The other problem is one of ignorance and tradition. Women are simply trained like “girls.” This is unacceptable. Even when female athletes are trained, coaches often use a hodge-podge of techniques driven by “that’s what I did when I was on the team.” Many are taught to be weak. Way too often, sports coaches just throw excessive endurance training at their athletes in the form of long distance running because they simply do not understand the energy system requirements of their sport. They don’t actually know what to do so they just dismiss it as “running far builds endurance.” Unfortunately, it is rarely the type of endurance required unless you happen to be a track or cross country athlete involved in the sport of distance running. Most often you only get bored, fatigued, overheated athletes with overuse injuries and muscles that are too worn out to perform the explosive elements required in most sports.
Things don’t get any better in the weight room. Everyday I fight the notion that “I can’t do that; I’ll get bulky.” Many women have absolutely no idea of the wonderful things they are capable of obtaining in the gym. Those who are involved in sports are often mistreated and under coached. My dream is for everyone who trains to use the same science and the same care and attention regardless of gender and regardless of how many advertising dollars their pro career will be worth. I want to see athletes trained like athletes, plain and simple.
One of the first things I do with all of my athletes, male or female, is to teach them to squat correctly. Just the simple neurological programming of learning to squat with the posterior chain while pushing the hips back gives females a better choice of technique to use in landing. Women tend to decelerate a landing with their quads, which is the opposite of the male tendency to use the hamstrings/glutes to decelerate. I always ask people if they have ever seen a toddler deep-squatting to play with some toys on the floor. Watch them. Head up, chest up, hips back, and the knees are over the ankles. We spend our lives unlearning what is a very natural squatting position. I want all of my athletes/clients to relearn it.
Once people learn to use the posterior chain properly and strengthen it to previously unconceivable levels then landing and decelerating with it become natural. With the exception of the squat/deadlift and its variations, the all time best weapon against knee injuries is the hamstring bulletproofing movement know as the Glute-Ham-Gastroc raise. Many people, even the strong ones, cannot do a single rep at the beginning with the footplate set on its easiest position. This shows you right away how grossly under trained the hamstrings are.
In my years of coaching athletes, I’ve encountered many people with tremendous quad strength, weak hams, and, of course, knee pain. Once they bring up their posterior strength, the knee pain usually disappears. The posterior chain is engaged in this exercise from the bottom of the toes all the way to the back of the head. The large calf muscles cross the knee joint along with the hamstrings from the other direction, and a stronger muscle-tendon junction here would help with increased knee stability.
Training should come at knee stability from other angles as well. Knee valgus, or being knock-kneed, is fairly common and dangerous to the medial collateral ligament. One of the best ways to shore up the knee and prevent, or even potentially alleviate this condition, is to strengthen the muscles on the upper/outer side of the hip. Specifically this would be the gluteus medius/minimus, tensor fasciae latae, and the I.T. band (iliotibial). There are several great athletic movements to help these muscles. No angle should be ignored. The structure of the knee demands that it be strong in all directions. This means making all of the muscles of the lower body strong and ready for action.
One of the biggest things differentiating my training from others is that I don’t consider women to be second-class athletes. They are different, to be sure, but are capable of unbelievable heroics, athletic grace, and beauty. I’m lucky in that I get to see women doing amazing things in the gym and on the field all of the time. I’m not interested in hearing about estrogen and menstrual excuses for knee problems. Furthermore, there have been differences noted in landing technique between male and female athletes. These can be addresses by proper training and are therefore not a huge issue.
I’ve often said that female athletes use brains and heart to accomplish things that testosterone makes much easier. Smarter training will prevail. The real issue lies in the lack of proper coaching. People need to be educated. Our little girls deserve it. Our moms deserve it.
Bob Jodoin is an ISSA master trainer, a New York strength master trainer, a NBFE fellow, and a former director of strength and conditioning at Total Performance Sports. He is now a strength and conditioning coach as well as a personal trainer in sunny Orlando, Florida. Bob serves as a strength and conditioning advisor for youth sports to the Winter Springs Pop Warner Midgets, the Wild AAU 13U baseball, and M-PACT Sports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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