The female athlete: why she needs to strength train
(This post comes from my “Strength and Conditioning Manual For Youth Sport Coaches from within my Online Course)
Youth females are different from youth males…I know shocking! There are many differences that make it really important for youth female athletes to strength train. Of course youth males will benefit from strength training but the biggest advantage that youth males will have are the hormones that will be flooding their bodies as they go through puberty.
These male characteristic hormones will give males an advantage over youth female athletes because they will naturally have what it takes to build muscle mass on a frame that is naturally less susceptible to injury.
Here are some reasons as to why youth female bodies are more susceptible to injuries:
• Women’s ACL’s are smaller
• The connective tissue softens in relation to a female’s menstrual cycle
• An increased “Q” angle creates greater force at the knees
• Many females lack development of the VMO muscle
• Because of biomechanical differences in ankle, hip, and spine orientation, females tend to be quad dominant.
• Females tend to decelerate movement in a more risk-oriented manner
• Females do not naturally have the same lean muscle mass and strength as males
“You can’t change bone but you can change things like: strength, coordination, fitness, balance, and neuromuscular movement patterns” -Brett Klika C.S.C.S.
Overall we’re looking to reduce injuries, as we are not able to prevent them entirely.
If you’re interested I’ll tell you a few of the reasons why physiological female traits make youth female athletes more susceptible to injury.
To start with we’ll address the “Q”angle. What is the Q-Angle and why does it matter?
The Q-angle is measured by extending a line through the center of the patella to the anterior superior iliac spine and another line from the tibial tubercle through the center of the patella. The intersection of these two lines is the Q-angle; the normal value for this angle is 13 to 18 degrees. Men tend to have Q-angles closer to 13 degrees, and women usually have Q-angles at the high end of this range.
Image: Austin, William M. “Women in Sports, Q Angle, and ACL Injuries.” Dynamic Chiropractic 21.21 (2003): n. pag. Web.
The “Q” refers to the quadriceps. (rectus femoris)
Why is this important for the female athlete?
The wider the hips and the wider the “Q angle” the greater the risk of instability.
This does not only affect the pelvis, it can affect everything down the kinetic chain, such as the knees and the ankles.
If there is instability in the joints there is a greater risk of sustaining an injury.
Although we can’t do anything about the bones, we can do something about the muscular system.
Strength training can be used in order to improve joint stability.
Progressing from strength work to plyometric work trains the body to react when called upon in sport. Good landing positions combined with the stability to produce and absorb force can be a great plan in a female athletes injury prevention plan.
We help the female athlete to decrease her risk of knee injuries by keeping it stable.
The hips are another area that can help or hurt the female athlete. As the female pelvis is wider, so will the angle of which her muscles pull based on her origins and insertion points of her muscles (where the muscle starts and where it ends).
Often the deep hip rotators are considered only as providing rotation to the hip but what we need to recognize is their ability to stabilize the hip. When activated they turn on in a way that may not be noticeable to the naked eye as there is no movement. The “isometric” (non-moving) contraction of these muscles can protect the hip as well as provide for further help down the kinetic chain into the knee and the ankle.
One area that we can improve drastically is poor neuromuscular control, according to Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training
Neuromuscular control is:
“Neuromuscular control is defined as the unconscious trained response of a muscle to a signal regarding dynamic joint stability. The movements of the lower extremity, including the knee joint, are controlled through this system, which needs to provide the correct messaging for purposeful movement.”3
By including a few “single leg exercises” into this program we not only help groove new movement patterns, we also help “activate” different muscle groups that aren’t needed as much when we’re on 2 feet.
When an athlete performs a “skater squat” or a “single leg deadlift” he or she will turn on their deep hip rotators as “stabilizer muscles”, thus helping them learn how to control movement for sport, such as when they need to kick a ball or skate or go up for a lay up in basketball.
Single Leg Deadlift With A Reach
Another function of the hip is to transfer power through the body during sports and activities. Energy will be lost between the upper and lower body if the core and hip muscles are not sufficiently able to transfer force.
‘Because of the architecture of a female, such as a wider pelvis, they need more stabilizer strength.’ -Paul Chek (Reference 1)
As young girls go through puberty certain hormones will be dominant for specific reasons.
Female athletes will have hormones being released that are preparing her for child birth, not specifically for her athletic abilities.
In order for her to make progress in her athletic career, she must make an effort to strength train, in my opinion.
If we simply look at the order of which rehabilitation works after an athletic injury we can see how important strength training is:
Injury occurs- manage pain and inflammation – regain range of motion – improve strength – recover coordination – return to modified exercise – return to play.
Imagine if we all used strength training before the occurrence of an injury!
We can’t completely prevent injuries but if one does occur maybe the injury will be less severe and maybe the athlete’s recovery will be better.
Overall, it is really important to me to incorporate a good physical literacy program for female athletes as their physiology should not be the reason why they can’t be the best athlete they could possibly be!
Learn more about how you can help your youth athletes through my Online Course:
How To Implement A Strength And Conditioning Program Into Youth Sport Practices…While Having Fun!