In the simplest sense, change of direction tasks consist of decelerating the center of mass and reaccelerating it in a different direction. Change of direction tasks can be categorized into three phases: eccentric, isometric, and concentric. Further, they are tri-planar in nature.
The eccentric phase begins when the foot hits the ground and ends with the amortization phase of the stretch-shortening cycle. At this point, the muscles have fully yielded (absorbed force) and are acting isometrically. The stretch-shortening cycle is about to unleash its stored potential energy, like a stretched rubber band waiting to be let go, springing the athlete into the concentric phase of the movement. This concentric phase represents the reacceleration component of changing directions.
This is a brief, simple overview, but it illustrates the point. We brake eccentrically and explode back out concentrically.
1080 Sprint: The Ultimate Change of Direction Tool?
Before you get your pitchforks and start the witch hunt, I’m NOT suggesting that traditional resistance training does not improve change of direction performance. Of course it does. Resistance training makes muscles big and strong, and big strong muscles tend to serve athletes well.
However, traditional lifting almost exclusively loads the vertical vector. Squats, deadlifts, cleans, lunges, and hip thrusts provide vertical loading. The resistance is gravity, which always pulls downward—even if you’re moving sideways, as in a side lunge.
I love the barbell, but it would be foolish not to recognize the differences between vertical and horizontal loading.
Vertical loading requires vertical force generation to overcome the resistance. Horizontal loading requires horizontal force production.
That’s how simple AND how profound it is.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience horizontal loading, you just don’t get it. You have to feel the difference to understand it.If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience horizontal loading, you just don’t get it. You have to feel the difference to understand it, says @KD_KyleDavey. Click To Tweet
If you don’t have a 1080 Sprint, don’t worry, there are other ways you can experiment on yourself. Step into a band, like a Superflex, or attach yourself to a cable machine and lunge toward the base of the band, such that it pulls you into the lunge.
When you contact the ground, you have to push your foot forward—as if trying to make your toes pop out of the front of your shoe—in order to decelerate. This is horizontal force production. In a traditional lunge, you’d have to push mostly downward into the ground to decelerate, since the weight pulls you down.
Isaac Newton, equal and opposite, yada yada.
Luckily, I work at an amazing facility that has a ton of gadgets, including a 1080 Sprint and force plates. So, I figured, heck, why not just measure the differences between traditional lunges and lunges with a horizontal tow? I performed what I call bounce-back lunges, both in line with the pull of the 1080 (as in, the machine pulled me forward) and with a barbell under the same load (20 kilograms). I stepped onto a force plate so I could measure the difference between vertical and horizontal forces.
Video 1. Eccentric overload lunges to a force plate, played in slow motion, integrated with Noraxon software.
The seemingly small difference—the horizontal pull versus the barbell—is actually a huge difference. With the horizontal pull of the 1080, you train yourself to decelerate and brake in the horizontal direction—the same direction we sprint in—and, of relevance to this article, the direction we cut and need to decelerate in.
Further, take a close look at the force curves of the two lunges, shown in figure 1. Notice the spike in horizontal forces upon ground contact in the eccentric overload lunge (shown in video 1). This spike indicates an immediate and sharp horizontal braking force applied into the ground. Conversely, the barbell lunge actually begins with negative horizontal force; meaning when my foot hit the ground, I acted to flex my knee and slide my foot backward, as if to push my heel against the back of my shoe. This motion pulls the center of mass forward—it accelerates, instead of decelerates, the body.
In other words, this is the exact opposite of what you’d want in a change of direction movement.
Interestingly, vertical peak force was only slightly higher on the barbell lunge than the eccentric overload lunge, and vertical impulse was actually greater on the eccentric overload lunge.
Unsurprisingly, horizontal peak force and impulse are both greater in the eccentric overload lunge than the barbell lunge.
Understanding the limitations of this n = 1 and reps = 1 experiment, the demands on horizontal rate of force development and absolute force (impulse) appear significantly greater during an eccentric overload lunge versus a traditional barbell lunge.
Thus, I believe the eccentric overload lunge has greater transfer to change of direction and linear movement in general than traditional vertical loading, such as with a barbell, DBs, a weighted vest, etc.
