If you aren’t training curvilinear sprinting, you’re missing an important part of game speed.
When you look around, you’ll start to notice there is a lot of curved running in sports. Most of us think of speed as straight-ahead running. We think of agility and see the changes in direction and footwork.
But since it falls somewhere in the middle, curved running gets ignored in most training programs.
Curved running is not turning or changing direction. It’s when an athlete is altering their body lean and mechanics to run on a curvilinear path. It is reasonable to ask if this is important in sports. When we break down the video, do we see curved running in sports?
Curved Runs in Sports
In any track sprint over 100m the athletes are going to have to run the curve. After all, that’s just the shape of the track.
Yet, curvilinear runs occur in a lot of team and court sports as well. The reason is simple, there are often opponents blocking their direct pathway.
A curved path becomes the fastest option. You can maintain or build speed running the curve while working to edge out your opponent and gain a lead.
If you want to see some great curved runs take a look at lacrosse. Because there is a large amount of field behind the goal players use all 360 degrees. This leads to many curved runs attacking the goal.
In many sports we see athletes trying to get around the corner or around the edge set by defenders. Think of a defensive end in football trying to rush the quarterback. Or the running back trying to both get outside around defenders while gaining some positive yards.
You see the same thing in basketball and soccer with offensive players trying to get around a defender to drive on the goal or basket.
Accelerating or Maintaining Speed
In liner sprinting we look at acceleration and upright, maximum velocity mechanics differently. The postures, rhythm, movement pattern, and power requirements are different.
When we consider curved runs in sports we need to recognize that they occur in both acceleration and max velocity.
The NFL defensive end is starting from complete rest when they start that curved run. An NBA player driving the basket is similar. These are instances where the players are accelerating on a curved pathway
On the other hand, a wide receiver taking the ball on a sweep, or a baseball player rounding the bases are using more cyclical, upright mechanics. Just like linear sprinting, as you get to higher velocities, you have to become more upright.
Bottom line; curved running in sports is common for attacking players. These runs also have differences compared to linear sprinting.
While its common in sports, its not actually well researched. In part because its just harder when the athlete is moving on a curved line.
However, we do have some information that highlights the different demands during curved running.
One of the most obvious is that the athlete leans their body. The tighter the curve, the greater the lean. This leads to obvious changes in running mechanics.
The body lean means the athlete has to manage and overcome centrifugal forces. They must apply mediolateral forces through the lower body much more than in linear sprinting.
With the athlete’s body leaning, the ankles make contact with the ground in either eversion (angled out) or inversion (angled in). Applying the large forces in sprinting at these angles creates new demands. Athletes need increased mobility and stability in the foot and ankle.
Since the trajectory of the run is curved, and the body leaning, the outside leg of the player must “crossover” the midline of the body to strike the ground. Crossing over requires both increased hip mobility as well as stability and power in different muscles.
While there is limited science, the early research on curved sprinting shows that the body is loaded differently. Training and specific preparation for those forces and ranges of motion just makes sense.
How To Prepare The Body
One of the things to prepare athletes is to make sure they have the requisite range of motion needed. The hips need an appropriate range in internal/external rotation and hip adduction.
This can be developed through various mobility methods. Check out this drill for hip mobility.
The foot and ankle also require a different range of motion and increased stability.
Like linear sprinting, curved runs in sports require generating and transmitting large forces into the ground. Developing the right strength and power qualities in the weight room will contribute to better curved running.
An easy modification to consider is leg strength with some type of lateral movement. This helps prepare for the added medio-lateral forces in the lower body.
Players should also include lateral hops and plyometrics. These will both build power and prepare the foot and ankle structures.
Sprint Training For Curved Runs in Sports
Most athletes have limited training time. Often they can barely spend time on linear sprinting. So how do they fit in something else?
In most cases, small doses added to the existing speed training can work. After all, there are more similarities with linear sprinting than differences.
If an athlete doesn’t have good mechanics in linear sprinting they probably won’t be good in curved runs. At Velocity, we’ve found that developing the basics first in linear sprinting is an effective strategy.
The crossover and lean are what make curved running possible and create different demands. That’s why we use crossover running to develop curvilinear sprinting speed.
Cross over running covers a continuum from single crossover steps to running laterally for multiple steps.
What we’ve found over the past 20 years and one million plus athletes, is that training the crossover improves curved running.
The trajectory in crossover running is more extreme than a curved run. However, the combination of linear and cross over drills prepare the athletes for effective curved running.
We top this off with small doses of curved running as applied drill in speed sessions. Doing this allows athletes to explore how to effectively apply these mechanics.
These applied drills are fit into both acceleration and max velocity training sessions.
Curved Running When Returning From Injury
When you consider the increased centrifugal forces in curved running, you recognize the extra demands on the body. The athlete encounters demands on their mobility, stability, and strength in the lower extremity.
If a player who makes curved runs is rehabbing from a lower-body injury, they better put some focus on it.
Unfortunately, we find it rarely happens. Curvilinear running should be trained before returning to sport. The player’s body should be specifically prepared for an effective and safe return to sport.
Curved Running In Sports Can Be Improved
Curved runs are critical in many sports situations. Being faster on the curve can give a player an advantage. That makes it something players want to be faster at.
The most important way to improve curvilinear sprinting is to get good at linear sprinting. Most of the mechanics, forces and physical demands are very similar.
Preparing the body through targeted mobility, stability, strength, and power development is the next step. It’s the physical foundation needed. Including crossover running drills and a small dose of curved runs tops off the training.
Improved curvilinear speed allows athletes to be ready come game time.