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7 Ways to Get Strong Outside of the Sagittal Plane

Written on February 4, 2013 at 6:10 am, by Eric Cressey

We all know that folks don’t tend to do well in terms of health, movement quality, or performance when they spend their entire lives in the sagittal plane.  They aren’t as well prepared for life’s surprises (e.g., slipping on the ice) or life’s challenges (beer league softball fly balls to the gap).  They often lack adductor length and have poor hip rotation, and compensate with injurious movement compensation strategies at the knee and lower back.  This knowledge gave rise to a central tenet of the functional training era: multi-planar training.

Unfortunately, it’s just just as simple as telling folks to train in all three planes, as there is a progression one must go through to stay healthy while reaping the benefits of these new exercises.  I thought I’d outline my start-to-finish progression strategy.

1. Single-leg Exercises

To the naked eye, lunges, split squats, and step-ups are sagittal plane exercises.  However, what you have to appreciate is that while you’re training in the sagittal plane, you’re actually doing a lot of stabilization in the frontal and transverse planes.  It’s important that you master these drills in the sagittal plane before you start experimenting with strength work in the frontal and transverse planes. 

Progressions from basic dumbbell-at-the-side movements would be to raise the center of mass by using barbells or holding weights overhead. You could also wrap a band around the lower thigh and pull the knee into adduction and internal rotation to increase the challenge in the frontal and transverse planes.

2. Alternating Lateral Lunge with Overhead Reach

At the most basic level, you can work unloaded lateral lunge variations into your warm-up. They might be in place, or alternating. As soon as folks can handle them, though, I like to progress to including an overhead reach in order to challenge anterior core stability and raise the center of mass up away from the base of support a bit.  This also gives folks a chance to work on their shoulder mobility and scapulohumeral rhythm.

For more variety on the warm-up front, check out the Assess and Correct DVD set; there are over 75 drills in there to take your mobility to a new level.

3. Plate-Loaded Slideboard Lateral Lunge

I like this as a starter progression because the plate out in front serves as a great counterbalance to allow folks to work on their hip hinge. Plus, there isn’t a big deceleration challenge on the leg that’s going through the most abduction range of motion; rather, the load is predominantly on the fixed leg, which is resisting excessive adduction (knee in).

Worthy of note: I never load this beyond 10 pounds, as folks tend to become kyphotic if the counterbalance is too heavy.  You’re better off loading with #3…

3. Dumbbell or Kettlebell Goblet Slideboard Lateral Lunge

By keeping the weight closer to the axis of rotation (hips) and minimizing the load the arms have to take on, we can load this up a bit without unfavorable compensations.

4. 1-arm Kettlebell Slideboard Lateral Lunges

This exercise builds on our previous example by adding an element of rotary stability.  You’d hold it in the rack position (or go bottoms-up, if you want variety and an increased stability challenge at the shoulder girdle). I’ve tried this with the KB held on both sides, and it’s a trivial difference in terms of the challenge created – so you can just use rotate them for variety.

5. Dumbbell (or Kettlebell) Goblet Lateral Lunge

You can load this sucker up pretty well once you’re good at it. Just be cognizant of not getting too rounded over at the upper back.

 

6. In-Place Lateral Lunge with Band Overload

This is variation that we’ve just started implementing. The band increases eccentric overload in the frontal (and, to a lesser degree, transverse) plane, effectively pulling you “into” the hip.  You have to fight against excessive adduction and internal rotation, and then “get out” of the hip against resistance.  This is something every athlete encounters, whether it’s in rotational power development or basic change-of-direction work.

As an added bonus, using a band actually provides an accommodating resistance scenario.  Assuming the partner stays in the same position throughout the drill, the tension on the band is lightest when you’re the weakest, and it’s more challenging where you’re stronger.

7. Side Sled Drags

Side sled drags are a great option for integrating some work outside the sagittal plane for folks who either a) aren’t coordinated enough for lateral lunge variations or b) have some knee or hip issues that don’t handle deceleration stress well.  As you can see, the exercise is pretty much purely concentric.  We’ll usually use it as a third exercise on a lower body strength training day – and as you can see, it can offer some metabolic conditioning benefits as well.

Keep in mind that these are just strength development progressions; we use a different collection of exercises for training power in comparable positions.  In our more advanced athletes, these drills will take place toward the end of a lower body training session – after we’ve already trained for strength in the sagittal plane, where we can load folks up better.  That said, if an individual is new to lateral lunge variations, you may want to introduce them early on in the strength training session when they’re fresh.

Have some fun with these exercise variations; I think you’ll find them to be challenging in ways you haven’t previously experienced.  And, the soreness you’ll experience will be all the proof you need!

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23 Responses to “7 Ways to Get Strong Outside of the Sagittal Plane”

  1. James Cipriani Says:

    Nice post on a rather under-covered subject!

  2. Chris B Says:

    Do the adductors get tight because they’re trying to counteract anterior tilt of the pelvis?