Flowing further into this line of thought, I believe horizontal loading represents an entirely separate category of training that is distinct from vertical loading. Side lunges with DBs and side lunges with the 1080 Sprint are completely different exercises. I believe the stimulus and the adaptations are different. Certainly, the level of task specificity is different.
The Data Difference
One of my upcoming articles for SimpliFaster will be dedicated to the glaring problems with traditional change of direction testing. Namely, most change of direction tasks do not actually measure change of direction at all. Instead, scores mostly reflect sprint speed.Most change of direction tasks do not actually measure change of direction at all. Instead, scores mostly reflect sprint speed, says @KD_KyleDavey. Click To Tweet
The 1080 helps decipher this with a few key metrics. Using its change of direction mode, you have access to both segments of the test: the run up and the run out, if you will. Moreover, you are able to see the data on each individual step, including the most important one: the actual change of direction step.
If you want to know how much power was generated on that change of direction step, just take a look at the graph. If you want to know how fast the first 10 and the last 5 were in a 5-0-5, that data is generated automatically for your viewing pleasure.
This is particularly useful if you seek to identify asymmetry. For instance, one of our ACL patients completed a simple change of direction task: sprint 5 meters, turn around 180 degrees, and sprint another 5 meters (essentially a 5-0-5, but with a 5-meter run in instead of 10 meters). Note that we set up the test such that she began by running in line with the towing force. That is, the 1080 pulled her forward for the first 5-meter sprint (into the cut), and she ran against the resistance when she turned for the final 5 meters.
This test exposed her operative side.
Note the above screenshot, taken from the tablet the 1080 Sprint comes with. The tablet acts as the remote control for the system. The image shows the data for the ACL patient discussed above. The graph is set to display speed on the y-axis and time on the x-axis. I know it looks complicated, but it really isn’t. Stay with me for a moment.
We are looking at two trials on the graph. The pink line represents the first 5 meters (the run up) on the nonoperative side. The green line represents the run up on the operative side. The black lines represent the final 5 meters of both trials.
The first area I’d like to draw your attention to is where the lines change to black. That junction represents the cutting step where the athlete put her foot in the ground and initiated the 180-degree turn. It took her much longer to decelerate on the operative side (green line) than the nonoperative one (roughly 0.2 seconds versus 0.5 seconds). This is despite having a slower average velocity on the run in when cutting on the operative side.
She ran in slower AND took longer to cut off the leg that was operated on.
Likewise, note the times on each segment of the test, which I’ve placed a yellow box around in figure 2. The 5-meter run in is 1a, and the 5-meter run out is 1b. Both segments were slower when cutting on the operative side, but the run in was particularly slower (1.84 seconds versus 2.11 seconds). Whether this indicates a difference in physical capacity or a mental block, the fact remains that performance was clearly worse on one side than the other at the time of testing.
Lastly, astute readers may note that athlete actually travelled 5.41 meters on the operative side rather than 5 meters. Why would that be?
Two reasons. One is a function of how the system works. The athlete was wearing a belt that was connected to the tow cord. The measurements are based on the action of the belt—5.41 meters is how far the belt travelled, not necessarily her foot, chest, etc.
The second reason is that although the athlete tried to stop on the 5-meter line, she couldn’t do it. The belt actually pulled her forward a bit farther than she planned for, which didn’t happen on the nonoperative side, again signaling an asymmetry.
In this case, we see lower performance in both the eccentric and concentric aspects of the change of direction task (the run in and run out, respectively). Perhaps some athletes are only weaker in one half of the task, and undoubtedly, many athletes will present symmetrically in both aspects. Whatever you find, the data helps you understand where your athletes are right now and can help inform training moving forward.
Great…Data. Now What?
There are mixed opinions regarding the significance of asymmetry. Some seek to correct it, others do not. The jury is still out regarding the impact of asymmetry on performance and injury risk. For those wishing to dive in, I recommend reading everything Dr. Chris Bishop of Middlesex University has published, and everything he cites!
If you do wish to adjust asymmetry, one strategy to do so is to prescribe asymmetrical loads. If the left leg is weaker than the right, do three sets on the left for every one on the right, for instance.
Aside from asymmetry, however, how can we apply the 1080 Sprint to improve change of direction performance? I am a categorical thinker, and thus I revert back to the three components of changing directions identified earlier in this article (eccentric, isometric, and concentric).
