Tuesday Tips: ACL Injury Prevention In Ultimate [Pt. 2 — Programming]

Preparing your body to absorb ground contact helps avoid awkward landings that can damage your knee.

Preparing your body to absorb ground contact helps avoid awkward landings that can damage your knee. Photo: Rodney Chen — UltiPhotos.com

Tuesday Tips are presented by Spin Ultimate; all opinions are those of the author. Please support the brands that make Ultiworld possible and shop at Spin Ultimate! Part 1 of this two-part series offers information about the science behind ACL injury prevention. 

There are multiple proven ACL and injury prevention programs out there, and no one is going to be best. I’ve put together what I believe is an optimal injury prevention program for ultimate players. It has drawn from two of the most well-established and well-researched programs out there – the Santa Monica PEP Program and the FIFA 11+. Both were designed for soccer players. I’ve tailored this to ultimate and our field, and made it a good warmup for workouts, practices, and games. It is almost entirely composed of exercises that have been shown to substantially reduce ACL tears, hamstring strains, groin strains, ankle sprains, and more. Feel free to tweak it for your team, abilities, and where you are in the season.

To do this with good form, have a captain or coach learn what good form looks like (see Part 1, watch videos, etc.) and give players feedback in the moment. We can each try to have good form on our own, but having someone watch us and correct our form is much more reliable.

The two most important things:

1. This must be done with good form.
2. This must be done consistently.

Form Notes

Figure 1A: Good landing form on vertical jump – “knees over toes,” not caving in.
Figure 1B: Poor landing form – knees caving inwards.

Figure 2A: Good landing form on vertical jump – “land softly” with knees and hips bent deeply.
Figure 2B: Poor landing form – landing hard with knees and hips less bent.

Figure 3A: Good landing form on lateral/skater jump – “knee over toe” and “knee under shoulder”
Figure 3B: Poor landing form – knee caving inwards and foot planted wider than shoulder-width.

Figure 4A: Good cutting form – knee in a line from hip to toe, not caving in.
Figure 4B: Poor cutting form – knee caving inwards.

Ultimate ACL/Injury Prevention Program and Warm-up

Based on the PEP Program and FIFA 11+

Keys to the program:

  • Form is CRUCIAL. Knee over toes, not caving in. Land softly on the ball of your foot. Land with a bent knee and hip. Land with your feet under your shoulders.
  • This must be done consistently, at least 2-3 times weekly.
  • Each exercise is one way across the 20yd endzone unless otherwise stated (e.g. ‘there and back’)

GETTING WARM

  1. Jog around the field
  2.  Hip closers
    • Maximize hip range of motion
  3. Hip openers
  4. Side shuffles
    • 1st time: slower/lower, there and back
    • 2nd time: fast
    • Don’t let knee collapse in!
  5.  Run forward + backwards
    • 1st: forward 20yd at ~70%, backpedal 20yd
    • 2nd: forward 10yd, backpedal 5 yd, forward 10yd, backpedal 5yd, forward 5 yd
    • On toes + bent knees at all times
  6.  Walking lunges with a twist and Spiderman
    • Spiderman = elbow (on the side of the lunging foot) to the ground
    • Land with knee over ankle. Ensure you can see the lead foot’s toes (i.e. the knee isn’t caving in).

STRENGTH

  1. Single leg heel raises
    • ~20 each side, balancing on your toe
    • Up fast, lower down slowly (eccentric calf exercise)
  2.  Single leg glute bridges
    • ~10 each side
    • Explosive, clenching glutes fully at the top. Try to drag your planted foot in towards your butt to maximize hamstring activation
  3.  Plank with one foot in the air
    • 20sec one leg in air, then switch. Consider doing multiple sets
    • Easier: swap feet every second (‘marching’)
    • Engage your core. Try to suck your belly button in towards your spine.
  4.  Side plank with leg raises
    • ~10 each side. Consider doing multiple sets
    • Easier: hip dips (both feet on the ground, dip your hips towards the ground)
  5.  Single leg squats
    • 4-6 per side
    • Easier: squat jumps
    • Knee over foot, not caving in

PLYOMETRICS
Form is key!

  1. Hourglass jumps
    • 3 times each direction
    • Jump to the corners of a square in an hourglass pattern (forward right, left, backwards right, left). The other direction means ‘forward left, right…’
    • Stick the landing with good form
  2.  Cone hops
    • Double leg: 20 total forward/backward, then 20 total left/right
    • Single leg: 20 total forward/backward, then 20 total left/right. Then switch legs.
    • These are quick hops, but explode with your calves on each one
  3.  Lunge jumps
    • 20 total
    • Jump high
  4.  Partner balance
    • 30 sec each leg
    • Face a partner, both standing on one leg. Take turns trying to gently push each other off balance.
    • Harder: one partner jumps while the other gently pushes them in the air. Land with good form. 10 reps each.
    • Don’t let knee cave inwards. Stay on the ball of your foot.

FINISHING

  1. Nordic hamstrings
    • 4 each, then switch with partner. Consider 2 sets
  2.  1 minute of whatever you need
    • E.g. leg swings, side lunges, straddling groin stretch, etc
  3.  Lateral diagonal runs
    • There and back. Get ~4 cuts in
    • Run at 45 degree angle for 3-5 steps, plant, cut back along the other 45 degree angle, repeat
  4.  Plant and cut
    • 2 times, one off each plant foot
    • 90% sprint to the endline, plant, 5 hard steps after cut
  5.  Bounds (20yd) to sprint (20yd)

SUMMARY

  • WARM: Jog, hip open/close, shuffle, forward/back runs, lunges with twist
  • STRENGTH: Heel raises, glute bridge, plank, side plank/leg raises, SL squats
  • PLYOS: Hourglass jumps, cone hops, lunge jumps, partner balance
  • FINISHING: Nordics, free time, diagonal runs, plant/cut, bounds/sprint
  1. Ian Engler
    Ian Engler

    Ian Engler is an orthopedic surgery sports medicine fellow at the University of Pittsburgh. He plays ultimate with Boston Wild Card and the Boston Glory.

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