StrikeForce standout Tyron Woodley was putting on a dominating performance against Carlos Condit. A powerful double leg took the former WEC champ to the mat and a wince of pain flashed across his face. Back on their feet, Woodley landed a heavy leg kick that spun Condit on a planted foot.
That’s when it happened.
Condit crumbled to the mat in a way that those who have experienced the dreaded injury knew all too well. The twisting of the joint, the inability to walk without aid afterwards, the immediate swelling, were all hallmarks of the dreaded injury professional athletes and weekend warriors have come to fear. Condit had torn his ACL.
So What IS An ACL, anyway?
The Anterior Cruciate Ligament is one of two cruciate ligaments in the knee, and along with the two collateral ligaments (medial and lateral) is in place to control excessive movements of the knee joint in certain positions. The ACL runs from the front of your tibia (shin bone) backward to your femur (thigh bone). It’s main job is to prevent the tibia from sliding too far forward on the femur, to keep it from rotating too far when knee is bent, and aids in preventing hyperextension (when the knee gets pushed backwards).
MMA athletes must be able to plant, twist, shoot and kick with explosive speed and power. Equally important is the ability to react to your opponent’s attacks with split second timing. It is of the utmost importance to train your body to handle these adverse conditions to prevent being sidelined by injury and the subsequent surgery necessary to return. Training your quads to look like Ben Henderson’s certainly won’t hurt your chances of staying on the mat, but they aren’t the most essential part of the equation.
It’s All In The Hips!
Two of the most commonly neglected areas when it comes to lower body strengthening are the hip abductors and hip rotators. Abductors are on the outside of the hip, and move the leg away from the midline of the body, as well as stabilize the hip when standing on one leg. The rotators can turn the leg inward or outward as well as aid in preventing the knee from over rotating. The hamstrings, which attach in the hip, are equally important, as they partially serve the same role as the ACL by preventing the tibia from sliding too far forward.
Prevention Is The Best Medicine
The following exercises are very effective in strengthening the above mentioned areas while aiding in MMA performance. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a good place to start. As with any exercise recommendations, consult with your physician before beginning any program.
1. Sidestepping With Resistive Band
Tie a high resistance elastic band in a loop and place it around your ankles. Start in a partial squat position with your feet shoulder width apart, and step sideways against the resistance of the band. Do not let your feet come together, maintaining constant tension on the band. Go 30 feet, and then come back, without turning around. Repeat 10 times with no rest. In addition to sidestepping, you can incorporate forward and backward stepping into your regimen.
2. Single Leg Squats
Put a chair up against a wall. Stick one foot out in front of you and use your stance leg to lower yourself into the chair over 5 seconds. Be sure you maintain your knee in midline (in line with your middle three toes) to challenge your hip rotators. Repeat 30 times, not allowing gravity to drop you into the chair at the very end of the movement.
3. Physioball Hamstring Curls
Lie on your back with your heels on a physioball. Bridge up so your hips are off the ground, dig your heels into the ball and pull it toward you by bending your knees and lifting your hips. Pause, then slowly straighten your legs and lower your hips. Repeat 30 times. Challenge yourself further by crossing your arms over your chest, making your core work harder to stabilize you.
4. Stability Disc Kicks
Stand on one leg on a stability disc or BOSU. Once you gain your balance, perform a push kick, a side kick, and a back kick, not allowing your foot to touch in between. Not difficult enough? Close your eyes. Repeat ten times.
Incorporating these exercises into your routine will help you become stronger and faster while extending your time on the mat.