Further, because change of direction tasks are tri-planar, I categorize exercises according to their plane of movement. Thus, we arrive at nine categories of exercise on the change of direction training menu:
- Sagittal eccentric.
- Frontal eccentric.
- Transverse eccentric.
- Sagittal concentric.
- Frontal concentric.
- Transverse concentric.
- Sagittal isometric.
- Frontal isometric.
- Transverse isometric.
For simplicity and organization, I’ve grouped the exercises below by muscle action (eccentric, concentric, and isometric).
When the foot hits the ground on the change of direction step, a braking force is applied. This braking force acts to decelerate the body in preparation for the direction change. Deceleration is achieved primarily via eccentric contractions of the quadriceps musculature, with aid from the hamstrings and glutes.Loading vertically and loading horizontally are different experience altogether, and it is my belief horizontal loading is more specific to change of direction than vertical loading. Click To Tweet
As noted above, loading vertically and loading horizontally are different experiences altogether, and it is my belief horizontal loading is more specific to change of direction than vertical loading.
In addition to actually performing change of direction tasks under load, the following exercises are great ways to overload movement patterns and local musculature eccentrically to improve change of direction performance.
Sagittal Eccentric Exercises
Eccentric Overload Decelerations
This exercise is more challenging than it looks. Braking is already a difficult task. Adding an extra pull to overcome is a unique sensation and most certainly challenges strength and control.
This is also a fun one to gamify. You can start by simply telling an athlete to take X number of steps and then stop as quickly as possible, but it becomes more interactive when they have to stop on command. “Run until I say stop.” Play with the time intervals to keep your athletes on their toes!
Eccentric Overload Forward Lunges
This is a standard lunge but performed heading toward the 1080 Sprint. The additional pull skews the forces the athlete produces away from vertical and toward a horizontal direction, as noted earlier in this article.
Eccentric Overload Forward Hops
Very similar in concept to the eccentric overload decelerations described above. Airborne speed increases at a higher rate than usual, thanks to the additional pull. Thus, velocity upon landing is higher than usual, increasing the demand on force output. Upon landing, the 1080 continues pulling, again requiring more force than usual to come to a dead stop.
Don’t overlook this exercise. It is more challenging to do well than it seems.
Slow and controlled. This is a single-leg, eccentric quad burner.
Prone Knee Extensions
Again, slow and controlled. This exercise is an eccentric capacity builder in the quads. The 1080 has a nice function by which you can put up to three times more resistance on the eccentric part of the movement than the concentric part. That comes in handy here, essentially making it easy to return to the start position (straight leg) and then increasing the resistance from there.The 1080 has a nice function by which you can put up to three times more resistance on the eccentric part of the movement than the concentric part, says @KD_KyleDavey. Click To Tweet
Frontal Eccentric Exercises
Eccentric Overload Side Lunges
Similar to the previous: This is a side lunge, but with the 1080. Rather than returning to the start position—a concentric action—athletes are instructed to stand straight up after descending into the lunge. This minimizes concentric demand and ensures that most of the muscular work is done in the eccentric domain.
Falling Eccentric Side Lunges
Side lunges with DBs and side lunges with the 1080 Sprint are completely different exercises, says @KD_KyleDavey. Click To Tweet
Similar to the previous side lunge, but you need to pick up your inside knee and allow the 1080 to pull you over. This increases the demand on force and rate of force development to decelerate yourself, and acts as a bridge between eccentric overload side lunges and eccentric lateral hops.
Eccentric Lateral Hops
A lateral hop with the “aid” of the 1080 pulling you into it.
Transverse Eccentric Exercise
The transverse plane is the final frontier and something like a combination of the sagittal and frontal planes. I would expect transverse plane change of direction movements to improve as athletes gain competency and strength in the sagittal and frontal planes and their associated exercises. Nonetheless, specifically practicing and training transverse plane movement is still important.
Rotating Eccentric Lunges
The trick with this exercise is to delay trunk and pelvic rotation until the foot hits the ground. If you do that, force is absorbed during the transverse plane movement (rotation). If you rotate in the air and then put the foot down, it’s just a sagittal or frontal plane eccentric lunge.
As a quick reminder, the concentric portion of a change of direction movement begins when yielding has ceased and the athlete’s center of mass begins moving in a new direction. Concentric force production influences how fast the athlete is able to exit the change of direction movement.
