The Need to Enhance Training to Prevent Major Injuries
By: Gary Vesper
This article was inspired by the book, Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports.
My goal in writing is to provide cutting edge information and a perspective that can benefit people. After having six knee surgeries, four of them ACL surgeries, from the ages of 17-24 this is more than just a job but a calling for me. Therefore, I cannot write to regurgitate blanket statements or clichés but to truly challenge the status quo so we can work together as coaches and parents to live healthier lives and produce superior athletes.
As a new father I look at Sierra and I think of all the ways she is going to kick-butt as she gets older. When the time comes I can’t wait to watch her run, jump, and play while being a kid and having a lot of fun doing it. Having coached hundreds of female athletes it is very exciting watching sports that one day my daughter might participate in.
We all see how much female sports have grown over the years and it is amazing to watch our daughters compete just as hard as any of the boys. With that being said, this article is dedicated to the female athlete and the parents and coaches of them in hopes that we can come together as a team to prevent major injuries.
Here’s what we know:
- There are up to 200,000 ACL injuries every year in America
- Females are anywhere from 4 – 10 x more likely to tear their ACL than males
- ACL recovery takes anywhere from 6-12 months
To simplify; ACLs happen a lot and they are more likely to happen to females and if they do happen that is an entire year gone for that athlete.
This article isn’t to dive into why this is happening. I am here to make the case for empowerment, education, and a more proactive and scientific approach to athletic preparation for the female athlete.
The number one reason why female athletes get hurt is that they have never been taught how to properly strength train and the benefits of true strength training for sports. If this were to change the number of injuries would go down. I don’t care about any fancy research studies or laboratory experiments. The bottom line is that strength training the right way matters… and too many young female athletes don’t believe it.
This is because the cultural norm is to talk about speed and agility training. While, this aspect of training is important and 100% has a place in our program at Driven, solely it doesn’t do the athlete justice. Speed and Agility is the buzzword and it is what athletes are used to. The norm is to become exhausted during their training so parents think that when they see exhaustion that the athlete has gotten better. I am here to say that that is not entirely accurate.
The Truth About Speed Training:
This can be an entirely different article in and of itself but the truth is that the quickest way for a female athlete to get faster is for her to get stronger. By becoming stronger she puts more force into the ground. The more force into the ground the better her ability to propel forward. The better she can propel herself forward the faster she will be.
In addition, movement speed training is a delicate process because we are enhancing neuromuscular efficiency. Neuromuscular efficiency is the connection between how our nervous system and muscles fire together to produce more force. The greater the connection, the more force can be applied to sprinting. To enhance this connection and ultimately become a faster person you must push yourself to your outer limits and then give yourself ample time to recover so that you can repeat the process. Recovery time needs to be over three minutes. In order to optimize this strategy reps should only be between 6 – 10 of all out SPEED work, not 45 minutes of continuous running at your tired fastest. These are not the same thing.
Agility training is our ability to coordinate our feet and hips to move in and around an area. It is a skill set, not a random collection of movements. When you teach an athlete how to change direction using ANGLES and not just a varied assortment of cones than you are giving them the freedom and ability to move however the game dictates.
In order for both speed and agility to be maximized an athlete first needs to have the strength to handle momentum, change of direction forces, and then rapidly weight shift their body into proper positions and direction.
The misconception is that all strength training in the weight room is created equal. At Driven we have personally spoken to hundreds of parents and athletes and dozens of high school and middle school coaches. When I hear about what the athletes are doing on their own I know that I need to do more to educate our area on just how impactful a proper strength program can be.
When a parent tells me what their athlete does lifting weights on their own the first question I ask is, “if your daughter was a professional athlete would you be okay with them doing that?”
I ask that question not because we think they are going Professional in sports. Instead, just because they are NOT going pro doesn’t mean we should lower our standards of physical preparation. Injuries happen to high school athletes just like they happen to Pro athletes.
Female athletes have incredible potential to get really strong and to create strength that matters. We first need to change our perception that using old school machines, improper form, inconsistent training programs, going to lift weights “when I feel like it,” are all okay answers.
Instead, empower female athletes to train hard and train smart. Strength training is the best allocation of time and energy because of the trickle down that it plays in all other facets of athletic performance.
When a female athlete gets really strong training through full ranges of motion she becomes much more stable throughout all of her joints. This gives her a greater ability to stop on a dime, change direction, land, and explode. This stability is also critical when she is playing against an opponent. For example, soccer is an extremely physical game so when a strong athlete goes up against one who hasn’t been training the stronger player is better able to knock her off the ball or change her course direction.
The challenge right now is that athletes and parents do not know what current strength training for sport-performance looks like and then how to use that strength to apply to her speed, agility, conditioning and power training.
Let’s use a Driven Female Athlete as a case study and lets say that she trained for six months leading up to her soccer season. By the time her soccer tryouts begin she will be a different athlete. Here’s how:
- She will have excellent form on the elevated split squats, single leg squats, single leg RDL, squats, deadlifts, anterior, lateral, and rotational core progressions, rowing and chin-up progressions, push-ups and bench press progressions; all powerful exercises to get great results.
- She will be completely competent in training through full ranges of motion
- She will have dramatically increased her full body strength, especially with hip dominant and single leg exercises
- She is a beast at pushing and pulling the sled
- Her hamstrings and glutes are synchronized and strong
- She can land precisely on single and double legs from multiple starting points, directions, and patterns
- She can apply force during her sprinting and change of direction
- She knows how to change direction from linear, lateral, rotational and crossover positions
- She has tremendous appreciation for mobility, stability and soft tissue warm-up strategies and now uses these techniques wherever she plays
- She appreciates that food is an essential component of the recovery process AND the training process
- She is more mentally resilient, strong, and engaged with her athletic goals and potential than ever before
As a result, this female athlete will be faster, more powerful, more agile and more aggressive than her competition while playing as a safer structure. This is the preparation that is possible and that our female athletes should experience as they continue to push their athletic capabilities. Unfortunately, ACL injuries (along with so many others) are not slowing down. It is time for all of us to come together to put our female athletes in the best position possible to be successful. When we do that, we can live with whatever happens next.
To learn more about our training programs and how we can help change your daughters’ life please email or give us a call.
All the Best,
Gary Vesper, XPS, FMS, Pn1, CSAC
Founder & Head Coach