Updated: Jan 20, 2021
When I was training for my first ½ Ironman in 2011, I had a free consultation with a personal trainer at my gym. During the consultation, I expressed my interest in triathlon racing and explained my goals for the next year. She listened carefully to my ambitions. With a focus on overall health, she had a unique approach and an interesting proposal for me. She explained that all triathletes, cyclists, runners, even walkers should incorporate this one training routine into their training regimen.
Unfortunately for me, I did not incorporate her suggestion into my training. What she said made sense at the time, but I was so focused on performance that I didn’t see the greater picture of my health and wellness.
6 years later, in the fall of 2017, I tore my ACL and meniscus playing in a soccer game.
A few weeks later as I lay in bed post-op, I thought about what I could have done differently, what I could have done to prevent this from happening. I remembered the words of the trainer from 6 years prior, and I suddenly realized how right she was.
Before I explain her tip and what she told me, it’s important that I explain 2 more mistakes I made.
Mistake #1: I didn’t listen to my body.
To make a long story short, I.was.so.tired. before my soccer game. Playing in a soccer game really was the last thing I wanted to do that night. The day before, I hiked/walked/ran about 20 miles. I cheered for a buddy at Ironman Arizona and didn’t get into bed until 1am. I woke at 5:30am, worked a full day, and coached my soccer team after school. By the time 6pm rolled around (game started at 7pm), I was more than pooped. I could barely keep my eyes open and it took everything I had to get off the couch. But I thought to myself, “Just one more exercise...I’ll do this one thing, play in this last game, and then I’ll rest.” Turns out it was one more too many.
As an endurance athlete, finding the balance between listening to your body and pushing your body to the limits is so difficult – I’m still working on how to find the balance myself, but there are physiological overtraining symptoms (high resting HR, digestive problems, trouble sleeping, trouble relaxing) that are warning signs. I think I was probably overtraining my body for about 2 years. If you think you might be overtraining, I highly recommend seeing a specialist or someone knowledgeable about this condition in the medical field. Start tracking your resting HR every morning upon waking. And start learning how to listen to your body.
Mistake #2 is clear and simple: I did not warm-up.
This one, tiny tidbit has a profound impact on ACL-tear prevention. Plus, it was a very cold evening (well, cold for Arizona). The colder the weather, the longer it takes to get our muscles warmed-up. We must prepare our muscles for the activity they are about to perform, especially if that activity involves high-intensity, lateral movements, or quick motions. See my article on the importance of dynamic stretching and warming up.
Mistake #3: I trained in a straight line.
This brings us to mistake #3 and the tip the personal trainer gave me so many years ago. As runners, cyclists, triathletes, or avid walkers, we are training our bodies to move linearly. We run in a straight line, bike in a straight line, swim and walk in a straight line. For 10 years, I never trained my body to move sideways, to switch directions on a whim, or to perform a fast lateral movement. That night, I expected my body to respond in a manner it wasn’t accustomed to doing, and my poor knee reminded me that I was no longer 18 years old. If we only train to move linearly, then our bodies will not be able to respond when we must move laterally.
Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Well, I’m not going to be playing in a soccer game.” This may be true. However, life often throws us the unexpected. We may find ourselves on a morning run and suddenly slipping on a puddle of car oil. Or, we may be spending a Sunday afternoon at the dog park when two large dogs playfully knock us over. In both of these examples, our bodies will be moving in any direction but linear!
The following 15-18min. exercise routine is designed to prepare the muscles for lateral movements. The sequence and exercises help with ACL-tear prevention. If your normal fitness routine includes only exercises that move in one direction (most triathlon or marathon regimens), I cannot stress enough the importance of doing this sequence at least once a week. It can also be used as a warm-up prior to a tennis, soccer, racquetball, basketball, or any other game that requires quick lateral movements. Modifications can be made for all the exercises if you cannot perform the jumping exercises (feel free to email me for modifications).
Warm-Up (10min. run, walk)
o (if you have a band) monster walks 30s each direction x2
o Ladder Exercises (1x slow, 2x fast)
1. Forward steps
2. Lateral toe steps
3. Lateral in-in-out-out
4. Forward out-out-in-in
5. Forward in-in-out shuffle
6. Forward in-out hops
(If these exercises sound like another language, you can just watch this video on 15 ladder exercise.)
o Skater 2x30s
o DL (double-leg) 180 degree hops CW x3, CCW x3 (clockwise, counter-clockwise)
o SL 90 degree hops CW x2, CCW x2
o SL hops on cross formation 2x15s
o Skipping 2x30s
o Side skipping 2x30s
o L hops 5x slow, 5x fast
o Skier 2x15s
o Plank 2min.
In conclusion, learn from my mistake! We need to take care of our bodies and while training is important, so too is health for life.
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