  3. Daniella Dayoub Says:

    I’m always looking for variations on lateral lunges and the like. These are very helpful. It seems that I can never have enough of these options for my clients. In fact, with my runners and cyclists, single leg stabilization, and exercises in transverse/frontal plane are crucial to keeping them injury free! Thanks for another great post.

  4. Lisa Says:

    Eric thank you for continuing to put quality content out there for fitness professionals. I love the variations you show to many of the basic exercises.

  5. Nicholas St John Rheault Says:

    EC,

    Great variations… How important is it when doing any of these lateral lunges to have the heel, knee and glute in alignment? I know you stated it’s important to make sure your knee doesn’t go into excessive adduction.

    Also, need to get tickets for the NSCA Saco, Maine clinic in April 2013…..

  6. Ole Henrik Flekstad Vik Says:

    I really liked this article, and I liked many of the exercises you suggested. But when I read the headline of the article I was hoping you would touch upon training in the rotational plane also. I would’ve loved it if you could write a blog post directed towards this subject, especially considering you work a lot with throwing athletes. I’m sure you could have written a kick- ass article about that training for rotational power, and I really hope you do.

  7. Scott Gunter Says:

    Eric,

    Great inclusion of dynamic stability with resistance band exercise variations, and I’m a big fan of the lateral sled drag. What is your take on changing the angles of the resistance (either sled or resistance band) so that you’re working other areas of the transverse plane as opposed to purely lateral resistance? Of course the sled would have to travel off the track in a way that it doesn’t slide directly behind the athlete, but this would add a progression in complexity and reap some sport-specific benefits in rotational stability.

  8. Tony Says:

    Excellent piece Eric!

    Any suggestions on a brand of slideboard?

    Your thoughts on the slide board and balancing out issues for those who are prone to rotator imbalances in the hips, e.g. folks who tend to externally rotate (duck feet) with accompanying TFL tightness?

    PS: if this repeats it is because of the damned security code thing. Maybe I’m color blind.

  9. Jess Howland Says:

    Great article Eric, I think we all get too focused on training in the sagital plane and those lateral and reverse movements get neglected resulting in imbalances and poor performance measures.

    Some really good info here.

    v/r

    Jess Howland

  10. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Jess!

  11. Eric Cressey Says:

    Chris,

    Some of the adductors actually create anterior tilt of the pelvis (adductor magnus has an inferior/anterior pull, for instance). So, you really can’t treat them all the same. They really get tight because we’re always in adductions!

  12. Eric Cressey Says:

    Ole,

    Have you checked out my YouTube channel? http://youtube.com/ecressey. Lots of medicine ball throw variations in there.

    Also, Functional Stability Training features and entire hour-long presentation all on this subject:

    http://functionalstability.com/functional-stability-training/

  13. Eric Cressey Says:

    Nicholas,

    I don’t think that they need to be 100% aligned. A bit of abduction is fine – but don’t let them sit in adduction.

    Don’t think the sign-up page is up on the clinic yet, but drop me an email and I’ll see what I can do. Thanks!

  14. Chuck S Says:

    I’m probably not the only one who doesn’t know the meaning of sagittal plane and other terms you use. Although I think I figured this one out. Perhaps you should have a glossary of terms and have a link to it in these postings. It might help a few more people benefit from your articles.

    Thanks.

  15. Brian Bochette Says:

    Another great post. Mike Boyle already had me sold on the single leg progressions, but I’m excited about testing out the lateral sled drags!

  16. Jez Says:

    Nice article…

    Should you have the non planted leg perfectly straight with 1 leg DL’s ? I’ve noticed quite a variation with this exercise.

    I also find when I do this exercise, my lower leg is at a slightly different angle from my upper thigh. In fact it is very difficult to keep the toes pointing towards the ground. Is this normal ?

  17. Eric Cressey Says:

    Jez,

    I cue folks to have it slightly bent. So, it’s a stiff, not straight – leg deadlift.

  18. Gabe Says:

    Awesome stuff Eric! I will implement These ideas into my own and client’s workouts. I have a feeling most are getting a little tired of single leg deads and regular B. split squats as assistance/supplement lifts.
    Again thanks,
    Gabe

  19. Greg Moore Says:

    For those of you that are looking for a cheaper solution to a slideboard for the lateral lunge variations, and for many CKC motions for the lower and upper extremity for that matter, consider using a quality furniture slider. You get a huge ban-for-your-buck with them and they are more space efficient than slideboards. There are, of course, still benefits that a slideboard offers, but the furniture sliders have a strong level of utility as well. Hope this helps.

    Regards,

    Greg

  20. Kate Whetsel Says:

    Eric,
    I learn a ton each time I read your posts. I particularly enjoy not just the ‘hows’, but ‘whys’ and ‘whens’ you always provide, and my clients benefit as a result, too.
    Thanks for the consistent quality.
    Kate

  21. Eric Cressey Says:

    Thanks, Kate!

  22. Mike Says:

    Eric,
    Are these movements are appropriate for a youth hockey player?

  23. Eric Cressey Says:

    Mike,

    Absolutely!

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