What does every coach want more of for his athletes? Multidirectional speed; a foundational pillar of any athletic development program. Multidirectional speed relies on an athlete’s ability to not only produce power, but sustain it throughout competition. When getting at the heart of multidirectional speed you will find it to be about improving motor programs and increasing an athlete’s ability to maintain a posture during explosive dynamic movements. To ensure performance is optimal, posture and body control must be owned in all 3 planes of motion to ensure an athlete’s full potential is accessed. Most athletes are well-trained and potentially over-trained in the sagittal plane, while they are under-trained in the frontal and transverse planes. This is likely the case because deadlifts, squats, and the bench press are well-understood exercises. When considering the transverse plane, we have seen improvements in the understanding of the importance for rotational development in athletes, specifically in the golf and baseball communities. However, what is still lacking is how to own the frontal plane.
A typical frontal plane progression is single leg balance, lateral walking, shuffles, and an occasional lateral plyometric drill. And although these are frontal plane movements they are not developing an athlete's ability to maintain a posture under distress. An athlete needs to have the capability of sticking their foot in ground to plant and explode out of the pocket in a different direction with complete control and at no risk for injury. Insert frontal plane ownership, but how?
Going back to Physics 101, we know speed equals distance divided by time, S= D/T. If applying this equation to a performance enhancement center the goal becomes to maximize D while T remains a constant or achieve a given distance in minimal time. Let's consider sprinting, a part of every field sport. When deriving D we get Stride Frequency (SF) x Stride length (SL). We need to be able to manipulate these variables to allow us to effectively enhance the speed of an athlete.
Oftentimes we will drill repetition after repetition striving for efficiency of movement in hopes that SF and SL will improve. However what is frequently neglected is an athlete's initial posture and the influence it can have during both the swing and stance phase of gait regardless of their plane of motion.
Let's discuss posture in the frontal plane. Conventionally, frontal plane instability is recognized by unwarranted movement at the knee, but the activity occurring above and below the knee must also be considered.
First the foundation, the pelvis. The pelvis is comprised of 2 innominates that articulate with each other at the pubic symphysis anteriorly and at a centrally located sacrum posteriorly.
These structures form a pelvic inlet (top-down view) and a pelvic outlet (bottom-up view). The position of the pelvic inlet and outlet are influenced by adduction/abduction of the innominates, frontal plane motion. This is important because the inlet/outlet position dictates the position of the pelvic floor, an essential component of multidirectional speed.
When considering the relationship between the hips and pelvic floor a length-tension curve can be utilized. From my experience, most athletes present with a bilateral anterior pelvic tilt because of the environmental stressors driving them into an extended over-sympathetic pattern. When this sympathetic pattern exists, the pelvic floor elongates or eccentrically lengthens. The pelvic floor is essential in an athlete because it creates a sling across the pelvic outlet and acts as the linkage to the hips. If the pelvic floor is elongated a reduction in power output will occur, especially in the frontal plane. Dynamic side to side movements require increased pelvic floor activity to control and maintain the athlete’s center of gravity within the base of support. If an athlete is unable to do this, their risk for injury increases dramatically. In other words, on the length-tension curve we are already too far to the right (as most humans are) and have less potential for power output, which in turn means less potential stability for an athlete.
Second, the feet. The feet are an influential reference center, as they provide afferent input directly from the environment. The ability for an athlete to not only sense their feet, but control the interface between their feet and playing surface is critical during multidirectional movements. When frontal plane stability is lost at the pelvis it tends to trickle down the kinetic chain and instability occurs at the level of the foot. And likewise, if frontal plane stability is lost at the foot via an increase in calcaneal eversion (part of pronation), it can translate up the kinetic chain and lock up an athlete. This can lead to increases in both the ground reaction forces throughout the kinetic chain and the amount of work required of an athlete to change directions. Not only does this unnecessary energy expenditure slow an athlete down when changing directions, it increases their risk of injury. To minimize the effects of the external forces imposed on an athlete, proper internal positioning must be emphasized to enhance performance.
