Warm-Up Tips to Prevent ACL Injuries

Warm up tricks to prevent leg and knee injuries.

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I am often asked to educate schools and clubs about injury prevention and tips to train athletes to avoid anterior cruciate ligament ruptures. There are various ACL injury prevention programs which also tend to prevent overall leg injuries as well. In reviewing the tried and true injury prevention warm-ups, I have come up with some key features that they agree upon:

  1. Include plyometrics, agility drills, functional balance and core strengthening. I remember warming-up in lacrosse and running for a bit, stretching some and doing some throwing. You can take that same amount of time and make some simple changes to help with injury prevention. I usually reference the PEP Program, A few simple things-
    • Instead of running straight-forward around the field: run straight-forward down one length, side shuffle down the second length, backwards the next and then side shuffle the opposite way down the last length.
    • Do some quick strengthening by incorporating walking lunges (make sure you direct your knees to not go past your toes—so the momentum should mostly go down and up rather than forward and back) and single leg raises to strengthen your calf muscles.
    • Add some plyometrics by using either cones or the lines on the field. Do each exercise for 30 seconds: *jump forward and backward with two feet, *jump side to side with two feet, *jump side to side with the right foot and then *jump side to side with the left foot.
    • Practice running 30 yards where you sprint 10 yards then stop abruptly, sprint the next 10 yards and stop abruptly and finish with sprinting the last 10 yards and stop abruptly. Do bounding running which is more for form than speed. Run purposefully while bringing your knee to your chest, almost jumping to the next foot.
  2. Focus specifically on stretching the large muscles of your legs. Key stretches include mountain climber stretch for the calf muscles, Figure Four hamstring stretch where you sit down, bend one leg and straighten the other and stretch the hamstring, Butterfly stretch to stretch the adductors, and Hip Flexor Stretch: lunge forward leading with your right leg, drop your left knee down to the ground, lean forward with your hips. Another great stretch that I learned in crossfit as well as with US Lacrosse was the World’s Greatest Stretch. Here is a nice demonstration of it.

READ MORE: Five Common Running Injuries To Avoid

  1. Incorporate the program 3 times per week for 10 minutes each session. It is important to have the warm up repeated multiple times throughout the week so the muscles do not forget what they are taught. If you are on a team, the captains can start running the warm-ups on their own. I usually try to spend extra time educating and demonstrating the aspects t the captains.
  2. Start as an aspect in preseason training to allow nerves and muscles time to adapt. Just as you would do preseason strength and conditioning, this would be of the same mind-set.
  3. Identify at-risk players who may need more intensive strength and conditioning training. Prior to demonstrating the warm-up program, I watch the athletes do a box drop test. Stand on a 31 cm box with feet 35 cm apart and drop down off the box and immediately go into a maximum vertical jump raising both arms and landing on both legs. Concerns would be: knock-kneed position, uneven jumping off one leg, limited flexion of the hips and knees and pronating the feet. There are certainly other small details to review, but those are some basics.

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Published by karenmsutton

HSS Orthopaedic surgeon in sports medicine | Mother of 4 amazing children | Team physician for USA Women's Lacrosse | ACL injury expert

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