This blog is a very important read for any individual who works in the strength & conditioning and sport training professions. It is my hope that the terminology described within this blog will catch on and find itself being utilized much more often in conversation and literature. Please read this blog and decide for yourself which language you will proceed to use when describing movement.
In the sport-specific training profession, it’s very common to hear coaches utilizing planar terminology to discuss movement. You might overhear a strength coach saying something like, “I like this exercise because it’s multiplanar,” or, “this exercise is great because it’s a sagittal plane movement that requires stabilization in the frontal and transverse planes.”
There are three body planes (body planes are sometimes called anatomical planes or cardinal planes) which are imaginary lines that divide the body into two parts:
In case you didn’t know, a cable chop or lift would be considered multiplanar since they combine movement in the transverse, sagittal, and frontal planes, and a squat is a sagittal plane movement that requires stabilization in the frontal and transverse planes since the knees want to cave inward and enter into a valgus position (adduction and internal rotation of the femurs) which requires proper upper glute firing to prevent this energy leak. If you look at the diagram below, you’ll be able to envision how a lateral raise or jumping jack is a frontal plane movement, a pec deck or a baseball swing is a transverse plane movement, and a crunch or a lunge is a sagittal plane movement.
While planar terminology is a great start, I believe that we can do better. Planar terminology is too general which is why we need load vector terminology. Load vector terminology is more specific to movement. Our profession borrowed planar terminology from Anatomy language, but in general Gross Anatomy doesn’t look at movement. Load vector terminology is used often in Engineering to describe force vectors. As you may know, a vector contains both magnitude and direction.
I’ve been using this terminology for around a year now and I’m tired of sounding like a geeky engineer. I need more of my strength coach friends and colleagues to start using this terminology so I don’t seem like an odd-ball. My friend Dr. Perry Nickelston has taken a liking to load vector terminology which made me feel like Alan in “The Hangover.” I’ve seen Tony Gentilcore and Keats Snideman use the terminology as well. Perhaps there are now four in our wolfpack!
In a September 9, 2009 StrengthCoach Podcast (Episode 43), Mike Boyle discussed one of my articles that incorporated load vector terminology. He told a story about how he heard Vern Gambetta many years using planar terminology and was thinking to himself, “What in the hell is all of this sagittal, frontal, and transverse plane stuff?” Apparently Vern began using the terminology after being exposed to it through Gary Gray seminars. Mike relayed to us that the terminology eventually became common jargon in our field and alluded to the fact that the terminology I was using could very well catch on too once people learned the language.
If you want to listen to the podcast, click here. Mike Boyle and Anthony Renna actually discuss me, my glute stuff, and my terminology for 10 straight minutes (from the 15 minute mark to the 25 minute mark in the podcast).
What’s the Point in Using Load Vector Terminology?
Although I feel that strength coaches should still use planar terminology depending on the situation, I feel that strength coaches should also be well-versed in load vector terminology since there are plenty of situations where load vector terminology is more appropriate and descriptive.
Why is planar terminology insufficient? In planar terminology, jumping, running, and backpedaling are all sagittal plane movements even though they are quite different as one action has you moving upward, one has you moving forward, and one has you moving backward. Load vector terminology corrects these types of deficiencies and allows us to better describe movement.
We can use load vector terminology as a way to categorize exercises, describe movement, assess strengths and weaknesses, and choose exercises that may transfer better to sport. . Load vector training takes into account the “line of pull” or direction of the resistance, as well as the position of the exerciser’s body in space when they are directly opposing the resistance or line of pull. The easiest way to determine a directional load vector is by using images to show a graphical representation of the direction of resistance (via an arrow) in relation to the human body.
