Being able to apply the right amount of force in the appropriate direction at the appropriate time is critical to sports success.
If we jump to catch a ball, we apply force vertically.
On the other hand, if we want to sprint, slow down, stop, throw, kick, change directions, push,or strike, then we need to be able to apply force in a horizontal direction.
A 2015 study by Dodds et al found that horizontal jumping ability had a greater relationship to sprinting speed than vertical jumping ability in rugby players. In a different 2015 study, Agar-Newman and Klinstra found that among elite female athletes, the standing triple jump (i.e., a horizontal jump) had the strongest relationship with sprinting speed.
In other words, horizontal force production really is important!
This is a challenging concept, because most of the classic weight room exercises involve exerting force vertically, not horizontally. The Squat involves standing up, the Deadlift involves standing up, the Military Press involves pushing a bar straight overhead, etc.
Due to factors like gravity and mechanical disadvantage, it’s simply not as easy to train horizontal force production, particularly with classic weight room implements.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Let’s hit on some of my favorite ways to enhance horizontal force production, which includes kettlebells, horizontal plyometrics, bounds, sleds and resisted sprints.
Kettlebells for Horizontal Force Production
Three kettlebell exercises that are staples in virtually any kettlebell program all involve exerting force horizontally. These are the Kettlebell Swing, the Kettlebell Snatch and the Kettlebell Clean.
The swing is self-explanatory: the kettlebell is swung in front of the body (i.e., in a horizontal direction). The Snatch involves swinging the kettlebell out in front of the body, so it also has a horizontal component, and same with the Clean.
If our interest is in training the body to exert force horizontally, then we have to approach these kettlebell exercises a little differently than how they’re normally utilized. Often, these are approached as rhythmic conditioning exercise done for time. This approach is not optimal for our goal. We need to focus on short-duration, high-intensity sets with full recovery. This means sets of six repetitions or under with heavier weights.
Jumps and medicine ball throws performed horizontally can help increase horizontal force production. These jumps include the Standing Long Jump, Standing Triple Jump, and horizontal jumps over hurdles or boxes.
Although the Long Jump and Triple Jump are typically done into a sandpit during competition, you can do these moves without one and simply land in a safe, two-footed position as your finish.
In terms of throws, medicine ball throws that involve tossing the ball forward should be emphasized.
Like the kettlebells, the focus should be on brief, high-intensity efforts with full recovery. This means around 10 all-out jumps or throws in a session with full recovery between each. Remember, we’re training quality, not quantity.
One horizontal plyometric that deserves special recognition is Bounds.
Bounds for Horizontal Force Production
Forward Bounds are a special plyometric that exaggerates the sprinting motion.
We land on one leg, push off and spring forward. We focus on the knee lift and dorsiflexed ankle position used in sprinting. We alternate legs until we have covered the desired distance.
These are typically done for 20-40 meters, and the idea is to cover that distance with as few foot strikes as possible. The focus should be on all-out effort and a full recovery.
Sleds for Horizontal Force Production
Sleds are a fantastic way to train our horizontal force production. To get a loaded sled from A to B, you’ve got to move it horizontally across the ground.
While Sled Pushes are fantastic, it’s important to balance out those pushes by occasionally pulling the sled, as well.
When using sleds to develop horizontal force production, our focus should be to go heavy. I believe the emphasis should be on 20- to 40-meter efforts for three sets with complete recovery between each set.
Resisted Sprints for Horizontal Force Production
Typically, sprinting only requires propelling our body weight through space. But by adding additional resistance to sprints, we can further train our ability to apply force horizontally.
When we think of resisted sprinting, our mind typically goes to things like towing sleds or tires, running with a parachute or sprinting up a hill.
However, you can also perform resisted sprinting with nothing more than a partner.
We need a partner standing in front of us, leaning into us, and placing their hands on the front of our shoulders. From here, we will attempt to sprint forward while they apply resistance. It may take some practice to get the feel just right, but this is a powerful tool that’s frequently overlooked. Three to five reps of 5-10 meters with complete recovery is all we need!
Horizontal force production is very important for most athletes, yet if you rely on a run-of-the-mill training program, you won’t do much to increase it.
For more information on this and other aspects of strength and conditioning, check out my newest book, Strength and Conditioning: A Concise Introduction 2nd Edition.
Photo Credit: technotr/iStock