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Lateral Gait System

I have written many posts based on my “naturalist” approach when it comes to athletic speed or multi-directional speed. I am a firm believer in the concept of learning from our athletes. What this means is to adopt the coaching approach of look, listen, and learn. In this post, you will learn about a system which I refer to as the Lateral Gait System, but the premise of the article is to encourage you to become a better coach by learning to watch your athletes. You must learn to take their verbal and non-verbal feedback and plan your attack.

Please understand, after you have completed the necessary coaching to get your athletes to understand what to do, then you begin the process of observing. As a result, you can see how they perform. If they are struggling with a skill then you need to recognize if it is due to not understanding how to perform the skill or if it is just a matter of practicing until a motor program has been developed. This is the art of coaching.

The Lateral Gait System

The Lateral Gait System is basically the action of the feet and legs during the lateral shuffle. It is the cycling action in the frontal plane. Like many aspects of athletic speed, the lateral mechanics are misunderstood due to what we think should happen rather than what the body most efficiently performs.

When a basketball player moves laterally to defend an offensive player and the speed of the offensive player is slow enough to allow the defensive player to shuffle (if the speed is too fast the defender will use another skill called a crossover), then we will see certain bio-mechanical advantages take over. Just like the sprinter coming out of the blocks and eventually reaching high sprint speeds, the shuffling basketball player must use the legs to continually produce force into the ground to move faster.

Here are some of the mechanical positions you will see that are contrary to what most coaches teach, but are 100 percent natural to the bodies instinctive adjustments and advantages:

  • When the player is shuffling to the right, the left leg is the power leg and will push the body. The foot will be dorsi-flexed just prior to contact and will drive down and away to push the body to the right. As soon as the foot comes off the ground and the leg has extended, it will recoil back under the hips and prepare to push down and away once again. If the toe of the left leg (pushing leg) were to draw in the air, it would form a side lying oval.
  • The lead leg or the right leg in this case, becomes an active participant in the speed of movement. Because glutes and hamstrings are much stronger than the abductors in this frontal plane action of shuffling, the toe will turn out and the heel will be used to pull down and back. Because the lead leg will never cross the past hips, it only pulls in a short distance. As soon as the foot gets under the hips it will lift and cycle back out to the “grab more ground”. This pulling action is only effective because it is working in timing with the backside leg pushing the center of mass/hips over the lead leg as the lead leg pulls. If the lead leg had to pull by itself it would be slow and not efficient.
  • There is a time when the feet will come close under the hips. This is normal and should occur if you want the legs to finish their job completely. Otherwise force is reduced because the push and pull would not be complete.
  • If the defender had to stop quickly, the lead foot turns and dorsi-flexes within a split second. This allows the ankle to be dorsi-flexed and loaded to absorb the weight of the body during decelerating. The other reason the ankle needs to be dorsi-flexed is because during change of direction there needs to be an immediate push off to begin acceleration in the new direction. If the foot is pointed outward (plantar-flexed) there is no stretch reflex of the lower leg to create a powerful push off.

These are just some of the keys to pay attention to during the Lateral Gait System. Here are some other keys to pay attention:

  • Keeping the hips level.
  • Don’t allow the shoulders to rotate and sway side to side.
  • Keep the back flat not rounded over.

It is important to be a good observer of movement consequently you can make simple corrections when an athlete consistently makes the same mistakes. When an athlete is not is the proper position it will usually show up in slower less efficient movement.

I have discussed quite frequently the concepts of the Plyo Step and Hip Turn. These are two innate abilities that the body undertakes when it needs to find a more conducive acceleration angle. The Plyo Step is a reorganization of the feet so the athlete can quickly get out of one athletic stance or position and into an efficient acceleration position that offers more quickness. The Hip Turn follows the same concept, but it is performed when the athlete needs to retreat or move backwards. The foot, during the Hip Turn, drives forcefully into the ground as the hip is rotating. This hip rotation allows the leg and foot to get into the proper push-off angle and also allows the athlete to open up and retreat back.

I mention the Plyo Step and Hip Turn to make my point stronger that the body is so effective at explosive quick movements to escape, attach, or create speed in any direction as a strategy. We need to do a better job as coaches to work off what the body shows us.


The next time you watch a basketball game or a group of athletes moving in a lateral direction, you will notice a few things. If the athletes stay on the balls of their feet, they will not be generating as much power as they could. Even if it seems their feet are moving quickly it doesn’t mean they are moving as fast as they can.

If you would take the time to evaluate why the body does certain things, then you can better understand movement. If the body does something that is not efficient, it is usually because that particular athlete developed bad habits or posture issues. That is when it is our job to teach and correct the issues at hand. To me this is the when the fun begins.

Look, listen, and learn…

If you want to learn much more about my coaching methods and techniques, run over to


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