Basic Load Vector Terminology
The first thing I want to say about load vector terminology is that it’s not rocket-science. Seriously, it’s not that advanced. Top-notch strength coaches these days have to understand much more advanced concepts in the fields of physical therapy, biomechanics, and physiology. So let’s agree that we need to raise the bar and not consider the terminology below “too difficult to grasp.” We may be meatheads, but we are intelligent meatheads! Here is some basic load vector terminology:
• Anterior – toward the front (sometimes synonymous with ventral)
• Posterior – toward the back (sometimes synonymous with dorsal)
• Lateral – toward the side (away from the midline)
• Medial – toward the middle or midline
• Superior – upper or above
• Inferior – lower or below
• Axial – top to bottom
• Torsion – twisting or rotating force
• Anteroposterior – front to back
• Posteroanterior – back to front
• Lateromedial – outside to inside
The Six Primary Load Vectors in Strength Training and Sports
Here are the six primary vectors I see in the weight room and in sports:
6) Axial/Anteroposterior Blend
Room For Improvement: Load Vector Terminology is Great but Could be More Specific
We could certainly be more technical if need-be. For example, true axial lifts provide compressive forces and wouldn’t include exercises like chin ups. Therefore, if we wanted to be accurate, we would need to split axial into superoinferior and inferosuperior and lateromedial into lateromedial and mediolateral. However, in my model I lumped them together for the sake of convenience. Another possibility to “clean up” the axial terminology is to use “axial positive” for compressive exercises such as squats and overhead press and “axial negative” for distraction exercises such as chin ups.
Furthermore, I like to consider all horizontal pressing as anteroposterior load vectors yet depending on the positioning (prone vs. supine) the load vector reverses. For example, a push up is technically posteroanterior while a bench press is anteroposterior. The same can be said about horizontal pulling; an inverted row is anteroposterior while a prone bench row is posteroanterior. Finally, the same could be said for horizontal bent leg and straight leg hip dominant lifts; a hip thrust is anteroposterior while a reverse hyper is posteroanterior. For the sake of simplicity, I lump all horizontal pressing into anteroposterior as in every exercise the intent is to push forward via shoulder flexion/horizontal adduction. I lump all horizontal pulling into posteroanterior as in every exercise the intent is to pull rearward via shoulder extension/horizontal abduction/scap retraction. Finally, I lump all horizontal hip dominant lifts into anteroposterior as the intent is to either push the hip forward or pull the thigh rearward via hip extension/hip hyperextension.
You might be wondering why there’s an axial/anteroposterior blend. This distinction is necessary because it separates acceleration sprinting from max speed sprinting as well as certain exercises and plyos that are blends of both vectors. This is very important as optimal training for these vectors may require both specific vector exercises as well as a balanced blend of axial and anteroposterior vector exercises. Of course, we could create more blends to describe different sporting movements as truly every combination of load vector exists.
I should mention that in sports there is often no “load” except for one’s own bodyweight. Sometime’s it’s confusing when determining vector terminology in terms of transfer of training in the weightroom over to sports. For example, when an individual is sprinting he is moving his body forward which would be “posteroanteriorly.” If he’s leaning forward during acceleration then there exists more of an axial component (as alluded to earlier). However, if we mimic this vector in the weightroom we must apply a load in that direction. If we put a bar on the hips and do a supine barbell hip thrust or if we pull a sled, the direction of the load is anteroposterior. However, if we use a pendulum to perform a loaded quadruped hip extension or if we hold onto a dumbbell during back extensions, the direction of the load is posteroanterior. For this reason I believe it’s okay to oversimplify things and simply refer to sprints, hip thrusts, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, and back extensions as movements that train the “anteroposterior vector.”
