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Promoting healthy weight training programs as it relates to joint health for young female athletes

Allen Jackson, M.Ed. ABD, Larry W. McDaniel Ed.D., & Laura Gaudet PhD., discuss the processes related to the promotion of healthy strength training programs as it relates to joint health for female athletes.

What are the considerations for joint health of adolescent female athletes?

In Allison Aubrey's article, "Training May Curb Some Sports Injuries in Women" it was noted that females are more prone to knee injuries than their male equivalent. In a literature review conducted by Ms. Moore, there was a focus on the ACL tear with injuries occurring during soccer competitions. The research indicated that after boys go through puberty, they have an increase in muscle development. Their gluts and hamstring muscles are much bigger and stronger while females seldom experience this burst or increase in muscular strength. Females tend to be more dominant through the anterior compartment of the upper leg. The quadriceps and front muscles become thick, leaving the back muscles, such as the gluts and hamstrings less developed, thus leading to a muscular imbalance through the anterior compartment of the upper leg. This condition puts more stress on the ACL therefore, increasing the chance for injury (Moore, 2008)[8].

Recent research is allowing those involved in human performance to provide a better understanding of the physiological differences between men and women and how these differences affect injury rates in female versus male athletes. Many factors are influencing this phenomenon. First and foremost are the anatomical and physiological differences between the sexes and, secondly, the number of female athletes and the intensity of competition (Oliver & Healy, 2008)[9].

What Dr McDaniel and I want our students (prospective teachers, coaches, and those in the field of exercise science) to realize about female athletes and the high rate of injury to the lower extremity lies in the imbalance between the different muscle groups of the upper leg. Through the realization of one of the significant problems, we need to develop a hypothesis for a solution or a way to minimize the risk of injury among female athletes. Our hypothesis centres on training for a better balance of these muscle groups. By creating greater strength and endurance between the agonist and the antagonist muscles involved in the movement of the lower extremity, we can minimize the occurrence of many sport-related injuries plaguing females who chose to participate in sport and recreation.

The Prescription

A significant aspect contributing to women's increased occurrence of sports injury is that females seldom get the training that focuses on fundamental movement patterns early on in life. As coaches and educators, and even those involved in administration, we need to ensure that young women are receiving proper instruction regarding certain basics such as form running, agility training, fast-feet drills, stop-start activities, jumping, and resistance training. Once the opportunity to teach these basic skills is lost, it becomes increasingly more difficult to counteract many of the neuromuscular deficiencies experienced by female athletes due to a lack of proper training during childhood and early adolescence (Oliver & Healy, 2008)[9].

Resistance Training for Women

Most girls have an unreceptive perception of resistance training. My experience as a weights coach for adolescent girls was in convincing them that their image of the muscle-bound female body is an ill-conceived misunderstanding. From a coaching perspective, what the female athlete needs is help in overcoming this myth. It has grown into a cultural barrier that compromises the overall health and well-being of a generation of American women. Adolescent females need to overcome these misconceptions and realize that resistance training is essential to their well-being (Marshall, n.d.)[7].

When we approach training from the aspect of preparing women to compete there needs to be a sense of urgency in developing a balance of strength and endurance between opposing muscle groups, especially those involved in the movement of the lower extremities (Marshall, n.d.)[7].

Strength Training Program

Being an advocate for strength training for women is easy once one realizes the overall benefits. The best advice we can offer is to develop a program structured on diversity. This can be done by using a variety of fitness components in assisting young women in developing physiologically, as well as emotionally by realizing their potential and achieving personal goals. The focus of this article is on creating a balance between the muscles of the anterior compartment of the upper leg and the muscles found in the posterior compartment of the upper leg.

Upper leg musclesAnterior Muscles of the Upper Leg

The muscles found in the anterior compartment of the upper leg make up the Quadriceps.

This would include the rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis.

These muscles are responsible for the extension of the knee, and as we have learned, these muscles are better developed in females than the muscles of the posterior compartment of the upper leg.

Exercises specific to training the Quadriceps include squats, hack squat, front squat, leg press, leg extension, overhead squat, and lunges (GymAddiction, 2002)[5].

Posterior Muscles of the Upper Leg

Upper legThe muscles of the posterior compartment make up the hamstrings and glutes.

The Hamstring group includes the semitendinosus the semimembranosus and the biceps femoris.

According to the literature, these muscles are not as developed in females as the muscles from the Quadricep group (Sokolove, 2008)[11].

The glutes consist of the gluteus maximus, one of the largest and strongest muscles in the body, the gluteus minimus, and the gluteus medius (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008)[4].

The Hamstrings

The Hamstring muscles are responsible for flexion of the leg at the knee and extension of the leg at the hip. The inadequate strength of the Hamstring muscles among females in comparison to the strength and development of the antagonistic - quadriceps muscle group may compromise the basic biomechanical principles of the lower extremity of the female athlete (Hetherington 2006)[6]. Exercises for the development of the Hamstrings include stiff-leg deadlifts, good-mornings, deep squats, leg press, lunges, and leg curls (GymAddiction, 2002)[5].

The Glutes

The gluteus minimus and medius stabilize the pelvis and vertebral column when one or the other foot is lifted. This action is accomplished by producing hip abduction. The gluteus maximus is the primary hip extensor. This muscle is engaged in activities such as climbing stairs and jumping activities (Stanford Visible Female, n.d.)[12]. Several exercises for developing the gluteus group of muscles include deep bucket squats, lunges, leg curls, and leg extension at the hip (Gym Addiction, 2002)[5].

