Pivoting, cutting, and jumping (say, during tennis or skiing) damages the collagen structures that act as glue in the ACL, says lead study author Edward Wojtys, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This leads to tears.
For athletes, it’s almost impossible to avoid these movements. The best course of action to minimize your risk, then, is to fortify those structures in the safety of the club so your nervous system can react faster in the moment, thereby putting less force on the ligaments. Three types of exercises will help, says Matt Berenc, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute in Beverly Hills.
First: squats, deadlifts, hamstring curls, single-leg bridges, and side planks, which strengthen the posterior chain and the muscles around your ACL. Second: plyometrics such as single- and double-leg drop jumps (stepping onto a box and jumping off of it), in which you focus on landing properly. Third: neuromuscular moves like rotational lunges with reach, half-kneeling chops, and agility ladder work, which teach your nervous system to react quickly like it’ll have to in that split-second pivot or cut.
The bottom line:
If you play a sport that requires split-second movements, add two exercises from each category to your regular strength routine, Berenc says. Start this regimen three months before your sport’s season and continue throughout, but less frequently (just like you’d phase down your strength training as you ramp up mileage to prep for a marathon). Follow the same set-rep scheme you’re using for the rest of that day’s workout. If you notice any swelling in the knee, sit out until it fades completely, Wojtys adds.