My 3 Favorite Exercises for Preventing ACL Injuries
ACL injuries are devastating, and the best remedy for them is to try to prevent them in the first place. In a recent blog post, coach Mike Lefebvre listed 4 things to help prevent ACL tears and laid out a few concepts that we like to train in order to prevent ACL injuries. When we train these concepts, most exercises fit into more than one of the concepts that he mentioned. Below are a few examples of my favorites.
Single Leg Landmine RDL
Why I like it:
The landmine RDL hits just about every concept that we want to in ACL injury prevention. We’re working on strengthening the hamstrings which actually help the ACL do its job, as well as the glutes which help to improve the lateral stability of the hip and in turn the knee. We’re also attacking single leg balance, but because the other end of the landmine is on the ground it actually helps give us some feedback and makes the balance a little easier than it would be if we were using something like a dumbbell or kettlebell. There is also a good amount of core strength training in that you have to try to prevent your hips from rotating as you perform the movement. I find this to be a great exercise for all levels to get the most bang for your buck.
How to do it:
If you don’t have an actual landmine attachment you can just place the end of a bar up against an object on the floor or in a corner so that it won’t move. Add the appropriate amount of weight to the end of the bar that you’re going to be holding. Stand at the end of the bar with it running perpendicular to your body. Pick the bar up with the hand that’s closest to the bar. Stand on the leg that’s furthest from the bar. Locking your non-stance leg in a straight line and keeping it in rhythm with your upper body, slowly begin to lower your upper body and raise your leg. Keep the bar as close to your leg as possible and once the end of the bar is at knee height, explode back up to standing position. Throughout this movement your body should resemble a see-saw as it moves up and down over the stance leg.
- Don’t let your back round, keep your chest out.
- Keep your upper body and back leg moving at the same pace.
- Avoid letting your hips roll “open” toward the bar, turn them into the stance leg.
Single Leg Squat to Knee
Why I like it:
The single leg squat is one of the most functional exercises that comes to mind. In the world of sports, you’re rarely on two feet, and you always need to be able to produce force to extend the knees and hips. The single leg squat also allows you to load your legs to a great degree while putting minimal stress on your back in comparison to a barbell squat. This variation also creates a split stance similar to a running stride, works the hamstring of the non-weight bearing leg, and allows you an easy assist if you haven’t developed the strength to perform the exercise through a full range of motion. There’s also a challenging balance and control element to this one.
How to do it:
Standing on one leg, simply squat down until the knee of your off leg touches the ground. To do this without your foot hitting the ground, you’ll need to keep that knee bent as much as possible like you’re trying to get your heel to touch your butt. The hard part with this exercise will be keeping the heel of the stance leg on the ground. Too difficult? Allow your back foot to lightly touch the ground at the point where you’re starting to lose control of the movement. This is your assist to help lower you to the ground and get back up. Another option is to put an elevated pad in the spot where your knee will touch down. Too easy? Hold a dumbbell goblet style in front of you.
- Front foot must stay flat, don’t let the heel pop up at the bottom of the movement.
- Keep the back leg bent, only use the back leg as an assist if you absolutely need to.
- Don’t allow the knee of the stance leg to collapse inward.
Single Leg Box Jumps
Why I like it:
While strength is important, sports are all about producing power, and usually from one leg. Single leg box jumps not only replicate this feat, but also require you to control your landing and decelerate properly on one leg. Learning how to decelerate properly on one leg like this is one of the best ways to prevent ACL injuries. Between the fact that it increases power output, works on dynamic single leg balance, and teaches you to decelerate properly, I can’t think of many exercises that are better suited to protect someone from injury and improve their performance at the same time.
How to do it:
Choose an appropriate box to jump on to. For this one I’d recommend starting small and working your way up. Stand about a foot away from the box on one leg. Load your hip by going into a partial squat, then jump up as high as you can landing heel first on the box. Step down from the box and repeat. The box should be at a height that you can comfortably jump to, but also requires you to land with a slight bend in your knee. Try to keep the landings quiet and keep your heel on the box throughout the landing.
- Land heel first and stick the heel to the box throughout the landing.
- Land softly, learn how to dissipate the force of the landing by partially squatting.
- Land in an athletic position with your back straight, not hunched over.
Steve Zarriello is a Certified Strength and Conditoning Specialist, and the owner of Olympia Fitness and Performance, located in Cranston, RI. He has been training clients of all different ages, abilities and backgrounds to help them reach their specific goals for almost 15 years. His primary focus is on working with golfers to help improve their ability to play the game and keep them pain free.