B.A.S.E. Sports Conditioning – Articles 15

Put some PEP in your step!

ACL warm-ups done right.

by Mike Mejia, CSCS

What if I told you that there was a relatively simple way to make your athletes 64% faster? You’d probably drop whatever you were doing to learn more, right? Or, how about if I said that I could help them get 64% stronger, or be able jump 64% higher and that it would only take as few as two, 15-20 minute training sessions per week? You’d probably sign-up right on the spot!

Then why is it that specific warm-up protocols- the likes of which have been proven to reduce the incidence of ACL injuries in female athletes by as much as 64%- go virtually ignored?

Okay, maybe that last part was a little strong. I’m sure that plenty of athletes and coaches have at least heard of warm-up protocols like PEP (Prevent Injury, Enhance Performance). I assure you, however, that these types of warm-ups are definitely not standard operating procedure in most of youth sports programs, and that’s too bad…because they absolutely should be!

In case you’re not familiar, ACL stands for the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee- a ligament that when torn, requires a minimum of 6 to 12 months of rigorous physical rehabilitation to return to play. It’s an injury that is occurring with increasing frequency; especially among female athletes, who are anywhere from 2 to 8 times more likely to suffer an ACL injury than their male counterparts.

Here are some more troubling statistics to consider: a recent article in the New York Times reported that between 1999 and 2010 there was a 400% surge in the frequency of ACL tears, with much of that increase occurring between 2005 and 2010.  And according to the Centers for Disease Control over 46,000 females age 19 and under suffered an ACL sprain, or strain in 2006 alone!

Scary numbers indeed. They’re made even more frightening, though, when you consider that an estimated 75% of these injuries are of the”non-contact” variety. That means that up to three-quarters of girls are suffering this injury when landing from a jump, or trying to decelerate and then quickly change direction.

It’s not as if they’re getting hit by another player when their foot is already planted- forcing the knee to violently twist. This kind of injury happens from time to time and is just an unfortunate part of competitive sports participation. Its the one’s that are directly attributable to failing to warm up properly and staying well conditioned, that we need to get a better handle on.

The most disturbing part of all of this, however, is that many players and coaches know these warm-ups are out there and available to them…and simply choose not to do them. Mind-boggling, yes, but true! I can’t tell you how many coaches I’ve spoken to about this subject who freely admit that they’re not willing to allot the necessary time to making these warm-ups a part of their practice sessions a couple of times per week!

Part of me simply cannot fathom this. I mean, how can you opt not to incorporate a warm-up protocol that’s been shown to produce such impressive results? Are coaches really callus enough to believe that their precious practice time and what they “need to get done” from a game-planning standpoint takes precedence over the health and well being of their players?

Or, perhaps they’re just silently acknowledging the dirty little secret that surrounds these types of warm-ups- that if they’re not done with proper form they can actually increase injury risk! Sounds crazy, I know! An injury prevention protocol that carries with it the potential to hurt kids?!?!? Its only when you look a bit deeper that it starts to make sense.

When you take programs such as these at face value, you see that they contain lots of great drills that are proven to stretch and strengthen all of the appropriate areas. They focus on promoting proper alignment, follow a sequential method for increasing joint range of motion, body temperature and blood flow and even incorporate more specialized drills designed to ingrain good landing mechanics and better directional changes.

To a strength coach like myself, these types of drills are second nature. To athletes and coaches however, many of whom have not done the same type of in depth study of human movement, proper execution of these drills can often present quite a challenge. Even in the video below, you’ll notice that some girls don’t do the drills anywhere near as well as others…and they knew they were being filmed! What do you think happens if you try and run through this warm-up with a bunch of somewhat disinterested 15 year olds and a coach who has little idea as to the correct execution of the stretches and strengthening exercises? I’ll give you a hint, it won’t be good!

Doing a rotational lunge walk, for instance, to dynamically stretch the hips is a great idea; allowing the front knee to wander all over the place- instead of staying in line with the ankle and hip as the torso rotates- not so much! The same holds true for allowing the knees to pinch inwards towards each other and the insteps to “cave in” when landing during plyometric exercises? Not exactly what I’d call a recipe for increasing joint stability!  

So what’s the answer here? In truth, there is no simple solution. We’ve got a time consuming, yet thoroughly effective warm-up protocol that can be somewhat difficult to execute. Add into the mix coaches who may be unfamiliar with the proper form of some of the drills and therefore, understandably reluctant to teach it. Then of course you’ve got the kids; many of whom could care less about getting their bodies properly warmed up and just want to play!  

In the end, it really comes to down to a matter of continuing to promote awareness and education. Coaches and parents alike, need to become more familiar with just how prevalent ACL injuries have become and what a devastating affect they can have on a young athlete’s playing career.

Players too, regardless of their age, need to understand that they’re growing up in a far more competitive and intense sporting environment than you and I ever had to endure. As such, if they want to continue playing the sports they love, they’re going to have to devote at least some time to keeping their bodies properly conditioned.

Take a look at the video below and start familiarizing yourself with some of the drills that it contains. Maybe the answer is to begin by sprinkling in just a couple of stretches and exercises at a time, so that your athletes can slowly get acclimated to the program. Then it’s just a matter of adding onto it as they become more proficient at the drills and you become more comfortable coaching them. As I think you’ll see, this isn’t the type of warm-up you can just show them once and expect them to do it on their own.

Sure, it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to make warm-ups of this type a regular part of your program, but since when do athletes shy away from those two things? Besides, when up to three quarters of these injuries are of the “preventable” variety, can you really afford not to?

You may also like...