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Sports Medicine

Building Bulletproof Knees

Tough to squat when your knee integrity is compromised by weak or injured ligaments. Borrow a page from the playbook of elite athletes to endure you stay injury-free.

Safety in sports is a huge issue these days, from reducing the rate of concussions in football, to decreasing the incidence of serious career-ending injuries like torn knee ligaments. That’s because anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstructions are among the most common sports medicine procedures performed in the U.S. each year. While many gym rats may not be so concerned about lateral or rotational stability in the knee — “I just squat, bro!” — those who choose to put their muscle to work in other pursuits such as hiking, hoops or weekend softball would be wise to train up some insurance. Here, two top professionals share their best tips for doing just that.

How Physical Is Your Therapy?

Justin Cooper PT, MPT, SCS, is the Director of Elite Sports Therapy and Program Development at MedStar Sports Medicine which is responsible for the care of teams like the Baltimore Ravens, U.S. Lacrosse, Washington Capitals and Wizards. He says that, “put an athlete out on the field with a big chassis and a weak engine you are just asking for trouble.”

Many of the postural issues Cooper has found in testing athletes during his distinguished career can be attributed to a poor posterior chain consisting of weak glutes and hamstrings. Based on his years of experience of working with top pros, Cooper has developed a comprehensive protocol for improving the movement skills of any athlete.

One way to screen as well as to train weak and inefficient muscles is the Bunkie Test, a series of five isometric holds meant to test functional strength in and around the core. (Click here test your Bunkie.) Cooper also suggests integrating movements like the single-leg Romanian deadlift and Swiss ball hamstring curl into your regular training routine, as well as some specialized plyometric exercises that target the elastic properties of the musculoskeletal system to teach your body to better absorb impact. Training these larger muscle groups also benefits you on nearly every other lift while amplifying your total per-workout caloric expenditure.

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

Kevin Boyle, MA, CSCS, is the Director of Explosive Performance for U.S. Fitness Holdings/Sport & Health Clubs, and strength and conditioning coach for the Washington Spirit women’s professional soccer team. In his role with the Spirit, Boyle has found out the critical importance of tracking movement efficiency and joint integrity in his elite female athletes.

“I have seen tremendous changes in how my soccer players move during a 20-game season,” he says. “Fatigue and recovery play a huge role is determining whether an injury will occur at some point.”

Boyle uses a simple, five-hop, single-leg jump to gauge the overall condition of each player, filming the results on his tablet so the athlete and coaches can immediately review the results of the test. Boyle is looking at how efficient the athlete is at absorbing the impact after each hop, including stiffness in the lower body, excessive movement at the knee joint, and whether the player leans in either direction to complete the exercise. If there are any issues, Boyle usually starts off with a simple drop-and-stick counter movement that helps train the body to better absorb impact well promoting a more symmetrical landing position. He then follows up with his players using an on-field drill that helps to train the athlete to use both legs equally in changing directions.

Here’s Tiffany Weimer, pro soccer player for the Washington Spirit, performing the drill.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

All sporting endeavors come with some element of risk but if you are looking to help reduce the chance of serious injury adding some simple exercises to your normal routine can yield major benefits.