Axial Load Vectors (Includes Superoinferior and Inferosuperior)
• Squat Variations
• Deadlift and Good Morning Variations
• Olympic Lifts
• Single Leg Squats: Static Lunges, Bulgarian Squats, Step Ups, Pistols
• Vertical Pressing (Military Presses)
• Vertical Pulling (Chins Ups, Parallel Grip Pull Ups, Upright Rows, Shrugs)
• Barbell Curls
• Vertical Jumping, Vertical Plyos, and Jump Rope
Anteroposterior Load Vectors
• Single Leg Glute Bridges and Single Leg Hip Thrusts
• Barbell Glute Bridges and Barbell Hip Thrusts
• Pendulum Quadruped Hip Extensions
• Back Extensions and Reverse Hypers
• Russian Leg Curls, Glute Ham Raises, and Slideboard Leg Curls
• Bench Presses, Push Ups, and Standing Cable Presses
• Planks, Ab Wheel Rollouts, and Bodysaws
• Max Speed Sprinting
Posteroanterior Load Vectors
• Band Resisted Forward Lunge
• Backward Sled Drag
• Seated Rows, Inverted Rows, One-Arm Rows, Standing Cable Rows, and Face Pulls
• Backward Hops and Backpedal Sprinting
• Walking Lunges
• 45 Degree Hypers
• Pull Throughs and Kettlebell Swings
• Pendulum Donkey Kicks, Reverse Leg Presses, and Power Runner Machine
• Incline Presses, Decline Presses, and Dips
• Bent Over Rows, Corner Rows, Chest Supported Rows, Prone Rear Delt Raises, and Prone Trap Raises
• Sled Pushes and Pulls
• Farmer’s Walks and Yolk Walks
• Stadium Sprints
• Acceleration Sprinting, Forward Leaping, and Pushing an Opponent Forward
Lateromedial Load Vectors (Includes Lateromedial and Mediolateral)
• Side Lying Abduction, X-Band Walks, and Band Standing Abduction
• Lateral Raises
• Side Planks and Suitcase Carries
• Lateral Sled Drags
• Lateral Hops, Lateral Plyos, and Jumping Jacks
• Cutting from Side to Side and Carioca
• Slide Board Lateral Sprints
Torsional Load Vectors
• Pallof Presses
• Rolling Patterns (Supine to Prone, Prone to Supine, Upper Extremity Driven, Lower Extremity Driven, Soft, Hard)
• Dynamic Cable Chops, Dynamic Cable Lifts, Woodchops, and Landmines
• Band and Cable Hip Rotations and Tight Rotations
• Tornado Ball Slams and Rotary Med Ball Throws
• Side Lying Clams, Seated Band Abductions
• Pec Deck, Reverse Pec Deck, Flies, Prone Rear Delt Raises (Especially Unilateral Versions of These Movements)
• Swinging, Punching, and Throwing
Load Vector Analysis Can Be Pretty In-Depth With Certain Exercises
Here are some thoughts from my friend Joe Sansalone, a like-minded colleague:
Almost all rotary stability and rotary movement training exercises are a combination of torsional/lateromedial or torsional/lateromedial/anteroposterial load vectors. I dont think any anti-rotation exercises are truly torsional only. All the exercises I can think of have a frontal plane stress as well as a transverse plane stress within them. So perhaps we need another load vector blend catogory called the torsional/lateromedial load vector.
“In addition, how do we classify the load vector of a 1-leg sldl with a contra-lateral or ipsi-lateral load? Thinking about it led me to realize that the trunk is axial/lateromedial loaded when standing and anteroposterial/torsionally loaded when hinged. I guess it would be axial/lateromedial/torsional/anterioposterior load vector exervcise for the trunk and a axial/lateromedial/torsional load vector exercise for the stance leg hip. No wonder it is such a demanding movement!”
These comments are very insightful as they illustrate that:
1. Often multiple load vectors exist within a single exercise
2. Load vectors can fluctuate throughout an exercise, and
3. Load vectors can vary according to different regions of the body during a single exercise and technically there’s at least a slightly different directional load vector on every single joint in the body during an exercise
Application to Sport-Specific Training
Load Vector Training (LVT) is not a specific type of routine that you can follow. It’s simply a model that you should keep in mind during programming to make sure you’re training the correct vectors and keeping balanced strength between various vectors. Although load vectors are important considerations for all types of fitness endeavors, LVT has the most application to sport-specific training. Below are some bullet-points to consider.
• Let the sporting actions dictate the best way to train a movement in the gym. See the pictures below. What do these pictures tell you? Consider the exact lines of propulsive force for each activity. Then analyze which strength and power exercises follow those same force vectors
• An athlete is always moving in one direction while stabilizing in the other directions
• LVT is the ultimate compliment to Physics and Functional Anatomy
• Strength and power training according to the proper load vectors activate muscles in the specific manner in which they activate during sporting movement. This is extremely important!
• There is certainly appreciable overlap between the development of strength in various vectors. For example, performing heavy squats will likely transfer to every single vector. However, for maximal total vector strength more specific means are necessary
• Use all the tools available; bodyweight, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, bands, chains, body leverage systems, cables, machines, sleds, ropes, Indian clubs, grappler/landmine units, etc.
Start looking critically at various exercises. Although most movements are beneficial and provide a training effect, start asking yourself questions like these:
• How would a static lunge have an axial vector whereas a walking lunge would have an anteroposterior/axial blend vector?
