Below are 5 simple but effective tips that will greatly improve lateral speed and quickness.
Tip #1 Improve your overall functional strength using functional exercises.
Increasing leg strength will allow the muscles to apply more force into the ground. Improving functional strength which implies movement patterns that are used throughout sports, activities, and daily living will require support from the important stabilizer muscles. To improve stabilizer muscles the exercises must involve non-supportive or balance-oriented exercises. An example of an exercise that virtually requires no stabilization therefore little nervous system activation is the leg press. The leg press requires two things; Sit and Press. On the other hand, a great functional exercise to increase leg strength that requires a multitude of stabilizer functions and therefore tremendous nervous system activation would be a side lunge. Now, not only does the leg press miss the role of functionality and stabilization it doesn’t allow the legs to apply force laterally to increase lateral speed. The side lunge with all its stabilizers and functional resemblance to the lateral shuffle in athletics is a perfect fit to improve lateral speed.
Tip #2 Improve the rate at which the force is applied to the ground to move the body.
Now that we have created a more stable body with stabilizing exercises and we have increased the leg strength to apply more force, we now need to apply this force quicker. This is when we call on popular plyometric exercises. Plyometrics, in short, increase the rate at which the nervous system sends a signal to the muscle fibers and gets the muscles to contract faster. There are other forms of explosive training such as Olympic weightlifting which will also increase the rate of muscle firing. Plyometrics can be easy to teach and safe if used in the proper manner according to age and ability. Plyometrics such as squat jumps, side cone jumps, ice skaters, and low box shuffles, can safely and effectively improve the rate at which the muscles fire bringing about the desired movement.
Tip #3 Use the proper angle with the push off leg to increase the reaction force from the ground.
If the desired direction of travel with a lateral shuffle is to the left then the right leg is called the power leg. In order for the power leg to use all of its available power there must be a proper angle of force application into the ground. Ideally this angle is about 45 degrees. If this angle is achieved the ability to push the body with power and quickness greatly improves. It is also important to obtain the proper angle when stopping and changing direction with lateral movement. If there is a loss of balance or a stutter step when attempting to stop the proper foot placement has not been achieved. Keeping the knees slightly inside the width of the feet will also help to increase the force into the ground.
Tip #4 Make sure the hips stay at a constant level as much as possible.
If the hips are allowed to move up and down with any magnitude, energy will be spent in a negative direction of travel. If moving laterally is the goal it is important to minimize any unwanted motions that may take away from lateral speed and quickness. Using the power leg on the proper angle will help keep the hips from rising up on every push off. During the recovery of the power leg after a push off, the knee needs to bend in order to avoid standing tall to push off. Also it is important to avoid a sideways gallop action which will create too much height. When stopping and changing directions the hips need to minimize dropping or dipping. This will slow down the change of direction and also cause a waste of energy. Keep the hips level and move quick as a cat.
Tip #5 Control swaying of the shoulders to be quick as lightning.
Now that we have the hips under control we must control the swaying action of the shoulders. If the shoulders are allowed to move side to side or forward and backward, there will be a definite struggle to maintain speed and quickness laterally. Performing core strengthening will definitely help to keep the shoulders from moving. The number one problem with shoulder swaying is observed during stopping and change of direction. When the proper angle is applied with the feet and legs and the hips are kept level, the upper body must be strong enough to handle the stopping forces or momentum. When an athlete stops quickly going to the right, the shoulder will want to keep moving to the right. The solution to this problem is to slightly lean the shoulders in the opposite direction or the new direction of travel. This will stop the swaying and create greater stopping and change of direction angles.