Linear Training Vs. Lateral Training

Many sports require a demonstration of agility on the field.
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Linear and lateral training refer to ways of designing agility drills for sports training. For athletes who move up and down a court or a field, such as tennis or basketball players, the ability to move forward and back as well as side to side is crucial to optimal performance. Both types of training are equally important for athletes who move in multiple directions during competition.

Linear Training

Much of your daily movement is performed in a linear plane, meaning that you are going forward or backward. The simple act of walking or jogging is usually linear in nature. For athletes, linear training consists of sprints, focus on arm drivers – pumping the arms forward and back – and suicide runs. These drills help hone speed, but can also involve coordination if you are asked to run forward quickly and stop on a single leg.

Lateral Training

While going forward fast is essential for athletes, so is the ability to change directions quickly. Lateral training helps you develop this skill. Side shuffles, box cone drills and t-shaped runs are examples of lateral training. Lateral training helps you move across a field to kick a soccer ball or to return an unpredictable serve in racketball.

Athletes and Every Day

A study published in the January 2008 issue of the “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” found that a training program that combined lateral movements with speed training and plyometric training resulted in the greatest improvements in athletic performance in young tennis players. For the average person, lateral and linear training is also important. Having the ability to go sideways might help you dodge an oncoming car or recover from a sideways trip off a curb.


If you focus exclusively on lateral or on linear training, certain muscles will become overly strong, leading to imbalances that can cause weakness or injury. For example, runners whose training regimen involves a lot of forward movement often suffer from weak gluteus medius and minimus muscles – the muscles at the sides of the hip. While you want to train specifically to enhance your skills in a specific sport, any training program that neglects an entire direction of movement can be disastrous in the long run.

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