One of the worst injuries to be around is a knee injury. Whether you tear your ACL, your MCL, or your patella tendon, they suck. I’ve witnessed more than I care to count. My poor future brother-in-law was in town for his engagement shower, and I asked him to fill in on my flag football team. On a fourth down play during the first series of the game, I heard a loud pop. Hoping it wasn’t him, I turned to see him on the ground writhing in pain. 6 weeks later at his wedding, the family looked at me with some unloving looks.
I had another friend sub on my flag football team. He flew in from Chicago. On a simple slant pattern in the end zone, he stuttered just slightly because one of our lineman ran in front of him, who didn’t know the play. Pop. He’s on the ground with a torn MCL and patella tendon. I witnessed other injuries during these sports, but here’s the funny thing:
I can’t recall a single athlete blowing his knee out during my high school playing days.
All these injuries I witnessed happened in my late 20’s and 30’s. Plus, I now hear of more high school and younger athletes blowing their knees out. What is going on?
Whatever the reason is, it is here and now, so what can we do about it? We have to understand why these injuries are happening and what we need to do to prevent them.
A lot of times, knee injuries happen due to a horrific collision with the knee. But, in the two instances I discussed above, there were no collisions. They are just cutting and stopping. What researchers have found is that some knee injuries could be prevented if the athlete’s hamstring strength was stronger.
The athlete’s knee gets stabilization through three muscles: the quadriceps, your calf, and your hamstrings. A lot of times, the hamstring doesn’t fire down efficiently to help stabilize the knee, thus the increased chance of blowing your knee out. You need to strengthen that hamstring so it can fire down and help solidify that stabilization. Researchers suggest if you can get your hamstring strength to about 80% of your quadriceps strength, that will be optimal for stabilization.
The other thing you work on is how to land correctly when you jump. If you teach the athlete how to fall correctly, say during plyometrics, then it transfers over to competition. It becomes instinctive. Plus, you train the joints to get used to that type of impact. That way, when it is replicated on the playing field, your bones can handle it without any surprises.
Now, the way you train for speed is very similar to preventing knee injuries.
When you speed train, a big part of speed development is developing leg strength. Yes, the overall leg strength needs to improve, but also your hamstring strength. If you know me at all, then you know how I feel about hamstring strength and running faster. It’s huge!
Here’s the eerie part. Researchers have also said for optimal speed development, you need to have the hamstrings become about 80% as active as your quadriceps. The quads have more muscles than the hamstrings, so it will never be 1:1, but if you can get 80%, then you’re moving.
80%, huh?! Isn’t that the same number you need for knee injury prevention? Why, yes, it is. What a coincidence. Then, if you work on your landings with plyometric jumps, doing the plyometrics will help with your fast-twitch fiber development and power. That, in turn, will translate to a faster individual on the playing field. You’re training fast to be fast with plyometrics, plus allowing the body to get used to the high-intensity impacts it could have on the ground.
Let’s recap. If you want to prevent knee injuries, do some hamstring strengthening and work on how to land correctly from jumping when you do plyometrics. If you’re going to do speed training, get your hamstrings stronger, and incorporate plyometrics to develop explosiveness.
Yes, you are killing two birds with one stone. That is awesome. All you need to do now is find a speed expert such as myself to start you on a program. If you are a soccer or basketball player, this would be super important to do, especially if you are a female. Females have a higher chance of blowing their knees out in these sports. My daughter is almost ten and plays both those sports. Don’t think I won’t be doing some speed training/injury prevention with her in a year or two (assuming she still wants to play).
If you haven’t been injured before, don’t be so bold to think that it won’t happen to you. You’ve been lucky. Take all the precautions necessary to reduce your chances of ever having a severe knee injury. The pain and rehab you have to go through…let’s say you’d be better off not having to do it. Take advantage of the training now and see the benefits on the field when you are blowing by your competition AND not getting injured.