Friday, June 14, 2013

Considerations for Training Youth Girls

In 1972, a major landmark legislation was passed that changed the U.S. in ways that are still being seen today. 

That legislation was Title IX

Title IX was a civil right legislation that banned the discrimination against women from competing in athletics among others.  It evened the playing field and forced colleges, high schools, middle schools, and park and rec departments to re-shape the number of opportunities they gave girls to participate in athletics.

The effect of Title IX has been tremendous and the first generations of girls who were introduced to Title IX are now becoming mothers and continuing to pass along and grow the number of girls participating in athletics. 

The benefits of young girls participating in sports is starting to show some impressive results. 

A 2007 study shows that playing high school sports increased a girl's chances of graduating college by 41%!  In addition, some other longitudinal studies have shown that Title IX and it's ability to give girls the opportunity to participate in sports also increases educational attainment by up to 20% and led to a 40% increase in employment. 

This is the power of sports, for both boys and girls. 

Nothing else can compare in terms of teaching and cementing qualities like teamwork, responsibility, commitment, communication, time management, and gives kids a network of social connections.

Don't forget the physical and fitness contributions that pave the way to a more healthy and active future.  Finally add in specifics for young girls such as being part of sports or a fitness program at a young age decreases chances of breast cancer, osteoporosis, and taking up smoking

With all those awesome benefits, it's clear that all youngsters, both girls and boys, should get involved in some sort of sport or fitness program. 

BUT there does need to be special considerations to be taken when working with youth girls.  Girls develop, are structured, and have different biomechanics than boys.  These considerations NEED to be taken in order to ensure safety, fun, and reduce risk of injuries.


This is a big problem seen in the female athlete population, at all ages.  Girls show higher rates, some as high as 4-6 times more injuries compared to males when compared to same sports - basketball, soccer, track and field, volleyball.  This is especially true in terms of knee injuries and specifically ACL injuries.

       A quick reminder, the ACL prevents hyper-extension of the knee, limits excessive forward movement of the tibia during knee flexion, and controls internal rotation of the tibia.  For more on the knee check out our Anatomy Lesson going into much further detail.

The majority of these injuries are non-contact, meaning they DO NOT occur from some outside mechanism, hit, or force. 

They result from either landing, cutting, and braking, and the forces exceed what the knee can handle.  The problem with non-contact injuries is the SHOULD NOT happen.  They result because of weakness/stability problems, imbalances, fatigue, and/or poor motor control.

Valgus Knee

Valgus knee collapse is when the knees buckle inwards, and females tend to exhibit more knee valgus than their male counterparts. 

This valgus position puts a lot of stress on the ACL as well as the medial aspects of the knee such as the MCL and meniscus.  It is not an optimal nor efficient position, and it's results for a variety of reason.

When the knee joint is in a neutral position, the ACL can withstand specific forces of 5.1 times body weight.  When the knee is in a valgus, the ACL can only withstand forces of 2.2 times body weight.

A valgus knee is over twice as weak and vulnerable than a neutral knee, it's obvious why a valgus knee in un-wanted.

For younger girls, it might just be a motor control problem, meaning they revert to it because it's easier for them. 

Sometimes just cueing and tell these young girls to not let her knees collapse will fix the problem.  Young people don't know the correct position or tracking of the knee so teaching them the correct position can make a big difference.  While this may work on some occasions, unfortunately it doesn't for the majority of the cases.

Hip Strength

We've talked about it before on here, but the knee is a dumb joint.  It tends to just follow the path set by the hips. 

So knee problems such as a valgus position is often the result of poor hip control.  Working to improve strength and control through the hip and pelvis will do wonders to protect the knee and give it a better path and patterning.

Improving strength in the hip and pelvic complex, especially the glute maximus and glute medius can go a long ways in improving the stability and control of the knee.

Going hand in hand with hip strength is overall general strength.  All young girls could use more strength and control through their hips, core, hamstrings (get there in a second), feet, and upper body. 

Getting young girls involved in an exercise program that increases their strength, body awareness, body control, and specific needs does wonders for girls. 


A great assessment for young girls is to watch them land.  Girls tend to land with reduced knee flexion and increased valgus position.  Just take a look at the picture above - ideally you want to see something like the picture on the left, NOT the right.

You already know the problems increased valgus position can cause, but landing with reduced knee flexion is also a big problem.

