Training Laterally to Improving Performance

I truly believe that in as little as the last 5 years, the health and fitness industry has come along in leaps and bounds. We have been turning away from detoxes, absurd amounts of cardio, and tiny pink dumbbells, and have started trending towards lifting heavy, loaded barbells, and eating a well-balanced diet.

These things are not only essential to improving our performance at an athletic level, but are also integral to maintaining health and function into our older years.

Plus, you know…. looking good naked?

But something that has become increasingly apparent to me, is the tendency we have to prioritise movements that occur in the sagittal plane (those movements that are performed front to back) over anything else.

Now don’t get me wrong, these movements (think squats, deadlifts, and their single leg variations) are absolutely essential to improving our physical performance. They are considered foundational movements, as they replicate both athletic movements (such as sprinting, jumping and bounding), and activities of daily living (such as picking things up, walking upstairs, standing from a seated position).

As such, increasing our capacity to perform these movements explosively (for the development muscular power) and under load (for the development of muscular strength) is integral to maximising performance at both an athletic level, and during our day to day lives.

But they don’t prepare us for everything.

If we observe athletic movement in almost any sport, it is quite apparent that movement is required outside of the sagittal plane. This includes the performance of cutting manoeuvres, side steps, and lateral bounds.

Hunter Bennett Performance Lateral Movement

Moreover, you can guarantee that most injuries actually occur when individuals are moving outside of the sagittal plane, during these more lateral movements.

And this is also likely to hold true in day to day life, where injuries most often occur during uncommon (and often surprising) movements, such as a lateral stumble up a curb, or slipping on wet ground.

Which is why it is also incredibly important to include exercises that require movement in the frontal plane.

 

The Frontal Plane

The frontal plane effectively describes movements that occur laterally (from side to side). By training in this plane of motion, we can further prepare our body for the rigors of our chosen sport (and for our daily life, for that matter), reducing our risk of developing injuries AND improving our performance capabilities.

Similar to improving acceleration, improving our performance laterally involves both the development of strength in the frontal plane, and the development of power in the frontal plane.

 

Developing strength in the frontal plane

I have spoken about this extensively, but it won’t hurt to mention it again! Power is the ability to produce force rapidly. If we don’t have force to produce (strength), then we can’t produce it rapidly.

As such, developing strength is essential to improving our ability to perform in the frontal plane.

This can be done by implementing loaded lateral lunges (such as those in the videos below) in your training, as well as the inclusion of various other lateral exercises, such as lateral sled drags and loaded lateral shuffles.

(we can thank Eric Cressey of Cressey Performance for these quality demonstrations)

These exercises should be performed for 6-10 reps for strength development, and technique (as always) needs to be prioritized. Control the eccentric portion of the lift, and then drive up during the concentric portion.

 

Developing power in the frontal plane

In conjunction with strength development in the frontal plane, it is essential that we also train muscular power in the frontal plane.

This allows us to transfer the strength we have developed working in the frontal plane to more sports specific movements, such as lateral bounds, cutting, and shuffles.

This can be done by performing lateral plyometric exercises, rapid lateral shuffles, and change of direction drills.

(Agiain, thanks Eric)

 

While developing power in the frontal plane is paramount to improving our physical performance laterally, the inclusion of these exercises also has one other key benefit.

They teach us to absorb lateral forces during single leg landings. By improving our ability to land efficiently, we avoid unnecessary loading through the joints of the lower limbs, which significantly reduces our risk of inducing an injury during those movements.

This becomes increasingly important in field sport scenarios where unpredictable changes of direction and lateral movement occurs frequently – by improving the body’s capacity to handle these movements, we improve our ability to perform them efficiently, while significantly reducing injury risk.

 

Training in the frontal plane and improving your lateral movement is a key component of improving sport (and life) performance.

If you have any questions, feel free to get in contact, or drop me a line in the comments section.

 

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