Now onto the important, but nerdy stuff…..
To decide whether or not an athlete has access to their frontal plane I like to use two tests and one positional assessment.
Pelvic Ascension Drop Test (PADT)
The first test comes from the Postural Restoration Institute, the PADT. This test informs about an athlete’s ability to get into stance phase of gait. To achieve this, an innominate must extend as an athlete’s pelvic outlet abducts. This allows femoral adduction and priming of the pelvic floor musculature. The inability to “clear” or pass this test indicates that an athlete may be compensating throughout their kinetic chain and/or locked into an extended pattern as discussed earlier.
One way to begin to correct this pattern is to use a modified all 4 belly lift to drive anterior inlet and posterior outlet inhibition via the internal obliques and transverse abdominis. This should allow outlets to abduct and inlets to adduct.
Passive Abduction Raise Test (PART)
The second test examines the other portion of the gait cycle, swing. The PART also comes from the Postural Restoration Institute. This test examines whether or not an athlete’s innominates can enter the swing phase. Limited passive femoral abduction means that an athlete cannot adduct their pelvic outlet enough to get into swing phase. This potentially means that the transference of power at toe off is restricted and the athlete may be slower because of it. The goal here should be to inhibit the dominant hip adductors to allow an athlete to move reciprocally into and out of the swing phase.
Here is a great hooklying exercise to address the issue.
Half Kneeling Position (Lunge)
As always, tri-planar information is being gathered and interpreted to drive decision making, but let’s continue with the theme of the frontal plane. The position of half kneeling provides great insight on an athlete’s access to the frontal plane. To start, let’s correlate this position to the gait cycle to help understand its role in multidirectional speed.
With regards to the stance phase of gait, the back leg is in late to mid stance depending on the position of the pelvis whereas the front leg is in the swing phase. If an athlete has an anterior pelvic tilt as discussed earlier they will be in late stance, a more extended position, compared to a neutral mid-stance position.
If an athlete is in late stance the first order of action is to get them to a neutral position because the sagittal plane will lock the frontal plane. In this athlete, the pelvis will be angled inferiorly towards the stance leg. This is a sign of frontal plane instability resulting from weakness of the ipsilateral abdominal wall and the inability to perform femoral adduction.
Position the athlete via the internal obliques and transverse abdominis.
The Hruska adduction lift test is a great test to determine where an athlete may be falling short in their frontal plane stability. Improvement in this test, from my experience, correlates to improvements in multidirectional speed and general power output during maximal jumping exercises. Here is a video by Zac Cupples on how to properly execute this test:
We want to strive for at least a 3/5 for our athletes. This signifies that the athlete has enough frontal plane control to able to train in the frontal plane for speed adaptations.
When training my athletes I like to take a tiered approach. I start with my positioning or preparatory movements to neutralize the pelvis. By doing so I am allowing access to both sides of the athlete’s body and letting them move freely in all planes. These exercises are very individualized and based on examination items, but here are a few of my favorite:
From here I like to move into my priming movements that are geared towards neurological stimulation. By activating the central nervous system we are turning on the essential muscles needed to optimally perform and reduce the risk of injury via improved patterns of stabilization. For me, this typically involves multiple large muscle groups to fire the entire kinetic chain. My two favorites are:
After the preparatory and priming movements, go after stabilization in the frontal plane. To achieve this, the athlete’s program should include single leg exercises, plyometrics as well as sport specific movements based on their sport.
To be brief, do not underestimate the influence the frontal plane can have on multidirectional speed. An athlete’s ownership of the frontal plane will take them to the next level in performance. Own the frontal plane!
Keaton Worland is a dedicated healthcare professional striving to help others achieve their highest human potential possible by bridging the gap between rehabilitation and performance. To do so he has entrenched himself in the most up-to-date literature to ensure both clients and patients exceed all expectations.