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Applying Movement Planes to Speed and Agility

How about this weather, huh? We were just sitting at work talking about what a great stretch of it we’re seeing right now. I mean, seriously, my iPhone says 90 degrees in Boston today. As we said this, however, I remembered nearly dripping sweat after training all day in the sauna that we call our gym.

We have this giant garage door that we love to keep open when its warm enough, but unfortunately the heat and humidity makes it almost unbearable to work, much less work out, inside.

As an aside, I’m off at 1:30 today so you’ll be able to find me at the beach or in my pool.

This is where you’ll find me all day.

I love writing programs. It’s no secret that some days I could just sit around and talk training theory and develop programs. I like being creative and it’s a good outlet. Plus, I save all my work in Excel files on my computer and it allows me to easily access a ton of basic templates when I’m trying to write a program for a client.

You’re probably familiar with some of the best ways to structure a program. Push and pull. Upper and lower. Back and bi’s, chest and tri’s. ARMS. You can even go so far as to separate lower into push and pull. But as I’ve mentioned in articles before, the core is largely plane-related. That is, we strive to train our core in the sagittal (anti-extension/flexion), frontal (anti-lateral flexion), and transverse planes (anti-rotation).

Furthermore, when we talk about power development, we must recognize that we can develop power in all three of those different planes. From jumping to lateral movements to throwing or swinging, our development of power is very plane specific and developing one plane won’t necessarily carry over to the others, except for the bit of carry-over you’d get from overall strengthening of the body.

But can we use planar motion to describe what happens in speed and agility training? And can we use these ideas to better write programs? The answer, of course, is yes.

Velocity is the speed of something in a given direction (that’s straight from Google). Speed is simply known as distance covered per unit of time. Miles per hour in the case cars. In a timed 40 yard dash, speed is 40 yards per unit of time (seconds, hopefully). Fewer seconds equates to a higher speed.

Agility is the ability to accelerate, decelerate, and change direction quickly and efficiently.  At MBX, I focus a lot of my dedicated “linear speed” time on acceleration. Therefore, my “agility” time is mostly spent on change of direction.

So let’s go plane by plane and examine how we can apply them to speed and agility training. Covering all of your planes will ensure a well-rounded program.

Sagittal Plane

Taking it a step further, let’s examine speed and agility separately. As far as speed goes in the sagittal plane, this is our straight away sprinting speed. But it also encompasses our backpedaling, a vital skill in athletes such as cornerbacks.

So what kind of drills do we use to attack linear speed, both forward and backward. First off,  we’ll tackle sprint form with things like marchs, skips, and bounds, both forward and backward. Our job is to optimize our full-speed running form, as well as stride length and frequency.

As far as agility is concerned, the sagittal plane involves our acceleration and deceleration without a change of direction. This is important because the ability to accelerate is often the difference in 40-yard times. Deceleration is more important in sport than most recognize initially. First off, we decelerate every time we change direction. Because we are not robots and cannot stop on a dime.

Could stop on a dime.

But perhaps more importantly, deceleration is important in sport when we’re sprinting toward a play and we need to decelerate and adapt to the situation. For instance, a baseball player needs to decelerate quickly after rounding second base in order to avoid getting caught in a run-down. A linebacker might need to decelerate  when coming up to make a tackle to ensure that he doesn’t just blow by the receiver in a screen play. In soccer, winning a footrace to a ball is good, but decelerating properly to gain control of the ball is more important, rather than skipping over the ball or accidentally kicking it forward again.

Frontal Plane

Moving on, the frontal plane is our “sideways” motion. As far as linear speed, think of shuffling side to side. In basketball, shuffling is necessary to properly cover an offensive player. The same could be said for football and soccer at times. Hockey relies on frontal plane motion during stride.

As far as agility goes, the frontal plane plays a role in changing direction during a shuffle, but more importantly assists us in braking and changing direction during linear sprinting (as in the Pro Agility Shuttle). When we examine the braking mechanism, our adductor and abductor groups balance each other on our inside leg to provide stability as we stop, while the abductors of the outside leg assist in pushing off again as we turn in the opposite direction.

Transverse Plane

Lastly, we come to the transverse plane. It dominates in all throwing sports, as well as when we shoot a puck or tee off at the driving range. Aside from transverse core stability (and as a quick note, I’m not addressing the stability of the hips, knees, or ankles during sprinting stride in this article, but simply analyzing the plane in which prime movement occurs), we don’t see a whole lot of transverse plane movement during full speed sprinting. In fact, an efficient stride doesn’t utilize transverse plane movement at all.

However, we do see the transverse plane during our change of direction. Probably most notably in our change from a backpedal to a forward sprint in the same direction. Much like when we kick a soccer ball, our ability to “get our hips around” in the absence of the trail leg provides a quick stretch of the adductors and hip flexors and activates(WARNING: Science Ahead) the series elastic component and muscle spindle in order to provide a more forceful contraction as you swing the leg around to begin your stride.

