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Female Training

If female athletes want to achieve elite performances they must ensure that comprehensive strength training is fully covered in their training schedules, just as with men.

In other areas, however, a coach must proceed with eyes wide open, with a clear understanding of the crucial differences between the sexes. The importance of correct nutrition, minerals and food supplements, for example, is discussed at length, with some functional guidelines that would be folly to ignore. Below is a summary of these contents.

Female Athletes - Training for Success

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is the most commonly damaged ligament of the knee and accounts for up to 50% of documented ligamentous knee injuries.

ACL injury rates are four to eight times higher in women than men. In this section of the workbook, our specialist surgeons explain why female athletes suffer so many ACL injuries and give four preventative exercises.

The basic anatomy and mechanism of injury of ACL injuries is explained with particular emphasis on the epidemic of injuries in female athletes that has recently come to light.

What can you do to protect yourself?

You can’t control your team mates and competitors; but what you can control is the strength of your knees – and the ACLs within them. Although the exercises given aren’t a foolproof guarantee against ACL problems, they mimic injury-producing movements in a controlled and strengthening – but not threatening – manner. They improve knee strength in a functional way and represent a good way to minimise the overall risk of ACL injury. Each exercise is accompanied by an explanation of the benefits to the ACL:

Exercise one: stretches and strengthens the hamstring muscles on the back of the thigh in all three planes of motion (sagittal, frontal, and transverse). Strong and flexible hamstring muscles give the ACL an assist in its job of controlling the knee joint and preventing the tibia from moving excessively during knee flexion.

Exercise two: sudden changes in direction while running and jumping can cause injury to the ACL due to increased stress on the knee. This exercise helps prepare the ACL and muscles around the knee for these sudden (and often unpredictable) movements in the frontal (side-to-side) plane.

Exercise three: helps develop the balance and body control required to move in multiple directions at various speeds. These exercises require the knee joints to move through a number of different angles and directions, thus mimicking movements that can lead to ACL injury in unprepared athletes.

Exercise four: strong yet flexible and co-ordinated hamstrings help minimise the risk of ACL injury.

Overall, these exercises – if carried out a couple of times a week – should help keep your ACLs away from serious injury.

Increased risk of eating disorders for athletes

If you’re an athlete aiming to optimise performance in your sport, you can obviously reap benefits from paying attention to what you eat. However, for some people this interest develops into an unhealthy obsession with food, calories and body weight.

Athletes worry continuously about what they are going to eat, when and where they’re going to eat, how much weight they’ll put on if they go out for a meal with friends, how many hours they’ll have to exercise to burn off those calories, how they can avoid eating ‘banned’ foods, and so on. Such an obsession with food and body weight is termed an eating disorder.

Eating disorders appear to be on the increase in the population as a whole. For example, the number of people seeking treatment for anorexia and bulimia in one London hospital has increased by 360% over nine years.

Studies have shown that athletes are far more prone to developing eating disorders than non-athletes. In addition to all the factors outlined above, athletes face additional pressures related to performance and, for some, aesthetic demands.

Anorexia, bulimia and subclinical disorders: prevention is the key to addressing the problem of disordered eating, and education is a necessary first step. Athletes, parents, coaches, athletic administrators, training staff and doctors need to be educated about the risks and warning signals of disordered eating.

Nutrition: a sports physiologist explains which minerals are essential for female athletes. Increased mineral needs of female athletes are due to several factors, some of which have been backed up through rigorous scientific investigation.

These may contribute to iron loss, for example, and any athlete involved in heavy training can be affected.

Female athletes in general are likely to have a higher rate of iron loss than men, and also a higher daily requirement, largely because of blood loss through menstruation. Pregnancy and childbirth can also tax iron stores significantly.