• What is the difference between a good morning, 45 degree hyper, and back extension?
• How do load vectors impact accentuated regions of force development and positions of maximum muscular contraction? For example, in what position is the most difficult part for the glutes in a squat (axial loaded), at the bottom (hips flexed) or at the top (hips neutral)? In what position is the most difficult part for the glutes in a hip thrust (anteroposterior loaded), at the bottom (hips flexed) or at the top (hips neutral)? What about a good morning and back extension?
• Which implement would be best for training rotary power; a landmine unit, bands, dumbbells, cables, a barbell, a kettlebell, a trx, etc.?
• During a side lunge is the emphasis on pushing upward or laterally? Would a slideboard be better at training lateral power?
• Would a band or dumbbell be more useful for training punching power in terms of a jab? What about an uppercut?
• What implement would be better for training for rotary power for chops and lifts, a medball or a cable column?
• For sprinting speed should you use a weighted vest to provide more axial loading or a sled to provide more anteroposterior loading?
• Ask the same question except now the question applies to resistance training: Should you use a hip thrust or a squat to train for maximum upright sprinting speed?
Application to Bodybuilding/Physique Enhancement Training
• Let the muscle fiber directions dictate the best way to train a muscle part, muscle, or muscle group. See the pictures below. What do these fiber directions tell you?
• Hit the muscles from different angles!
Application to Powerlifting
• Load vectors for the big three lifts are: squat – axial, bench press – anteroposterior, deadlift – axial
• Lower body lifts: axial for specificity (good mornings, squat and deadlift variations), anteroposterior for posterior chain activation (back extensions, 45 degree hypers, reverse hypers, pull throughs, glute ham raises, etc.)
• Upper body lifts: anteroposterior for specificity (board presses and chest supported rows), axial for delt and lat activation (military press, chins, etc.)
Application to Core Stability Training
The list below in my opinion is the most comprehensive list for core stability training as it truly incorporates every vector and includes the best exercises for each category.
Anti-Extension (Posteroanterior and Anteroposterior Forces) –
• Posteroanterior forces: front planks, RKC planks, stability ball rollouts, blast strap fallouts, ab wheel rollouts, bodysaws, chin ups
• Anteroposterior forces: hip thrusts, pendulum quadruped hip extensions, back extensions, and reverse hypers done properly (which encourage lumbar hyperextension and require core control to prevent this energy leak. In other words you have to teach individuals not to hyperextend their low back during hip thrusts and reverse hypers as well even though they have opposite load vectors as most “anti-extension exercises” for optimal core stability)
Anti-Lateral Flexion (Mediolateral Forces) –
• Mediolateral forces: side planks, single arm lateral raises, off-set/unilateral-loaded lunges, off-set/unilateral-loaded squats, off-set/unilateral-loaded deadlifts, off-set/unilateral-loaded overhead presses, and off-set/unilateral-loaded farmer’s walks in varying positions for example, suitcase or waiter’s carries (note that with the exception of the side plank these are all axial exercises with unilateral loading)
Anti-Rotation (Torsional Forces) –
• Torsional forces: Pallof presses, chops, lifts, landmines, rolls, weighted bird dogs, weighted dead bugs, hip rotations, stability ball Russian twist (done properly), off-set 3-point push up holds, single arm cable chest flies, one arm TRX rotational rows, one arm cable rotational rows, dumbbell one arm rows, off-set/unilateral-loaded cable rows, and off-set/unilateral-loaded cable chest presses
Anti-Flexion (Axial and Anteroposterior Forces) –
• Axial forces: squats, deadlifts, and good mornings
• Anteroposterior forces: back extensions and reverse hypers (done correctly)
Application to Conditioning
Consider the different vector variations when you use the following implements for conditioning. Use variety in conditioning. For example, many athletes are great at barbell circuits but do very poorly with band circuits as they don’t have anteroposterior hip stability, strength, and endurance.