Warning: Science Ahead!

Similarly, our change of direction involves the same hip pivot and stretch, assisting us in a more powerful first stride. And this occurs with 180, 90, or 30 degree turns. For example, the 3-cone shuttle of L-drill involves many changes of directions at different angles and increasing transverse plane power output should theoretically have carry-over to all changes of direction.


Before continuing, as I mentioned a bit, I didn’t address the idea of stabilization in this post, only the direction of prime movement. In reality, all three planes are active in the hip during every stride we take and every change of direction. For instance, our ad/abductor (frontal plane) groups are active during each full speed sprinting stride in order to stabilize our leg underneath us and our glutes (as a sagittal plane hip extensor) are major players in our change of direction.

So how do we combine these thoughts into programming? Well first off, we can split up our days into linear speed and change of direction in an AxBxAxB fashion, no matter how many days per week we’re training. On the other hand, with a basis in this post we can split up our training into sagittal, frontal, and transverse speed and agility training. The three days would look something like this:

  1. Sagittal – marching, skipping, bounding, and lunging variations; acceleration and starts; deceleration performed in yards or steps.
  2. Frontal – shuffling; a modified T-test would be ideal for this day in order to add some change of direction to our shuffling.
  3. Transverse – lots of change of direction stuff; all different angles including switching between backpedaling and sprinting.

This gives us an easy way to split up our days into even-ish work. Taking it a step further, we can split up our power and speed/agility work in order to balance our training stresses on different days. That would look like this:

  1. Sagittal speed and transverse power- I’d probably include our med ball work here, which I feel is the best way to attack power in the transverse plane.
  2. Transverse speed and frontal power- our power moves would include something like Heidens.
  3. Frontal speed and sagittal power- here is where I’d place the Olympic lifts, jumping variations, and single leg plyos.

This setup might be good for a beginner (or anyone really) because frequency is king. Beginners need exposure to movements frequently and can’t really handle the high stress of condensing their work in one plane onto one day. However, intermediate or advanced athletes might benefit from condensing their planar stress onto one day and rotating. This would put all of our sagittal plane work together, frontal plane together, and so on.

As you may have noticed, a balanced plan like Option 1 would be a good way to ensure consistent exposure to movement patterns while distributing our plan evenly so that certain days aren’t over- or underloaded. But, by the same token, we can overload or underload days by creating an easy day with frontal plane speed, agility, and power, a medium day with transverse work, and a hard day with all of our sagittal work. And for those of you that enjoy symmetry, you could add in core work based on the plane work of that day (e.g. pallof variations on the transverse speed/agility/power day and anti-extension work on the sagittal plane day).

And to throw another wrench into all of this, you could correspond all of this with lifts and conditioning. If you’re attempting to condense your training stress onto light, medium, and hard days, you may want to perform your sagittal plane work on a lower body or some other heavy day. This would be a good day to do conditioning. Frontal or transverse plane work would better suit you on a light or medium day.

And … exhale. Okay.

The pieces of your training program.

Putting It All Together

Here’s a quick example of a program for an intermediate athlete where our goal is to create a light-medium-heavy structure and condense our training stress. We’ll won’t include too many details for the sake of simplicity.

Monday (medium day)

  • Transverse plane speed/agility – a modified L-drill
  • Transverse power – a variety of med ball throws
  • Lift – to include a medium weight, medium volume full body workout similar to the first day of Texas Method; also including transverse core work like pallof, woodchop, or lift variations
  • Conditioning – longer at a submaximal intensity

Wednesday (conditioning only)

  • Skill work or maybe some low volume agility work, focusing on sprint form and change of direction
  • Conditioning

Thursday (light day)

  • Frontal plane speed/agility – shuffling and a modified T-test to include lots of change of direction
  • Frontal power – a Heiden variation
  • Lift – a light full body workout to compliment Monday, but not over-stress in preparation for Saturday’s lift; core work should involve side plank or suitcase carry variations
  • No conditioning

Saturday (heavy day)

  • Sagittal plane speed/agility – sprint form, acceleration, deceleration, and starts
  • Sagittal power – Olympic lifts and jumping variation(s)
  • Lift – heavy, low volume full body workout; core work should include anti-extension and any additional anti-flexion work that needs to be done
  • Conditioning – short, intense interval training at a supramaximal level


So, I’m not really going to conclude with anything. As with most of my posts, this was just some food for thought when you’re planning your speed, agility, power, weight training, and conditioning. There are endless ways to structure programs and, as an athlete or an average joe, your job is to find the one that makes you the best at whatever it is you do. Whether that’s dominate on the playing field or in the office. So go get ’em Tiger!

Not like this Tiger got ’em.

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