When beginning the transition to plyometrics, I always want to make sure my athletes can first control regressed movements, positions of instability, and demonstrate good deceleration control in all three planes in a SLOW AND CONTROLLED MANNER. This is an absolute prerequisite before I ask them to generate power (speed component) and change directions (agility component), especially in reaction to an external stimulus (ie an opposing player or ball). Assessing and training deceleration control in all three planes is absolutely vital for the athlete, as no sport is truly one dimensional.
Furthermore, for those sports that rely more heavily on one plane of motion than others (think all your rotational sports like tennis, baseball, etc.), it’s important to focus even MORE time on the transverse plane. And for those sports that are trained primarily in one plane (i.e. basketball for vertical jump height and power development), you CANNOT neglect training in the other planes. You’d be surprised how “strong” a basketball athlete may be in the sagittal plane in terms of power development, strength, and even movement control, but the moment you task them with a frontal or transverse plane movement, they melt like Jell-O and their lower extremity alignment becomes horrendous. In our opinion, there is a HUGE lack of training tri-planar movement, as so much of a S&C focused program for top athletes is on developing sagittal plane power and strength (squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches etc) and not enough focus on the other planes of movement or on deceleration. Generating power is great, but you must also learn how to CONTROL it. This lack of tri-planar deceleration control is one of many causes of the high prevalence of non-contact ACL injuries today in the world of sports.
Deceleration Control in the Sagittal Plane
Deceleration training should be a staple for any athlete in the rehab setting looking to eventually return to sport. Whether it’s after an ACL surgery (READ: ACL Prehab, Rehab, and Graft Options) or simply after a bout of patellar tendinopathy (jumper’s knee), learning to properly decelerate and control forces in addition to generating power is of utmost importance to the athlete. Deceleration in the sagittal plane should be achieved first, as it’s much easier to control due to our much larger muscles helping out (hip and knee extensors like the glutes and quads). Deceleration in the frontal plane is next. And finally, the most difficult is controlling deceleration in the transverse plane, as it is rarely pure transverse plane movement and usually involves a mix of sagittal, frontal, and transverse plane forces.
Deceleration Control in the Frontal Plane
Below is a step by step progression I like to incorporate with my athletes. It’s not black and white and there are many other exercises that can be implemented as well, however, each progression does follow the following guidelines:
- Develop control of movement and deceleration first in a double leg staggered position like a lunge. There is inherently more stability derived in the lunge position because you’re on two legs. The benefit of this position compared to a squat position is that we can bias more weight onto the lead leg, challenging the leg with decelerating a higher percentage of the force
- Load the lead leg with an external load. To further bias the lead leg, you can use an external load (i.e. a medicine ball) in the plane of movement you wish to control. An external load not only adds more weight onto the lead leg, but it further challenges the body to control MOMENTUM. Controlling the momentum of the external load while keeping ideal lower extremity alignment is key during these exercises.
- Control speed. Slamballs are a great way to add a speed component to our progression, in which the athlete must learn to eccentrically control the weight of the body and ball loading with speed onto the leg. In addition, the athlete must learn to dissociation movement of the upper extremity and the lower extremity, maintaining good lower extremity alignment while trying to develop power in the upper extremities.
Of course, this deceleration program doesn’t begin until you’ve deemed the athlete has the required STRENGTH to even control these positions. Without proper strength, you’re skipping a HUGE step and putting your athletes at risk for injury by jumping straight into plyometric training. Furthermore, you have to TEACH your athlete how to move properly prior as well.
Deceleration Control in the Transverse Plane
When it comes to the actual progression of deceleration training itself, there are TONS of different ways to do this. Ultimately, I believe you should start in double leg positions first, then transition into single leg positions. When it comes to planes of motion, the same rule as above applies: sagittal –> frontal –> transverse. Only when control of all 3 planes is achieved, should you incorporate change of direction drills. I’ve included a few plyometric/cutting drills at the end of the video just for ideas. Again, not a black and white science here, just ideas for progressions!