Knee flexion in basic terms = knee bend, so girls tend to land with less bend in their knees.  Landing without adequate knee flexion creates an abrupt stop and landing, and this puts greater amounts of stress on the whole body.  Good knee flexion allows the body to better absorb and disperse the forces of landing.

Think of this, the ground forces during a jump can exceed 4-5 times body weight

Landing with limited knee flexion increases these loads, while landing with in a more flexed position reduces and disperses these loads. In fact the most stress is put on the ACL when the near is near full extension (straight leg).  So landing with greater knee extension puts greater stress on the ACL and the whole knee.

Check out this article about Landing and Falling and watch this video.  Really important stuff in there.

Posterior Chain Strength

Females naturally tend to have an imbalance of quad-to-hamstring strength.  This imbalance can cause an increase in the amount of anterior pull/stress on the knee, that sounds familiar doesn't it.  Oh yeah, the ACL works to prevent excessive anterior forces and hyper-extension.

It has been shown that female athletes who injured their ACL have weaker hamstring strength when compared to, not only boys, but also other females who have not received an ACL injury. 

In fact the biggest difference between boys and girls is hamstring strength.  Boys and girls have similar quadriceps strength in terms of cross sectional area, but hamstring strength lags behind in girls.

Strengthening a girls hamstrings help to keep the knee pulled posteriorly and in a more neutral position.  Having a strong posterior chain also helps decelerate the body during landing and cutting actions, as we talked about this is key in preventing injury and enhancing sport performance.

As we learned the more neutral we can keep the knee, and any joint in that manner, the better it will function and the safer the athlete will be.  Check out our Top 5 Lower Body Posterior Chain Exercises.  


Girls develop a greater Q-Angle when compared to boys.  The Q-Angle is the angle of the femur (thigh bone) and the shin. 

Girls structurally develop wider hips, and this creates a greater inward angle of the femur.  As you can see from the picture, this naturally creates a valgus position as well as leading down the chain to excessive foot pronation. 

There is really nothing you can do about the natural structural differences, but as we talked about in previous sections, there are things you can do to decrease the effects of this structural difference.

Get To Work

Studies have shown that following a strength protocol, designed specifically at increasing hip - hamstring - core strength, decreasing valgus collapse, improving landing techniques, and targeting overall body control and balance GREATLY reduces a girls chance of getting and ACL injury, other knee injuries, and basically helps to "bullet-proof" their bodies. 

FIFA has made steps to improve the training of all youth athletes with it's Fifa 11+.  FIFA 11+ is a structured warm-up for youth soccer organizations to follow designed to reduce injuries, increase strength, and increase balance and coordination.

The FIFA 11+ has been shown to improve performance while simultaneously decreasing injuries.  When you take a peek at the specific exercises to increase hamstring strength, perfect landing mechanics, and improve total body strength and control, it's no question it's helping improve youth performance.

Lastly we need to understand girls need more strength and strength training will not morph girls into muscular men.  Adequate strength, body control, and awareness is what youth girls need.  These qualities are EXTREMELY important for performance, safety, and set girls up for success later in life. 

Can't say it enough, but GIRLS NEED STRENGTH!  Adding strength onto proper motor and movement patterns is imperative.  This doesn't mean that you need to put girls under heavy weights, because for most youth girls their body weight will do. 

Push-ups, pull-ups, squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, bent over rows, glute/ham raises, etc are all great ways to add strength onto proper movement patterns and body positions.  So while aerobic work is OK to perform every once in a while, girls, and everybody for that manner, benefit much more from resistance training.

So to recap, if you're training or coaching youth girls, these qualities NEED to be focused on

   - Landing Mechanics - Exhibit proper body control and balance while not showing a valgus knee
   - Hamstring Strength - Adding in extra or specific exercises that target the hamstrings
   - Hip Strength - The hips control the knees.  Strong hips = strong and safe total body
   - Fun and Positive Environment - The goal is to create passion and love for sports and fitness.  Making sure you create a fun, positive, and encouraging environment will enhance development in the long-run.

Hope everybody has a great weekend, and for the folks in the U.S., have a great Father's Day.  So until next time, Go Get 'Em!


Like, Dislike, Agree, Disagree, WORLD CHANGING, or a big turd; whatever you feel, leave a comment below and let me know! 

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