Understanding locomotion is the foundation for better athleticism.
At the heart of every athletic competition lies the most fundamental of human activities: locomotion. Locomotion is cyclical movement with the purpose of transporting oneself from point A to point B. Sometimes this alone is an athletic competition, like in track, while in other sports it’s a critical element to performing at the highest level. Those who can’t be caught, can’t be tackled/blocked/tagged/defended, and will in all likelihood be the superior athlete.
There is plenty of literature out there regarding the best drills to help you cut faster, sprint quicker, and run longer, but you’ll rarely see locomotion presented in a progressive and organized fashion. Which is why this article doesn’t discuss running technique, but rather general locomotion, and a foundation for all the movement patterns possible.
First, let’s discuss the components of locomotion. All of human action is comprised of four basic movements: the step, the leap, the hop, and the jump. The step is a lunge forward with one leg while the other foot remains fixed on the ground. The leap is the same as a step, except you leave the ground using one leg with a flight phase before landing on the other leg. The hop is like a leap, except you leave the ground off of one foot and land on the same foot. And finally, the jump, where you leave the ground using two feet and land on two feet. All of these movements can cause horizontal displacement, and if done cyclically can become locomotive patterns.
If you take a step, followed by another step, then you’re walking. A leap followed by another leap is running. The only difference between a walk and a run is the flight phase. If you take a step, hop, then another step, followed by another hop, and so on, you’re skipping. Why am I taking time out of your day to tell you things that you already know? Because these basic movements are the foundation of efficient movement patterns. If you train your body to move every single way it can move, there will never be a movement you can’t handle efficiently.
If we organize these three movement patterns from easiest to hardest, then we get a progression of walking to skipping to running. Just like everything else that’s functional, we do each of these in all three planes of motion. Walking/skipping/running in the sagittal plane is easy enough. Locomotion in the frontal plane presents the difficulty of having to go either in front of your other leg or behind it. For balance’s sake, we’ll do both during our 3D Locomotion Matrix that you’ll find below.
The tricky thing about moving in the transverse plane is it’s a combination of frontal and sagittal displacement, thereby making it curved. So you really have two choices: move in a circle, or move in an S-Shaped curve. For the purposes of flow and space, we’ll choose S-Shaped curves for the matrix. If we walk, skip, and run in all three planes, then we train our body to move in the most fundamental locomotion patterns in every single plane, yielding movement training far superior to those agility ladders you’ve been doing for the past 5 years.
The great thing about this matrix is that it provides the perfect skeleton for both a warm up and a standalone workout. To challenge yourself, just tweak the loads like any other conditioning program. Try running for speed, or skipping in each plane for a long distance (think football field long). Make the turns in the transverse run even tighter. Use the Squat Matrix foot positions to make it even more challenging as we did in the skipping warm up. As you’ll quickly learn, the possibilities are endless!
If you are ready to get started now, try doing the 3D Locomotion Matrix to warm up. The perfect distance is the length of a basketball court. Want to incorporate it into your workout? Combine 3D Locomotion with the sample functional workout provided here. At the end of each round, perform a 300 yard shuttle in the corresponding plane, so that you are running forward and back after round 1, side to side after round 2, and in an S-Shaped curve after round 3.