If you were to take a look at injury rates amongst athletes over the last 10-20 years you would notice that female athletes seem to be at a much higher risk of injury compared to male athletes. There are roughly 200,000 ACL injuries occurring every year in the United States. A clinic in Philadelphia said rates are up 400% in the last 10 years. Among high schoolers, females account for a significant proportion of ACL injuries. Particularly girls, who play non-contact sports, since ACL injuries come from repetitive strain, or twisting, rather than being hit or tackled by another player. Males are slightly more protected from these injuries because they naturally develop more muscle than teen females, creating more stability for their joints. Puberty also increases the risk of ACL injuries from the age of 12 for females and 14 for males. Female athletes are also at higher risk for injuries such as ankle sprains and concussions. By all accounts the rise of sports related injuries for female athletes is an epidemic.
What could be causing these high rates of injury? Here are a few things to consider. Female athletes typically:
- Have more mobility than stability
- Have a good aerobic capacity but lack overall strength
- Lack hamstring and glute strength
- Have poor landing mechanics
- Have much wider hips which leads to knee valgus (knees caving in)
How can these things be addressed and improved upon? It’s really quite simple. FEMALE ATHLETES NEED TO GET STRONGER! Right now roughly 10% of high school female athletes are required to strength train for team sports, compared to 60% for male athletes. That is WAY too low!
The bottom line is that stronger athletes are much more resilient to injuries. Various studies have shown that strength training is an effective way to decrease the likelihood of injuries like an ACL tear. One study showed that a well rounded 6 week strength training program reduced injury rates by up to 50%.
Female athletes need to master the basic movements in the weight room before taking on the physical demands of sport. Doctors say that it seems rates are rising among children because of pressure to excel in their sport of choice earlier in life, demanding more intense, year-round practice. If this is the case, female athletes especially need to be taught how to squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull, carry and breath/brace. Not only do these help reduce the likelihood of injury, these help make a more well rounded, explosive athlete!
The benefits of strength training for a female athlete include:
- Improved neuromuscular coordination
- Prepares the athlete to take on the physical demands of the sport where most injuries occur (jumping, landing, changing direction, etc)
- Increases confidence
- Increases in muscle tone (No, you will not get “bulky”)
Female athletics have continued to increase in popularity. It’s time that we become mindful of the wear and tear that life and sport brings. By using a well rounded strength and conditioning program, we can simply combat the stresses in life to make a more resilient athlete. With the research and facts available to all, female weight room attendance needs to increase to help end this epidemic.