Sagittal Concentric Exercises
I’ve written extensively on resisted sprints . When applied well, resisted sprints are a great tool to increase lower extremity power. Thus, resisted sprints have a place when discussing change of direction. Furthermore, while I’m not a fan of the traditional change of direction tests, I do realize they are nonetheless prevalent in scouting combines. Recognizing that faster athletes do better on change of direction tests, resisted sprints certainly can help athletes improve test scores.
Nothing fancy. Walking forward lunges. The horizontal pull forces you to lean forward and project at a more forward angle than traditional lunges. Thus, there are implications for horizontal concentric force production here.
This is essentially an eccentric overload forward lunge, but rather than standing up straight, the athlete is instructed to “bounce back” to the start position. I recognize there is an eccentric component here, but I like the speed and power aspects of bouncing back to the start position against the horizontal pull.
All varieties of hop are on the training menu here (bounds as well): single, triple, etc. Hops are commonly prescribed, especially in track and field circles. Adding a slight horizontal resistance increases force demands and changes the training stimulus.
Frontal Concentric Exercises
Bounce-Back Side Lunges
Similar to the bounce-back lunges described above, but in a side lunge. Athletes are instructed to “bounce back” forcefully to the start position.
Again, not recreating the wheel here. Shuffling against resistance.
Athletes hop away from the 1080 (against resistance) and not toward it.
This is a challenging exercise. It’s akin to a depth jump, by which the muscles are given extra load before exploding out concentrically. Don’t sleep on this one.
Transverse Concentric Exercises
If anybody else has a better name for this, I’m all ears. Drop a comment below.
The concept is that the start position of this exercise somewhat mimics the amortization phase position during a 90- or 180-degree change of direction cut, like the 5-0-5 or the pro agility test.
I prefer to keep the plant foot pointed 90 degrees from the direction the athlete is going to turn (toes “straight” ahead). With the foot planted, rotate the pelvis toward the plant foot, creating internal rotation at the hip. This should be the acetabulum rotating about the head of the femur—like a pitcher does during the windup—not the femur rotating inside the acetabulum. These are distinct movements.
If you nail the setup, you are in a low position with your belt buckle pointed to the side of your cut foot, and not straight ahead. This puts you in a position to achieve a full range of motion external rotation at the hip.
To execute the movement, extend and rotate the hip together. If you’re performing this well, you will feel your glutes working, but it will feel different than when doing sagittal work like squats, deads, and thrusts.
Bounce-Back Rotating Lunges
The same rotating lunge described above, but with the bounce-back feature previously described in this article. I recommend not introducing this exercise until athletes are very competent with the rotational aspect of the rotating lunges. It isn’t a good idea to ask them to enter that position quickly and under load until they’ve mastered it.
My preference is to wind up or load in the same way described above for the rotating lunges—rotating the acetabulum about a relatively fixed femur—but you can also just explode out while turning, if you like. You can also add the bounce-back feature to this.
Play the video from any of the above described exercises. Hit pause. That’s your isometric exercise.
While that was a bit tongue in cheek, it isn’t far from the truth. I believe isometrics will be most effective if performed at or near the position of the amortization phase—the point at which the direction change is initiated.
Although, to be honest, I don’t consider myself fluent in isometrics. Perhaps there is greater transference if performed at different points of the change of direction task, or maybe it is athlete specific.
In any case, I elect not to create a video for each and every isometric possible. Holding a front lunge toward and away from the resistance, as well as holding a side lunge, seems like viable exercise selections.
Returning to the Data
After your training period, you can return to the baseline testing you did with your athletes to assess their progress. Run another 5-0-5 on the 1080 and see what you get. Perhaps you will find the run in has improved, but the run out has not, potentially indicating eccentric but not concentric improvements.Having precise and accurate measurements of performance is a critical factor in any objective program, and the 1080 Sprint provides that for changing direction, says @KD_KyleDavey. Click To Tweet
If you work with enough athletes, perhaps you can build a database to establish a set of normative values that you can compare athletes against, providing standards to shoot for.
Regardless of what you do with the data, having precise and accurate measurements of performance is a critical factor in any objective program, and the 1080 Sprint provides that for changing direction.
Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask. More people are reading SimpliFaster than ever, and each week we bring you compelling content from coaches, sport scientists, and physiotherapists who are devoted to building better athletes. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — SF