Change of direction (COD) is a major component of performance in many sports. While linear sprinting (running in a straight line) is often emphasized, COD may be just as important or perhaps even more important to success in some sports. In a study this month in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers wanted to learn how strength training affected COD.
Strength and power are well known contributors to linear sprinting performance. In many sports, athletes may be required to run up to thirty meters at a time, so the importance of linear sprinting is undeniable. However, as much as half of all sprinting in soccer takes place over bursts of less than ten meters and requires frequent changes in direction. This might be even more common in other sports like lacrosse, tennis, or football.
In athletics, COD is often measured via agility tests, which is a bit problematic. While agility is certainly required to change direction rapidly, especially at odd angles, strength and power are important as well. However, the importance of these two factors for COD is often overlooked. Interestingly, COD has greater deceleration and acceleration components than linear sprinting, which means it needs more strength and power to execute.
The researchers in this study noted another problem with the association of strength and power to COD, which is that the current literature on the topic is mixed. It seems that some believe there to be no correlation between strength, power, and COD, and others believe there to be a strong correlation. The researchers believe this was due to inconsistencies in the design of the existing literature. Therefore, they sought to create the longest running study done on this topic, following youth soccer players over two years to see how strength training affected their COD.
When the study began, the 112 athletes were between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. Some of them spent the next two years practicing soccer, and the rest spent the same amount of time doing the same but also weight training. The weight training group used varied protocols twice per week. The reseachers measured the COD of each group to see which one made the biggest improvements over two years. They also tested some professional soccer players to establish a baseline for a good performance.
The strength training worked. Both front squat and back squat performances relative to body weight were correlated with COD performance, but that’s not all. The athletes in the strength training groups also experienced five to almost ten percent greater results in COD after two years than did their similarly-aged counterparts who did not use a strength training program.
Now that might not sound like a big difference, but let me put it in perspective for you. The athletes who began the study at the age of seventeen or less, all the way down to age thirteen, reached professional level ability in COD by the time the study was over, which was something the non-strength training group could not say. Those beginning at eighteen or nineteen years old also reached professional level ability in COD after two years of soccer practice alone, but the same age group that did resistance training actually outperformed the professionals. I’ll say it again for emphasis: twice weekly strength sessions allowed the older amateur players to surpass the pros in performance.
So resistance training does indeed improve COD, particularly when undertaken over a long period of time. This could represent a major advantage in athletics, especially in sports where resistance training is less common. If you are a coach or an athlete in a sport where COD is an important factor, it’s time to focus on your strength training.
1. Michael Keiner, et. al., “Long-Term Strength Training Effects on Change-of-Direction Sprint Performance,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 28(1), 2013.
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