• bodyweight complexes (good balance of all vectors if done correctly)
• barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell complexes (mostly axial)
• JC band and TRX system complexes (mostly anteroposterior)
• grappler/landmine complexes, battlerope and Indian club complexes (great for vector variation and mediolateral/torsional vectors)
Application to Activation Work
Load vector consideration can be used to increase the activation for certain muscles or to accentuate the region of force development on initial range or end range contraction (stretch position vs. contracted position). Here are some examples:
• Foot elevated scap push ups for increased serratus anterior activity (you want a strict anteroposterior vector)
• Face pulls and prone trap raises – mid traps, low traps, and rhomboids (alter vector to target various fibers)
• Shoulder elevated glute bridges (hip thrusts) for increased glute max activity (you want a strict anteroposterior vector up top in the contracted position), foot elevated glute bridges for increased hamstring activity
• X-band walks – upright for glute med and mediolateral vector focus, crouched with bent knees for more glute max and torsional vector
• Hip flexion – supine anle weight for anteroposterior/stretch position emphasis, standing ankle weight for axial/contracted position emphasis
To most coaches directional load vectors are obvious from an upper body standpoint. Vertical pressing will target the shoulders better than horizontal pressing, whereas horizontal pressing will target the pecs better than vertical pressing. Vertical pulling will target the lats better than horizontal pulling, whereas horizontal pulling will target the scapular retractors better than vertical pulling. Most coaches understand the difference in muscle activation as it pertains to core exercises as well, as the various spinal flexion, spinal lateral flexion, spinal rotation, and core stabilization exercises allow us to “feel” the various muscles working differently. However, most coaches do not possess an adequate understanding of directional load vectors as it pertains to hip extension. Most mistakenly believe that hip extension is hip extension, that anteroposterior hip extension exercises shouldn’t be loaded up, and that bridging is merely a way to “isolate” prior to “integration” to teach glute activation.
If the direction of the load vector didn’t matter, then we’d prescribe squat motions for glute activation rather than bridging motions. Simply put, bridging motions activate more glute than squatting motions at equal loads. For example, a bodyweight bridge will typically activate three times as much glute as a bodyweight squat, as will a 300 lb glute bridge over a 300 lb squat. Bridging motions strengthen the glutes in a more “hips-extended” position which is a critical range in sports as that is the exact range of foot-strike during a sprint (the range that yields the highest glute activation in a sprint).
Application to Assessment
It’s important to be strong, stable, and ultimately powerful in all directions. Often someone can possess great movement efficiency in one vector and poor movement efficiency in another.
This is one of the reasons why many coaches like to say, “Everything is an assessment.” Literally every exercise one performs provides clues as to how strong and proficient the athlete or client is in the various movement pattern or vector.
An individual may score well on the FMS (which is a 7-test screen that includes the deep squat, hurdle step, inline lunge, shoulder mobility, active straight leg raise, trunk stability push up, and rotational stability) yet still possess weakness in various vectors. For example, I’ve seen individuals who score well on the FMS yet still have trouble performing bridging movements such as the single leg glute bridge. They may squat and lunge (axial movements) properly but perform poorly on single leg glute bridges (anteroposterior movement). Furthermore, the rotational stability test for a 3 is very difficult and rarely yields a perfect score but the test for a 2 is similar to a bird dog exercise with additional movement. The contralateral nature of the bird dog isn’t the best test for rotational stability as the arm and leg can act as a bit of a counterbalance to reduce torque through the core. I’ve seen individuals who score a 2 on the rotational stabilty test yet struggle with a 20-lb Pallof press (the lighest weight on the cable stack).
For reasons like these, we realize that initial screens such as the FMS are excellent but by no means “all inclusive.” The simply assess risk, clear individuals for various movements, and provide clues as to possible corrective exercise strategies. During the actual strength and power training portions of the session you will be provided additional clues as to how strong or powerful an athlete is in a typical vector.
For example, I’ve trained a powerlifter who could squat and deadlift over 500 lbs yet couldn’t perform a 135 lb hip thrust (this is rare but these types of imbalances do indeed exist). This guy had great axial hip strength and crappy anteroposterior hip strength. His squat and deadlift form appeared sound; he sat back in the squat, didn’t round his back and use his erector spinae as a prime mover in the deadlift, etc.
I trained a 6’3″ professional basketball player who could squat 285 lbs, deadlift 385 lbs, vertical jump 35″, and run a 4.5 forty, but he struggled getting 10 good bodyweight back extensions and ten bodyweight reverse hypers. He could maintain excellent form but these bodyweight movements were very challenging for him. This indicates that he had great axial strength (squats and deadlifts), poor anteroposterior strength (back extensions and reverse hypers), and may be using substitution/synergistic dominance patterns in sports (jumping and running) and leaving something on the table.
