Recent research indicates that isolation strength training – training muscle groups individually – is responsible for adaptations that can lead to altered neuromuscular control, which in turn increases stress on the ACL knee ligament during functional activities. What this means, in plain English, is that isolation strength training – exercises like the bench press, leg press, pull downs, leg extensions and leg curls where the equipment provides stability – is not appropriate for anyone preparing for an athletic activity, and actually can contribute to injury.

Without getting into the science of this issue, which I could, isolating muscles while training reduces the protection afforded to ligaments that comes from a dynamic – or functional – training program. So basically, you need to train your body to move in the same way and at the same speed as you do when you compete. Here are some stats that may surprise you; at least 70% of all ACL injuries are non-contact in nature, people between the ages of 15-25 are the prime candidates, and 30,000 of the estimated 100,000 annual ACL injuries occur in high school and college age females.

In light of this info, athletes, recreational athletes, coaches at all levels and parents of developing athletes need to understand the importance of including functional/dynamic training in an athlete’s preparation for competition. In conjunction with this move towards dynamic training, all of the out-dated methods of isolation/body building training and the accompanying stone-age mind-set should to be tossed onto the scrap heap. The philosophy that anybody should follow a body building program while preparing for athletics is folly.

Here’s where I have to give you a little jargon-laden lingo. Any training program that seeks to minimize the risks for ACL injury, and the vast majority of muscular and connective tissue injuries, must include the following five elements: neuromuscular control, dynamic joint stabilization, rate of force production, eccentric strength, dynamic flexibility, and postural control. That’s SIX elements…neuromuscular control, dynamic joint stabilization, rate of force production eccentric strength and postural control. These SIX elements need to be part of all training programs.

To help hit all SIX of these elements eliminate exercises that use equipment for support or to aid with balance in favor of exercises that are performed “on your feet.” So get rid of the leg presses, leg curls and leg extensions and incorporate squats, lunges and straight leg dead lifts. Use dumbbells in place of barbells whenever possible to help build strength, coordination, and balance. Stay off your back and don’t sit down while exercising. Adopting this philosophy will allow you to get the most out of your training sessions, while helping reduce your risk of injury.


  1. Having torn my ACL this is very interesting to me. But are you saying no machine bench, no free-weight bench, or no bench-press at all?

  2. all machine work should be pretty much eliminated, and definitely no machine presses.
    there’s nothing inherently wrong with the bench press, but too many people still put too much emphasis on it. dumbbells are the best, but barbells are fine. and never more than once per week.


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