Anatomy Chart Anatomy Chart

Additional Considerations

Gender differences in lower extremity landing mechanics and muscle activation have been identified as potential causative factors leading to the increased incidence of anterior cruciate ligament injuries in female athletes. Female valgus knee alignment places more significant strain on the anterior cruciate ligament than a more neutral alignment. Gluteus medius activation may stabilize the leg and pelvis during landing, limiting valgus knee motion and potentially preventing anterior cruciate ligament injury (Russell et al. 2006)[10].

To determine if frontal-plane knee angle and gluteus medius activation differ, two variables were studied. The first, gender, and the second variable; the relationship between initial surface contact and maximal knee flexion during a single-leg drop landing. Thirty-two subjects, 18 through 30 years of age were studied. Frontal-plane knee angle and gluteus medius average root mean square (aRMS) amplitude (a statistical measure of the magnitude of a varying quantity) at initial contact recognized women landing in knee valgus (the knee is turned outward, away from the medial aspect of the body) and men landing in knee varus (inwards towards the centre line of the body) (P < .025).

At maximal knee flexion, both men and women were in a position of knee varus, but the magnitude of varus was less in women than in me< .025); however, Russell et al. (2006)[10] have recognized that gluteus medius muscle activation differed little between the sexes and may not be critical in controlling frontal-plane knee joint motion. Women tended to land in more knee valgus before and at impact than men.

What this means is that gluteus medius muscle activation does not differ between the sexes and is not responsible for any differences in knee valgus. Therefore the excessive valgus knee angles typical in most women may help to explain gender inequality in anterior cruciate ligament injury as compared to this type of injury among young men (Russell et al. 2006)[10].


The key component in minimizing the risk of injury for female athletes involves the development and maintenance of leg strength and endurance. Everyone would like their legs to be strong and pain-free as well as attractive. Endurance activities like biking, swimming, walking, and running are highly recommended.

There are plenty of endurance activities to choose from to add diversity to any training program. Do not overlook plyometric training but do not overuse it. Include agility training, especially drills that allow for stop-and-go movements, and most importantly, include resistance training to develop and maintain a proper balance in strength and endurance. To get the high-performing, well-defined legs most women are looking for, the kind that will turn heads, you should hit the weight room (Claps, 2006)[3].

Reducing the risk of injury for female athletes also involves understanding that many females may have a five-degree difference in the angle of the femur at the hip joint than their male counterparts. This angle produces a condition named "Valgus" which most people may refer to as "knock knee". This condition is usually accompanied by inversion (medial rotation) of the foot. These postural differences demand special consideration for females with training strategies.

The number of repetitions in jumps, foot strikes, weight lifting repetitions, and other modes of training, as well as postural biomechanics of the hip, knee, ankle joints, need to be closely monitored. The training needs involving females must focus on a balancing of the muscles of the lower extremity to better prevent injury to female participants.


  1. BetterU, Inc (2008) Anatomy Chart. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed October 20, 2008]
  2. (2008) Caring Medical & Rehabilitation Services
  3. CLAPS, F. (2006) Get great legs. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed October 17, 2008]
  4. Gluteus maximus (2008) In Encyclopaedia Britannica. [WWW] Available from: Encyclopaedia Britannica Online: [Accessed October 16, 2008]
  5. (2002) Hamstrings [WWW] Available from: [Accessed October 16, 2008]
  6. HETHERINGTON, N. (2006) How to improve the function of the hamstring muscles for speed. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed October 16, 2008]
  7. MARSHALLl, J. (n.d.) Weight training for women: Why women avoid weight training - and how coaches can change their minds. Peak Performance.
  8. MOORE, S. (2008) Biomechanics discussion board. Biomechanics of Sport, Fall. Chadron State College.
  9. OLIVER, D. and HEALY, D. (2005) Athletic Strength for Women. Human Kinetics Publishers, Inc. 2008
  10. RUSSELL, K.A. et al. (2006) Sex Differences in Valgus Knee Angle During a Single-Leg Drop Jump. Journal of Athletic Training, 41 (2), p. 166-171.
  11. SOKOLOVE, M. (2008) The uneven playing field. The New York Times, May 11, 2008. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed October 16, 2008]
  12. Stanford Visible Female (n.d.) Function of gluteus muscles. [WWW] Available from: [Accessed October 16, 2008]

Page Reference

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  • JACKSON, A. et al. (2009) Promoting healthy weight training programs as it relates to joint health for young female athletes [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Authors

Allen Jackson, M. Ed. is an Assistant Professor of Physical Education and Health at Chadron State College in Chadron, Nebraska (USA) who is well known for his presentations & publications at international conferences focusing on Leadership, Curriculum, and Health.

Dr Larry W. McDaniel Ed.D. is an Associate Professor of Exercise Science at Dakota State University Madison, SD. USA. Dr McDaniel was a First Team All-American football player (USA Football), a Hall of Fame Athlete, and Hall of Fame Wrestling Coach.

Dr Laura Gaudet, Ph.D. is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Counselling, Psychology, and Social Work at Chadron State College, Chadron NE. She is well known for her publications and presentations at international conferences focusing on various topics in the field of psychology.