So it appears that it’s quite possible to be strong at the hips and core in one vector but weak in another. Glute strength in particular seems to be vector-specific as their role hip extension, hip hyperextension, hip abduction, and hip external rotation requires exercises from each of the axial, anteroposterior, mediolateral, and torsional vectors. Sure, simply developing muscular glutes will go a long way in allowing for multi-directional glute power, but for maximum power in all directions a multi-vector approach to glute training is necessary.
Of course, you always need to consider all possible vector weaknesses and take into account anthropometrical information a well. Does the athlete do poorly on a various moment simply because his or her body isn’t well-suited for the lift, or because it’s a new movement and they haven’t had a chance to learn the form, or are they truly weak in that vector? Sometimes you’ll need to test a couple of different exercises to get an accurate viewpoint. Did the athlete suck at single leg glute bridges because he or she has poor rotary stability or because he or she can’t activate the glutes well from that vector in that range of motion? Did the athlete suck at Bulgarian squats because he or she has poor leg and hip strength or poor single leg stability (in other words, are weak stabilizers or weak prime movers the culprit)? Single leg exercises from various vectors challenge the torsional and mediolateral vectors’ stabilizing mechanisms and involve crucial muscles such as the adductors, glute min, med, and max, quadratus lumborum, multifidi, obliques, and erectors which need to be strengthened and coordinated for proper movement efficiency.
Application to Overall Health
Here are some important considerations for LVT as it pertains to overall health
• Strong Body – Your body needs to be well-adapted to all lines of force for proper levels of strength. Too much emphasis in one directional load vector without enough emphasis on other directional load vectors will yield sub-optimal results and fail to deliver the “ultimate athlete”
• Wolff’s Law of Bone – bone adapts to become stronger according to the lines of directional force placed upon it
• Davis’ Law of Soft-Tissue – all soft-tissue adapts to become stronger according to the lines of directional force placed upon it
• Fascial Health – Thomas Myers, a leading researcher in fascia, recently recommended vector variation for optimal fascial health (which goes along with Davis’ Law)
• Spinal Loading – the spine can only withstand a certain amount of loading in any direction. Since we get compressive forces every time we perform axial movements, every time the hip flexors contract, and every time we brace the core, doesn’t it make sense to at least vary the directional load vectors throughout training to give the spine some variety and rest in a certain direction?
• Strength/Power – It is quite possible to be strong in one vector and weak in other vectors. General strength development through the big basic exercises (squats, deadlifts, bench press, bent over rows, military press, etc.) will certainly develop an impressive athlete but the athlete will likely be ill-prepared for anteroposterior, mediolateral, and torsional activities. For example, there are athletes who are great at squatting and jumping (axial actions) but terrible at hip thrusting and sprinting (anteroposterior actions). We need specialized training for optimal results
• Fun! – Quite often the best program for an individual is the one with which they’ll be consistent. Exercisers have more compliance when they enjoy their routine. In terms of strength & conditioning, exercisers usually like variety. Vector variety not only provides a more effective workout; it provides a more fun and enjoyable workout as well.
How to Mimic Load Vectors
Think like MacGyver. He was a crafty individual. Use your knowledge of Biomechanics and all the training tools at your disposal to target the various directional load vectors.
• If using barbells or dumbbells, standing lifts usually target axial vectors, supine lifts usually target anteroposterior load vectors, and prone lifts usually target posteroanterior load vectors
• If using bands or cables, standing lifts usually target anteroposterior or posteroanterior vectors, while supine lifts usually target axial load vectors
• Performing unilateral variations of axial lifts tends to increase the mediolateral component while unilateral variations of anteroposterior lifts tend to increase the torsional component
• Get creative: change body position, change the angle or line of pull, elevate a part of the body, etc.
Anytime you hear someone in the fitness field using planar terminology, smirk at them and say in a snooty voice, “Hmm. Planar terminology. That’s so 2000!” Then teach them load vector terminology. Of course I’m being facetious as I still use both types of terminology depending on the topic and audience. However, the better understanding you have of directional load vectors, the better you’ll be as a lifter, trainer, coach, or therapist.