PRI

Owning the Frontal Plane for True Multidirectional Speed

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?

What is Speed?

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.

Postural Influence

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.

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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.

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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…..

How do we assess if an athlete has frontal plane access? 

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.

What about frontal plane control/stability?

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.

How do we train the frontal plane in our athletes?    

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:

Crossover Toe Touch

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:

Crawling

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.

Conclusion

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!

about the author

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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.

Shifting In and Out of Patterns: A Discussion on Extension, Neutrality and Performance

I’m a conventional deadlifter, but I’m a short guy. I’d probably be better off pulling with a sumo style. I’ve tried sumo a couple of times, but they were pretty frustrating experiences. I definitely couldn’t pull as much sumo as I could from a conventional approach the first time. I guess I probably just need to work on it. I certainly wouldn’t enter a meet and try to use sumo for the first time ever under those conditions. Something bad might happen. Every year during spring training you hear about pitchers trying out new pitches to add to their repertoire. These pitchers don’t just decide to add a new pitch in the middle of the season, because they know they have to practice it and work out the bugs before trying to mix it in during games that count. In the world of Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) practitioners there is often times discussion regarding whether it is a good idea to pull athlete’s out of their pattern because this might make them run slower, throw with less velocity, or not be able to jump as high. My personal thought on this matter is that perhaps these quantifiable drop offs are the result of the athlete not having practice performing this skill from the new position that they are performing them from. Perhaps with more practice and the acquisition of training volume in this new position, the athlete would be able to reach the same quantifiable expressions of the sport movement, but do so with a biomechanical approach that would be better for longevity related matters.

Extension Patterns

Stress, behaviors, exercise, and specific sports movements are associated with driving people into extension/inhalation oriented positions. Extension strategies are used to power up for strength and power movements in competition and training. If movements are practiced in an extension oriented position, then that position becomes the dominant response strategy that you go with when you need to perform that exercise under competitive or high stakes conditions. Extension strategies, which are associated with anterior pelvic tilt, lordosis, and elevation and external rotation of ribs may limit a number of joint movement capabilities, such as humeral and femoral rotation because of bony positions, or result in compensatory strategies to achieve required necessary motion for sports movements.

While there is nothing necessarily wrong with extension positions, problems may begin to occur when people exist in extension during times of rest, and when they are unable to get out of an extension oriented position in general. Excessive extension seems to be related to unnecessary levels of muscle tone, which may increase internal resistance to joint movements. Discussing all of the pitfalls of excessive extension and resting extension positions is beyond the scope of this document. The overall concept that this document is aimed at addressing is the idea that extension is a part of sports, and a strategy that many athletes may over utilize. Chronic pain syndromes may become a part of an athlete’s life if they are unable to prevent excessive extension during the performance of their sports movements, and if they exist in that position during rest/utilize this strategy during activities of daily living.

Extension and Performance

Regardless of the downside of utilization and reliance on excessive extension, tremendous displays of strength, power, and athleticism through extension is a common occurrence in sports. Exercise adaptations that take place with repeated sports movement performance in extension will result in hypertrophy and force production of the tissues used to power those movements. These adaptations will make these extension driven sports movements even more powerful. These adaptations are very specific to the tissues used in an extension position, and adaptations will not present themselves to the muscles that would be utilized in a more flexed position. Therefore, the musculature that would be recruited and utilized in a more flexed position would essentially be untrained.

Perhaps the reason why sprinters run slightly slower following an intervention that makes them neutral is because they haven’t trained the tissues that they’re recruiting to power that movement under those circumstances. Claiming that making sprinters neutral is a bad idea for their sport may be a short sighted statement. Perhaps an individual with impressive quantifiable expressions of force production who witnesses acute reductions in those expressions after achieving neutrality simply needs to train that movement under the conditions of neutrality. New muscles will have an opportunity to power joint actions if someone achieves neutrality after not being able to reach that position previously. These muscles need to be strengthened and then integrated into more complex athletic movements. If proper joint actions can be utilized for sporting movements with the appropriate prime mover and stabilization strategies of muscles and then optimal quantifiable expressions can be reached, this would appear to be the best practice approach to training and competition. Coaches simply should not expect equal quantifiable expression of new positional and muscular strategies to that of older strategies to be instantaneous.

The quantifiable comparison of an extension strategy to a neutral strategy is not necessarily a fair one if neutrality has been recently achieved. If we as a community want to evaluate whether neutrality is a detriment to the quantifiable expression of an athletic movement, we need to properly train the musculature that would be recruited under neutral conditions in the performance of a sport movement for an appropriate amount of time to allow it to experience the positive effects of training adaptations. Appreciating the differences between acute and chronic physiological expressions is an important consideration on this topic, and one that needs further evaluation before any definitive statement can be made.

Fitting the Mold

In the world of sports performance, it seems that there are criteria levels of fitness that must be met as a requisite to be successful at high level sports. Football receivers will be unable to play in the NFL if they run a 4.9 in their 40 regardless of their sport specific skill. In regards to movement capabilities, there is also likely a similar phenomenon. It is highly likely that each sport, and each position inside each sport possesses a specific range of motion profile that would be a requisite for the ability to execute sport specific biomechanics associated with optimal performance of sporting actions. Once the athlete possesses the appropriate levels of joint movement variability, there is probably little additional benefit from going greatly above and beyond that level.

If the athlete is capable of quantifiably reaching a movement range of motion standard and is able to recruit the appropriate muscles in the right sequence, the athlete will likely be able to realize best case mechanics and will be doing everything in their power from a biomechanics standpoint to prolong their playing career. All this being said, the stress of training and competing, as well as the aging process will likely alter the gross range of motion capabilities or alter the sequencing and/or synchrony of muscular action utilized in the active performance of dynamic tasks over the course of the athlete’s playing career.

If the athlete has been trained with an understanding of proximal neutrality, and what sorts of positions and muscular strategies are associated with being able to stay within a criteria motion standard and synchronization pattern that allows for the expression of proper biomechanics, the athlete will potentially extend their playing career and be able to realize more great performances per playing season.

about the author

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pat davidson

-Director of Training Methodology and Continuing Education at Peak Performance, NYC.

-Assistant Professor at Brooklyn College, 2009-2011

-Assistant Professor, Springfield College 2011-2014

-Head Coach Springfield College Team Ironsports 2011-2013

-175 pound Strongman competitor. Two time qualifier for world championships at Arnold Classic

-Renaissance Meat Head