Girls Can

by Laura Ramus, P.T., A.T.C.

Many of the ways we train our athletes today is simply "out of habit." Let me give you an example. It's Tuesday night in Michigan and I'm sitting on the bleachers watching a ladies high school basketball team warm up before their game. They start with passive stretches and proceed into their lay up lines. Why do we continue to do passive stretches before practice and games when the purpose of a warm up is to transfer your body from a resting state to prepare for your specific sport. The warm up should be dynamic and increase your heart rate and body temperature and activate the neuromuscular system. Passive stretches do not accomplish this, so why do we still do this. HABIT!

Here is the science behind the sport. The majority of non-contact ACL injuries occur during jumping or side to side, change of direction activities.

The research demonstrates that there are much higher stresses placed on the Anterior Cruciate Ligament during side stepping and cutting maneuvers compared to straight ahead running. The loading on the ACL during quick change of direction maneuvers is sometimes 2 times higher than during normal running.

Athletes routinely perform cutting maneuvers without injury at a variety of speeds and angles everyday. Why then do so many knee injuries occur with these maneuvers in female athletes. The answer - we perform the side step or cutting maneuver with different technique.

Two different side step techniques are observed. One with a varus moment or (knee over foot or slightly out position) and the other with a valgus moment (knee turned inward beyond the foot) at push off. See pictures below.

varus - Correct technique
                           Correct technique!

Male athletes demonstrate VARUS moment. Knee positioned over the foot ( note arrow).

The proper technique is demonstrated by the varus moment with the knee over the 2nd toe.

jump line

When the knee demonstrates a valgus moment, the ACL is at greater risk for injury. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the picture below, this is the typical technique used by the female athlete.

valgus - incorrect technique
Incorrect technique!

Female Athletes VALGUS MOMENT.

Knee turned inward beyond the foot ( note arrow).




START     cone       cone        cone    FINISH

                          cone       cone


    1. Place 5 to 8 cones 10 feet apart.
    2. Begin with 30 to 45 degree angle cuts.
    3. Run to the first cone 50% speed. Plant the outside foot (closest to the cone).
    4. Immediately drop your hips by bending at the ankles, knees and hips.
    5. Concentrate on keeping your knee in line over your second toe. (do not allow your knee to turn in)
    6. Push off of the planted foot toward the next cone.
    7. When you reach the second cone plant the opposite foot. (Closest to the cone)
    8. Immediately drop your hips by bending at the ankles, knees and hips.
    9. Keep your knee over your second toe.
    10. Push off of the planted foot toward the next cone.
    11. Proceed through the entire line of cones.

Begin with 50% speed. Progress to 75%, then 100% when correct technique is mastered.

Make the drill more difficult by increasing the angle of cutting to 60 degrees, then 90 degrees.

Finally incorporate the correct motor action with a sport specific action. For example: 1. Basketball - the athlete dribbles during the drill. A defensive

player can be added.

    1. Volleyball - the athlete gets a ball tossed to them at each cone
    2. and performs a pass.

    3. Soccer - the athlete performs the drill with the ball. A defensive

player can be added.


The above Zig Zag cutting drill is a common training technique used by many coaches. Performed correctly this drill will increase your athletes side to side and change of direction speed. Performed incorrectly will not only slow your athletic speed and performance, but will also predispose the athletes knee to serious injury.

Correct training techniques need to be approached the same way sport specific skill training is taught. The old coaches cliché is alive and well, the way you practice is the way you will play the game. The same way a basketball player perfects shot mechanics, a soccer player perfects passing skills or a volleyball player perfects serving is based on Muscle Memory. Repeating a skill over and over sets a memory in every muscle on how to perform this movement correctly. When training and conditioning athletes we must apply these same concepts. If an athlete practices their shot incorrectly the Muscles will develop the incorrect memory and therefore bad technique. If a player practices incorrect cutting and change of direction technique they will develop wrong Muscle Memory and predispose themselves to poor performance and knee injury.

Incorporate this training technique into your next practice! Check in next month to see "How to Correctly Strength Train the Female Athlete."

Copyright © 2001-2011, Laura Ramus, All Rights Reserved, including photos, artwork, and all text content