For athletes, the ability to move in all directions is vitally important. The problem is most strength exercises tend to be vertical drills in which the weight moves up and down. Just think about three of the most popular methods to increase lower-body strength and power—the Squat, Deadlift and the Olympic lifts—are all vertical movements.
Don't get me wrong, these lifts are fantastic, but they may be limited in their transfer to the field due to their verticality. General strength training in the vertical plane is beneficial for athletes, but direct transfer to improve sports performance may be limited in these movements.
For example, the efficiency and effectiveness of bilateral, vertical exercises have been questioned in the past because it's been shown that it takes exceptionally large increases in 1RM Back Squat strength—23 to 27 percent!—to produce only slight increases in sprinting speed of 2-3 percent.
When it comes to agility, a recent review by Brughelli et al., of traditional strength and power training performed in the vertical plane found that it mostly failed to cause improvements in change-of-direction performance. In contrast, exercises that more closely mimic the demands of change of direction, such as horizontal jump training, lateral jump training, and specific change of direction training has shown to be more effective.
An area of concern with the Squat, Deadlift and Olympic lifts is their lack of specificity to horizontal planar movements. This is an area of concern because horizontal force production is closely linked to sprinting speed—specifically acceleration speed.
Horizontal-based movements also emphasize full hip extension, an attribute that has been judged a key factor for improved sprinting, jumping and lateral movement speed and success.
Finally, horizontal movements have been shown to have higher levels of gluteal activation than vertical movements like the Back Squat. This may be important because as sprinting speeds increase, the activity of the gluteal musculature also increases.
So what can you do?
Start to prioritize horizontal-based movements such as Barbell Glute Bridges, Hip Thrusts, Kettlebell Swings, Hip Extensions, and Reverse Hypers. Try to implement one of the horizontal movements from the video below into your daily program. Do that, and you'll be on your way to having a more well-rounded and efficient training program!
- Brughelli, M., Cronin, J., Levin, G., & Chaouachi, A. (2008). "Understanding change of direction ability in sport." Sports Medicine, 38(12), 1045-1063.
- Contreras, B., Vigotsky, A. D., Schoenfeld, B. J., Beardsley, C., & Cronin, J. (2015). "A Comparison of Gluteus Maximus, Biceps Femoris, and Vastus Lateralis Electromyographic Activity in the Back Squat and Barbell Hip Thrust Exercises." Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 31(6).
- Cronin, J., Ogden, T., Lawton, T., & Brughelli, M. (2007). "Does Increasing Maximal Strength Improve Sprint Running Performance?" Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 29(3), 86-95.
- Jacobson, B. H., Conchola, E. G., Glass, R. G., & Thompson, B. J. (2013). "Longitudinal morphological and performance profiles for American, NCAA Division I football players." Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(9), 2347-2354.
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