Have you or a friend/family member experienced a severe injury while playing the sport they love? Yeah, my daughter too. In the past 2-3 years the amount of conversations I have had with other athletes and athlete moms regarding injuries has substantially increased. Something has to be done for our female athletes to help prevent injury and it has to start early. Girls 10 yrs old and up who are involved in fast-paced sports must be involved in training that improves their performance, but more so helps them prevent injury.
Female athletes have power and potential that can enhance their athletic performance. The way the female hormones shift and utilize nutrients and hormone changes – when worked with instead of against – can create a substantial gain in overall performance. However, because of this, females are also at greater risk of injury, here are a few biological reasons:
- Hormone fluctuations
- Greater flexibility and less muscle
- Wider Hips
- Narrow space within the knee
- Greater likelihood of inadequate calcium, Vitamin D, and overall nutrient health
If you’re like my family, you and/or your daughter are probably going non-stop from one event to the next. This go-go mentality leaves us ill-prepared for proper nutrition and inadequate warm-up or injury prevention training. That is what we will cover in this blog. How to make female athletes better prepared for sports. How these steps need to be part of every female athlete and female coach’s priority.
Does your workout or your club’s program contain work that helps improve balance, landing mechanics, unilateral strength, and quickness? If the answer is no, this has to be something you seek out as soon as possible. You can find workouts and fitness facilities that have these programs. Or you can work with me to enhance your sport-specific needs to prevent injury.
Balance is more static, one-leg stabilization with a ball toss, single-leg toe touches, and standing on one leg while being pushed to engage surrounding muscles for support to stay balanced. Plyometrics takes our balance activities and adds power to them. Examples of these explosive movements are box jumps, single-leg hops, and zig-zag movements. Speed/agility workouts take balance and plyo and increase the speed.
Balance – Balance training has been adopted to try and prevent injuries of the ankle and knee joints during sport. A number of studies have found that poor balance is significantly related to an increased risk of ankle and knee injuries. The goal is to train our body how to maintain proper alignment while off balance.
Plyometrics – In a huge study on how plyometrics program influences ACL injury rates, it was found that programs that incorporate plyometric exercises substantially decrease the risk of ACL injuries more than warm-up programs that do not include plyometrics. The reason is that we train muscles and tendons how to respond to speed, load, and neuromuscular adaptations. Essentially, we train our bodies how to adapt and give them the strength and knowledge of how to do it and prevent injury. The goal is to train our body how to land and jump properly by staying properly aligned.
Speed/Agility – No matter what sport you are in, frequent directional changes are required. There are quick starts, abrupt stops, and high-speed cuts and oftentimes include contact with other players. Training the body to react to situations at high speeds increase efficiency and strengthens the muscles and ligaments stressed during those times. The goal is to train our bodies how to maintain proper alignment and posture during movement at faster speeds.
Sport Specific Strength Training
Females often exhibit lower absolute muscle strength and imbalances in muscle activation patterns, such as increased quadriceps dominance and decreased hamstring strength. These imbalances can lead to altered joint mechanics and increase the risk of lower limb injuries, particularly in activities involving deceleration and sudden changes in direction. Additionally, differences in training techniques, such as a focus on endurance over strength training, can further contribute to muscle imbalances and inadequate preparation for high-intensity activities.
Since I was a high-school athlete, females went into the strength room, designed and set up for football players, and were given a similar strength workout as a lineman. Don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer in lifting heavy, however, a basketball or volleyball player needs to strength train for power not for mass. For example, if you are a female athlete that does explosive jumps, I’d suggest that your squats should be with a moderate weight with an explosive concentric phase (standing up section). If you can throw around weight you will be able to jump higher. A one-rep max and squatting/benching heavy will not improve your explosive game.
Female athletes must be part of a strength training program to prevent injury because increasing muscle creates a physiological change in the muscle, connective tissues, and bones. By doing so, the bones increase in mineral density and become stronger over time. This hits home for me and a friend of ours who’s daughters just broke their fibula playing basketball.
Strength training also helps increase tendons, ligaments, and muscle balance. Strengthening these areas is key because they are the support system of a joint, and the first to take the toll from the impact of force, caused by blows, falls, or awkward movements. A strength increase in these connective tissue results in improved resilience and resistance to impact, and subsequently injuries.
In a culture obsessed with body image, studies are finding many female athletes have eating disorders to maintain an ‘ideal’ weight or to avoid ‘bulking up’. This mindset that we have to be stick skinny is setting our girls up for injury because without the right amount of energy, vitamins, and minerals our bodies will break down, and our risk for injury substantially increases.
I admit I had an eating disorder for many of these same reasons. I look back and can’t believe how tired I was, how foggy-minded and constantly sore I felt. Much of the error in our eating patterns comes from our lack of knowledge of what food does – fat, for example, does not make us fat! In many cases not eating enough that leads us to have poor body composition because our bodies end up using our muscles for fuel instead of the energy we consumed during the day.
Key focus points to understand are:
- Carbohydretes energize
- Proteins build
- Fats protect
- Timing of pre-workout meals matters
- Protein post-workout matters
If you are a female athlete or you’re the mom of one, please get them into a program or with a coach who will work on them in all of these content areas. No injury is 100% avoidable, but taking steps to decrease our odds is 100% possible. Here at Anchored, I work with female athletes in all of these areas and more. The goal is to have mentally strong, confident, healthy, and athletic women to do great things in all areas of life.