The anterior cruciate ligament is one of the main ligaments in the knee. It prevents the shin from rotating too far from side to side and from slipping in front of the thigh bone. ACL injuries are extremely common in certain sports, but with the right preparation, you can protect this critical area.
Several factors can increase your injury risk, including:
- Lack of core stability
- Poor body awareness and balance
- Inadequate stretching
- Limited flexibility
- Weak leg muscles, particularly the quadriceps and hamstrings
Exercises that address these issues can help reduce the risk and strengthen the muscles that support the knee. Read on to learn four great exercises to reduce your risk of ACL injuries.
This classic move targets the quads, hamstrings and buttocks.
- Stand with your feet firmly planted on the floor about hip-width apart.
- Slowly bend from your hips as if sitting in a chair while keeping your abs firmly engaged and your back straight. Keep your knees behind your toes.
- As a variation, squat on one leg, but be careful not to let your knee turn inward.
- Another variation involves resistance bands. Place the band just above the knees, and go into a ¼ squat. Hold the position, and take several side steps in one direction and then the other.
Basic lunges are another great move for strong hamstrings, quads and glutes.
- From a standing position, take a big step forward with one leg, and lower yourself until your front leg is at a 90-degree angle with the floor.
- Raise your body back up and return your forward leg to the starting position.
- As a variation, you can try walking lunges. Rather than returning to the starting position, you would stand and bring your hind leg forward and continue the lunge motion with the opposite leg.
- Side lunges can be performed with your legs shoulder-width apart. Step out with your right leg while stretching your left leg, gently bend your right knee and lower your hips and left leg toward the ground.
This simple movement strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, adductors, hip rotators and core muscles.
- Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet flat and about shoulder-width apart.
- Keep your back straight and lift your hips off the floor pushing primarily with your heels.
- As a variation, use a resistance band. Place the band around your thighs just above your knees. As you perform the bridge, abduct your legs. Return to the starting position while maintaining pressure on the band. Release as you reach the ground.
Single Toe Raises
Toe raises strengthen your calves and help improve balance and proprioception.
- Stand straight with your arms at your side.
- Bend one knee up so that your foot is off the ground.
- Lift onto the toes of your other foot while maintaining your balance.
- Repeat about 30 times before switching legs.
In addition to strengthening the muscles that support your knees, you can further reduce your risk of injury by incorporating plyometric exercises and agility moves into your workouts. Always land with your knees bent, and crouch when you pivot or twist. Warm up, stretch and cool down with every workout.