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How surfer John John Florence rehabilitated his ACL with leg training

JOHN JOHN FLORENCE was in a leadership position in June 2019 when he paddled into the pounding waves of Saquarema, Brazil, during the World Surf League Rio competition. The 27-year-old Hawaiian had a considerable lead in points and was in pole position for a third world title and one of two men’s places in the US Olympic team. Then, in an early heat, everything changed. Florence fell into a large, tipi-shaped wave. But instead of offering a barrel to overtake, this peak thundered. To escape, Florence turned hard and high over the wave – then his board cut off the wave lip. “My knee, it just buckled,”

; he says. “I flew through the air, went, Oh no. ”A year earlier, he had partially torn his right anterior cruciate ligament. This wave? “It just blew up my ACL,” he says.

John John Florence surfing

John John Florence surfs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he broke his ACL in June 2019.

Thiago saysGetty Images

The ACL is one of the four main bands of the knee and is vital for surfers. It offers stability for cutting and balancing on churned water walls. Florence immediately decided to have surgery. “I thought, If I am operated on now, I have the opportunity to surf on pipe [Masters] in December – if I need this event to qualify for the Olympics.He had five months to rehabilitate his knee – half the normal time to recover from ACL surgery.

In July Florence flew to Newport Beach, California to see an orthopedic surgeon
Warren Kramer, MD, who used a high-tech but common practice to cut a portion of Florence’s right Achilles tendon and graft it onto his knee to create a new ACL. After ten days of pain and sleepless nights, Florence’s recovery plan was simple: several months of rest, light leg raises, and basic mobility work to maintain freedom of movement as the ACL and Achilles tendon gained strength.

John John Florence

Florence worked with Drew Morcos, DPT, PT, Dbach Functional Fitness, Sunset Beach, Hawaii and at home last year.

Parallel sea

It got more difficult in October. Florence went to Santa Ana to work with Drew Morcos, DPT, PT, who had worked for five years as a rehabilitation director in the Sports Medicine Department of the USC. Now he heads Motus Specialists Physical Therapy, a boutique rehab facility that works with top athletes like Russell Wilson and Carmelo Anthony. Morcos combines old school strength training and new school movement exercises to strengthen muscles in injured areas and uses new technologies to accelerate healing. For two months, he pushed Florence through a twice-daily regime three times a week, packing many slow-motion squats and a variety of lunges to add volume to his stunted Achilles tendon and quad. “Slow movements generate the most muscle recruitment,” says Morcos. “The stronger muscles get tired, and then you recruit other muscle fibers to work.”

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Morcos often wrapped Florence’s thigh in a restriction cuff, a tourniquet that restricted blood flow in a region, and pushed his muscles to their limits with light weights. “I trained really hard,” says Florence. “I pushed myself past the point where I thought, ‘Is that okay? ‘It was crazy how much strength I gained in a short time. “Morcos also stimulated blood flow and healing with a Kelvi wrap that quickly switches between hot and cold, flooding blood and draining from the knee.

To recreate the pop-up and balance of surfing, Florence did one-leg squats on a bosu ball and balanced exercises on a surfboard on a foam roller while catching tennis balls. “I’m throwing balls at John John and he’s still standing,” says Morcos. “I have never seen anyone so aware of coordination and balance.”

John John Florence

John John Florence squeezes to strengthen his legs.

Parallel sea

As the Pipe Masters competition approached, Morcos made regular weekly trips to Hawaii, where Florence continued for two days. Florence was amazed at his progress, but he hadn’t surfed in a barrel on the back (ass facing the wave) since his injury. But if he would do just that soon. He started surfing in smaller waves in front of his house – he took the position of driving in a barrel, even though he wasn’t in a barrel at all. “The closer and closer I got to Pipe – the wave, I was scared,” he says. “This crouched position on the back feels very vulnerable on your back knee because it’s stowed away. I worked through the things I was nervous about and did the things I needed to do to build confidence. ” Florence never surfed the pipe before the event.

In Pipe, Kelly Slater, the 47-year-old GOAT of surfing, would have to beat Florence by two places to secure an Olympic berth. Florence did not get out of his first brace and forced him into an elimination round. But he wasn’t worried. This round blew all the cobwebs away and his knee felt strong. “It cheered me on,” he says.

haleiwa, hawaii december 11 john john florence of hawaii will compete during the round of 32 billabong pipe masters 2019 on december 11, 2019 in haleiwa, hawaii photo by koji hiranogetty images

John John Florence of Hawaii competes during round of 32 of the 2019 Billabong Pipe Masters on December 11, 2019 in Haleiwa, Hawaii.

Koji HiranoGetty Images

When his river returned, Florence moved through a series of huge, perfect waves in the next heat, showing the newly sparked ability to refine his board through huge barrels. “I completely forgot that I was hurt,” he says. He won this run and eventually finished fifth, scoring enough points to stay ahead of Slater. Florence is now on the way to the Olympics whenever that will be. “Physically, I’m the best thing I’ve ever been,” he says. “When it comes to the delay in the Olympic Games, I look like this: It only gives me so much more time to get even better.”

Invigorate your legs

Build strength and optimize your balance with these exercises by the rehab guru Drew Morcos, DPT, PT. Do the movements three times a week.

1. Dynamic Curtsy Lungs


Ben Mounsey-Wood

Stand on a smooth floor with a tea towel under your right foot. The left leg is grounded. Bend your knees and push your butt back slightly. Slide your right leg back and left, bending your left knee more. Squeeze your left quad and glutes to get up. That is 1 repetition; Repeat until you can no longer maintain the shape, and then switch sides. Do 3 sets.

2. One-legged Romanian deadlift

Balance exercise

Ben Mounsey-Wood

Stand on a bosu ball or a stack of pillows, feet together, the core. Raise your right leg. Bend your left knee slightly and slowly move your right leg behind you. Move your upper body forward. Stop when you start feeling your back round. Reverse the movements to stand upright again. That is 1 repetition; Repeat until you can no longer maintain the shape, and then switch sides. Do 3 sets.

3. One-leg door assisted squat

Mobility exercise

Ben Mounsey-Wood

Stand in a door and grab the panel with both hands. Your left big toe and knee touch the frame. (Pad your knee with a towel.) Raise your right foot. While holding the frame and holding your knees and toes against the door, bend your left knee and lower over 6 seconds until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Squeeze your quad to get up and take another 6 seconds to stand. That is 1 repetition; do 6, then repeat on the other side. Do 2 sets.

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