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SideFlow: training beyond the Sagittal Plane

March 14, 2010

One way in which training like a bodybuilder (muscles not movements) can be limiting is that you might train most of your movements and your muscles in the Sagittal plane, that is, you might mainly move weights up & down primarily along the “midline” of your body.

In a subsection titled “Functional Training” of his new book, Coach Boyle describes Mark Verstegen as “one of the first to break out of the track mold coaches were stuck in as he began to teach lateral and multi-directional movement with the same skill the track coaches taught linear movement”.

Ultimate is most certainly a multi-directional sport, but in this blog post we’re going to drill down into what one might call “SideFlow”: side-to-side movement and training beyond the Sagittal Plane.

The following video shows a simple side-to-side movement “SideFlow”, and points out several important cues to focus on when moving side-to-side.

After you (a) widen your base of support, (b) lower your center of gravity, and (c) “stay on your toes”,

  1. Put most of your weight on the inside (that is, the medial portion) of your feet.
  2. Push off of one foot to start moving (rather than taking a step with the lead foot and dragging the other)
  3. Drop your knees slightly inward

Note that (b), and (c) are generally applicable whether you want to move forward, backward, or jump up, cues (1) and (3) are specifically designed for side-to-side motion. In particular, you want to be able to generate force laterally, so the “force vector” is aided when you drop your knees slightly in, and put weight on the inside of your feet.

In contrast, if you were playing basketball and wanted to jump upwards, you might not want to drop your knees slightly in, or shift weight towards the medial aspect of your feet, as these cues direct force laterally rather than vertically (straight up).

The side flow drill shown looks somewhat like a marking drill, but obviously hand positions / cadence / body positioning will differ based on the kind of mark (straight-up, no high-release arounds, etc.). If you take a look at how Ultimate players move laterally in the mark, you might be surprised to find how slowly they can move if they, well, don’t move at all [lazy tired mark =] or bounce mainly on their toes without the ability to absorb the force generated after a push-off for a temporary shade/lunge [as the thrower pivots or moves to throw] and return back to the original mark [to stop the around throw].

Functional Training for Side-to-side Flow

But going back to multi-directional movement and Coach Boyle, how can we make sure to employ “functional training” for side-to-side movement? Boyle writes that “functional training… comes down to the application of functional anatomy to training. It is taking what we know and using that information to select exercises to reduce the incidence of injury and improve performance.”

As the video describes, the glute medius is one of the muscles that aids in hip abduction (as in when you move the leg away from mid-line), along with the TFL (tensor fascia latae) [and the piriformis in hip flexion]. However, the gluteals also help stabilize the pelvis during gait, and perhaps even more so as you lunge forward to break your defender with an I/O forehand flick.

Here is where we point back to the blog post on reverse lunges on the side opposite of your throwing stance, noting that it’s easy to asymmetrically load/stress your gluteals if you lunge predominantly on one side as pretty much all Ultimate players do. Add that to the way in which your gluteals also stabilize your pelvis during gait / running, the way you might plant primarily with one foot to cut, and you have a recipe for glute medius overuse. [I think this happened to me last week, which prompted some of the research behind this blog post.]

As it turns out, hip abduction is supposed to happen with both the TFL and the glute medius, but often occurs only with the TFL, which explains why folks are often trying to roll out their ITB (although it’s unclear to what extent trigger points manifest in the ITB, since the ITB unlike the TFL is not a muscle)–the gluteals could be slacking off and your TFLs are working overtime.

Boyle also talks about how “All athletes training in [Boyle’s] facility are evaluated for hip pain via palpation of the glute medius if they complain of anterior knee pain. We found nearly a one-hundred-percent correlation between knee pain and glute medius tenderness… Soft tissue work on the glute medius caused a significant reduction in the pain at the patella in almost every case. Most also had marked weakness in manual muscle testing for the glute med.”

Many Ultimate athletes suffer from knee pain, and would find this snippet from Boyle’s book quite informative: “Over the past decade, anterior knee pain has been blamed on poor VMO development, poor patella tracking and numerous other causes… Instead an aggressive strengthening program aimed from the hip down… may be more effective.” Boyle cites a 2003 study done by Ireland et al. in JOSPT, “Females presenting with patella-femoral pain demonstrate significant hip abduction and external rotation weakness when compared to non-symptomatic age-matched controls.” (p.66, Advances in Functional Training)

Given that, you might want to try self-myofascial release on your glute medius, followed by basic hip abduction / glute med strengthening, eventually transferred to the sport-specific movement skill of side-to-side movement for marking or mirroring your man’s lateral motion on the field.

As for strengthening the glute med specifically, posts by Mike Reinold on the Best Glute Exercises [citing a JOSPT article] and another Sports Medicine post [citing an ACE 2006 study], point the way.

To summarize, quadruped hip extensions, step-ups, lunges, and side-lying hip abductions were all found to be effective.

But to keep things simple, I might recommend quadruped hip abduction followed by hip extension (keep the knee flexed at 90) as well as compass lunges done to the side and to +- 45 degrees. If you handle, try adding in the reverse lunges off pivot foot.

[Just make sure your glute med is actually firing… you can try X-band walks or bands that bind your knees to make sure you activate glute med as you do single-leg squats, reactive neuromuscular training (RNT) style–the band pulls your knees together, forcing you to automatically abduct / resist movement towards midline.]

To cite a funny sounding title elsewhere, Glute Medius: Weak buttocks ruin the runner, and we don’t want dat do we? PGM (posterior glute med) strength FTW!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. chloe permalink
    March 23, 2010 3:55 pm

    Hi Leslie,

    First, thank you for your articles and videos. I enjoy this site tremendously and think it is a great service to all levels of Ultimate players.

    So, for sports like ours that demand a lot of torque and are high-impact (on knees, for one), I have heard the training must meet the intensity of our play. Regarding glute medius strengthening, which I too have heard is important for stabilizing the knee, I do not see quadrapeds being as intense as cutting and other lateral movements. Without more load (e.g. one’s bodyweight) and with one’s feet on the ground, it seems to me the quadraped exercise is better suited as a warm-up to activate the glute med… but would be like running a slow jog to train to sprint.

    Of course, in your video there is good side to side movement. I’ve heard crossover steps, standing to the right of a platform and bringing the right foot across onto the step and stepping down with the left, and vise versa, is a good exercise and can be varied with high boxes or stepping over with a more dynamic bounce, so to speak. Too hard for beginners? What are your thoughts on how to progressively train lateral movement?

    Thanks again, Leslie.


    • March 23, 2010 10:13 pm

      Good question. I have thought a bit about how to activate the glute medius in a stronger way, and although the quadruped hip extension seems fairly easy, it is possible to load using a heavier dumbbell held by the flexed knee.

      Single-leg squats, whether Russian “pistol” or Bulgarian / RFESS (Rear-foot elevated split squat) style can be loaded using KBs or BBs, and of course the bilateral front/back squat can also be loaded with KB/DB/BBs.

      I haven’t seen too much in terms of training lateral movement as a progression, but I’ll look around. The Z-Health S-phase DVD does have some exercises for lateral movement (where the “side flow” term comes from), so perhaps I’ll take a look at that and post some ideas from there or Boyle’s new book.

      I suppose there’s also the “X-Band walk” which can be loaded with a stronger band? But step-ups might also work.

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