Ever seen a soccer player who can bolt down the field when it comes to linear sprinting, yet has the side-to-side agility of a snail?
For a dynamic sport that is colored with changes of direction, it amazes me how seldom soccer players venture out of a linear plane when training in the gym. Players spend the bulk of their training time in the sagittal plane with movements like Squats, Deadlifts, Forward Lunges, Forward Sprints, Push-Ups and Pull-Ups. Of course, these are all excellent moves for building maximal total body strength. However, soccer performance training needs to become more about building a robust, diverse athlete—one who can move in various directions with strength, power and speed.
Put simply, a soccer athlete who is strong from all angles and all force vectors will be better bulletproofed to answer the demands of the game. Strength, power and speed drills must be done in all planes of motion so soccer athletes are prepared for actions such as cutting, faking, decelerating, accelerating, defending and shuffling. Training in the frontal plane allows athletes to move laterally in a more efficient fashion.
All positions on the pitch require sharp frontal plane movement. Take midfielders or forwards, for example, who need to make explosive moves and lateral fakes by defenders. Or how about goalkeepers who need to dive side-to-side with immense power to save corner-seeking shots?
Beyond improving soccer specific movements, front plane training can also reduce your risk of injury. After all, a majority of knee tears and ankle sprains occur from a player’s inability to absorb force when changing direction. To help players become better lateral movers, here are four of my favorite front plane moves.
1. Lateral Lunge
The Lateral Lunge is a frontal strength movement everyone needs to master. Once strength is built with this foundational movement, producing speed and power laterally becomes much easier. I recommend 2-3 sets of 6-8 reps on each side:
Once an athlete has mastered the Lateral Lunge, they can progress the movement by integrating a band. I recommend 2-3 sets of 4-6 reps on each side:
2. Lateral Crawling
Coordination moving the opposite arm and opposite leg is not only critical for healthy movement, but also for left and right brain hemisphere activation. If players can be coordinated moving side-to-side, they can add serious depth to their movement arsenal. Lateral crawling is a stellar way to hone in on coordination, creativity, and core stability. I recommend 2 sets of 20-30 steps in each direction.
Once an athlete masters basic Lateral Crawls, they can progress the movement by adding a sled. I recommend 2 sets of 20-30 steps each way.
3. Lateral Skater Jump
Once a base of strength and coordination are established, players can sprinkle in power and speed exercises in the frontal plane. These exercises are essential to a comprehensive soccer performance program.
Lateral Skater Jumps help players optimize the stretch-shortening cycle to better develop fast-twitch muscle fibers. And the more fast-twitch muscles are trained, the more powerful the athlete becomes. I recommend 2 sets of 4-6 reps on each side.
Once an athlete masters Lateral Skate Jumps, they can progress it by adding a band. I recommend 2 sets of 4-6 reps on each side.
4. Lateral Shuffle+Sprint
I get that this movement is mundane, but most players botch the lateral shuffle. Some common mistakes are having the hips/center of gravity too high, a lack of explosiveness, a crossing of the feet, and quickly deteriorating posture.
The key with lateral shuffles is to keep the hips low so that players can move and react quickly.
Once mastered, this move can be progressed by the addition of a load via a sled. You can also add a crossover step to train the transition into a sprint.
The crossover step should not have a high knee drive. Knees and hips should still remain low so players can produce force quick and efficiently. If you want to become the most robust, athletic and empowered soccer player out there, start incorporating frontal plane work into your routine. You’ll be more laterally explosive, more resilient to injury, and more prepared to take over a game.
Photo Credit: South_agency/iStock