intervals. Focusing on this mix will elevate performance and get those inches you need in sport.
In the first two posts on this topic I have shown you predictive agility drills. These are great for the beginning phases of training and early pre-season conditioning. Once athletes understand how to move properly, it is time to turn your attention to reactive agility as this more appropriately mirrors sport.
There are countless games and drills you can use with your athletes. I have certain “go to” drills if you will but am always looking for new ones or more importantly the best ones for each athlete or group of athletes I am working with.
Today I included some video taken from a field hockey speed clinic I held last month. A primary goal was to show the team a bevy of drills they could use to improve speed, agility and quickness. Another important goal was to make the hard work seem FUN.
You see I was an athlete not so long ago and I know athletes really don’t get very excited about conditioning because that usually involves running, sweat and fatigue, right? So, anytime you can introduce games and competition to get maximal effort from your players or clients, it becomes a win-win for all involved.
In the video clip today, you will see a friendly game of partner tag. Is this ingenious? Absolutely not. But, I strategically placed cones in a circle and then asked about 12 players to move within the circle trying not to get caught. Group one worked for 30 seconds while group two rested and then we switched.
So, the pairs designated an initial “it” person and when the whistle blew the offensive player tried to evade while the defense pursued. This timed drill accomplishes all of the following great things:
· Unpredictable movement
· Variable speed
· Variable cutting cutting angles
· Acceleration and deceleration
· Multiple bodies in the same space (very game like)
· Great anaerobic conditioning
Some may say there is a greater risk of injury by confining the athletes. I simply respond by saying the playing field has boundaries and in sport there will be collision at times as well as the very real need to maneuver tightly and quickly around people to avoid collisions and score. By the way, not one person collided in our drill. Safety or the lack thereof with tag comes down to preparation and proper instruction prior to starting.
Leading up to partner tag, I always initiate more basic partner mirror drills for linear FW/BW running, shuffles and combinations in a 4 cone pattern (smaller area with only two at a time). These simpler condensed drills lay the foundation for an all out reactive game of tag.
The take home message is that reactive agility must be a progressive part of your field or court training to help refine proper movement patterns, reduce injury risk and maximize athletic performance. In my final post, I will reveal an even more specific reactive agility drill with an Olympic level fencer I am training for the 2012 games.
I continue in this post with another drill from our lacrosse clinic. You may notice in these drills that the athletes know exactly where they are going throughout. We start with predictive agility drills in our training with the aim of teaching them how to move correctly and repeat the drill in a controlled manner.
As athletes progress, we will move to more reactive agility where they respond to cues or changes in their environment. I will reveal some of these drills in the upcoming posts.
In the pole run and spin drill in today’s video we ask the athlete to focus on the following:
We end the drill with a linear acceleration. The athletes enjoy using the lacrosse sticks while they do this and often I will have them compete for time to get their best efforts as well. A couple of key points to consider when coaching them are:
In the next post I will begin to reveal some of my favorite outdoor field drills in a team setting.
In many of my recent posts, I have focused on injuries and recovery. I am going to start a new series today on improving speed and agility. You see, even though I consult with hundreds of clients every year on injuries, I also train many athletes for peak performance who are well athletes seeking to maximize performance and stay injury free.
While I will be the first to admit I may not be the most innovavtive coach out there when it comes to unique drills, I do get great results and have very few of my athletes get hurt. I believe this stems from a sound understanding of biomechanics/kinesiology as well as understanding how force application affects the body. It is the application of exercise that makes a great coach “great.”
Getting it “just right” takes an exact formula and this is not a universal formula for athletes, even if they play the same sport. With that said, they are fundamantal issues I see athletes tend to struggle with or need improvement on such as:
To address these issues, we use certain drills in our speed camps, clinics and athlete performance training. I thought I would spend the next few blog posts showing you some of the very drills we use to improve performance, reduce or eliminate the weaknesses mentioned above and of course dramatically reduce injury risk.
Repetition is key as we want to fine tune the motor patterns and give the athletes the proper patterns to feed forward in practices and games. This can only really be accomplished through proper instruction, proper selection of drills and reinforcement of proper form with lots of repetition.
In today’s video, I included a 2 cone figure 8 drill that we used in a 2 hour lacrosse clinic. It is a realtively simple drill, yet so many athletes struggle to decelerate efficiently, round the cone tightly and then move toward the next cone. Making large turns reduces speed and often decides who wins on the field. Learning to stay low and turn properly improves quickness and reduces knee injury risk.
This drill is usually done for 15-30 seconds (2-3 sets) to work on conditioning but allow for enough time to get the repetitions desired. Start with the cones no more than 10 yards apart and as the skill level and form dictates, move the cones closer to increase the difficulty of the drill. Be aware that the demand is higher with a shorter distance and you should judge distance based on the athlete’s ability to do the drill properly.
Stay tuned as I will share more videos of drills I use in the coming days and weeks to make you or the athletes you train more effectively.