Athletic Performance: The ACL Recipe

BY: Jason Harrell

No matter what we do as athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, clients, and weekend warriors we can’t prevent injury, we can only reduce the incidence. 


    Last week I discussed the Q angle and the effect it has on ACL tears. To recap some: The Q angle is the direction of pull for the quadriceps muscle (the front of your thigh) and the alignment of the patella (that moveable bone on your knee) tendon as it attaches to the tibia (your shin). The greater the angle the greater the chance of ACL injury. Especially during NON-CONTACT movements that all of us must make: pivot, change direction, reacting reflexively to their environment…like dodging the oncoming bicycle or chasing after your child.

 Today we’re going to discuss some programming to implement that is simple but systematic.


    The program outlines like this:

1) Active Warm-up - breathing/CAR’s (check out Move Better Mondays blog!)

    This is why we assess at IL! You’re warmup gets you primed for the rest of your training

2) Power and Stability / Eccentric Strength = landing skills

  • jumping/hoping/bounding/skipping/plyometric variations 
    • these basics can be a lot of fun! (do you know the difference between them?)

3) Strength Development = emphasis on single leg loading

    (think of it like this….walking is a single leg motion…kind of important, RIGHT?)

  • Bodyweight - single leg progressions
    • ex: step ups, split squat, single leg deadlift, pistol squat
  • Develop functional strength - no machines
  • Develop single leg strength - differences in hip mechanics
  • Perform both knee dominant and hip dominant single leg exercises

4) Change of Direction Concepts - learning how to stop

    (we’re NY’ers…we have to dodge a lot of things…being able stop becomes important in our day-to-day)

  • This is where we take the lessons learned from the landing skills and apply them to the timing of changing direction.
    • ex: cone drills and reaction drills

5) Change of Direction Conditioning - developing conditioning 

  • Injuries occur in acceleration and deceleration, stopping and going.
    • ex: cone drills and reaction drills


No ingredient is non-essential here. You wouldn’t change the recipe of a cake, right? The right strength and conditioning program for the ACL is also the right prevention and rehabilitation program for the ACL. All of these must be included so we can be that athlete, weekend warrior, parent, or Sunday football watcher…yes, you can tear your ACL getting off the couch. So lets program smart so we can play later.