[Agility Lab] 180 Degree Turns: Avoidance Behaviours and Common Limitations

There is always a debate with a 180-degree turn. “It’s not very prevalent in the sport” “It’s not very specific for anything other than Cricket”. Both of which are true-ish, but it is short sighted to think that those things mean they dont have utility in training and physical assessment. One thing often missed from training and assessment is a consideration of deceleration in the horizontal plane, which is exactly what the 505 test or a single 180-degree turn is about. Generally, what we get from this test is an opportunity to expose athletes to everything that our traditional jump and sprint testing protocols don’t. Regardless of specificity, there are great insights into an athlete’s physical attributes if you know what to look for.

The test provides an opportunity to look at:

1. Horizontal plane deceleration

2. Multi-plane high velocity movement skills

3. Direction dominance and asymmetry.

I have already written about the foundations of these movements. What I am going to expand on here is what the common more complex technical issues are and how athlete’s will approach the task in a way which avoids their weakness.

Technical limitations in these movements commonly occur due to athletes trying to reduce the complexity of the movement demands. They can’t get away from the need for braking strength and deceleration, the laws of physics doesn’t let them. But they can try and do that in different ways to make it easier. Despite the fact that it may hurt their performance, less skilled athlete will prefer to do one thing at a time.. Your coaching role is to work out what they are trying to avoid, why they are avoiding it and get them better at dealing with it. I am using the term avoidance here but remember that this is most likely sub-conscious. They are ‘avoiding’ it because it isnt the way the body percieves to be the most efficient or safest. (there is a huge converstaion to get into about why the body chooses certain strategies over others – not for now!)

One of our simple models we can use when an athlete chooses not to attempt something in a certain way is the following framework. They are avoiding certain things because they have a limitation in either:

1. Strength

2. Range of motion

3. Coordination and skill.

It can be a little more complex than this with added psychology components but as S&C’s these are your big three. When coaching and evaluating movement we are trying to work out which one (or two as they are all linked) of these is the biggest barrier.

Common technical issues and avoidance behaviours:

I am going to outline 3 common situations:

1. Making a curve

2. Lack of penultimate step use

3. A high COM

Making a curve:

The task requires deceleration and propulsion in multiple planes of motion. But athletes are usually the most comfortable in the sagittal plane. Therefore, low skilled athlete will try and stay there. This manifests itself as athletes running much more of a ‘U’ than a straight entry and exit as if they are in a tunnel (like an ‘I’). This is usually identified by the steps which are 3-4 steps away from plant step occurring wider than the start line (further right if turning anti-clockwise). You then see a similar thing on the exit where the path is taken wider to the opposite side of the entry line. Essentially reducing the 180 degree turn to more like 150 degrees.

Quick Tips: These athletes generally don’t like the frontal/transverse plane and aren’t good at rotating around the inside shoulder. They benefit from:

1. Simple cues such as “stay in a tunnel”,

2. Constraints such as a wall to one side to remove the wide entry/exit option

3. Simpler drills which force the breaking or propulsion component to occurs while rotating. For example, accelerations from a 90-degree facing start, 180 degree turns from a 2-step lead in etc.

Lack of penultimate step use:

Similar to the above, a lack of ability to apply force in the frontal and transverse plane can also result in a poorly applied penultimate step. It is more complex and demanding to use the penultimate step to apply force medially in a deep flexion position than it is to apply force laterally through the plant step in a more extended position. But this comes with a whole host of problems for both performance and injury risk. This is commonly seen by the penultimate step ending in a valgus position, not making a hard contact with the ground and having a large change in location between its penultimate step role and its propulsion step role.

This is often linked to the rotational limitations mentioned above. Instead of brake and rotate at the same time, the athlete will try and brake in the sagittal plane as it is easier, then rotate at the plant step and propulsion step to complete the full 180 turn. This can also leave the penultimate step in a position where it blocks a full 180 degree re-acceleration and leaves the hips having to turn more than 90 degrees to get back to the sagittal plane on exit. Not good for performance! The route ran looks more like a ‘P’ shape if turning clockwise. A straight entry and a curved exit, missing effective penultimate step use.

Quick Tips: Develop more strength and competency on the penultimate step limb. Even if this in in the sagittal plane, my experience is that will still help as it is often an issue linked with general force limitations (e.g ACL rehab). So general strength, moving to high velocity eccentric strength with a unilateral and eventually horizontal plane focus. The ability to use these attributes to apply force medially comes last. Facilitated by drills which focus on the entry demands, but are constrained to encourage a lower COM, more support from the penultimate step and a straighter exit.

A high COM:

Athletes who lack eccentric strength and movement competency (see the trend here to movement skills and eccentric strength), will also try and alleviate these issues by early deceleration, increased step frequency and a high COM throughout the movement. The COM may not lower because of the desire to avoid deeper flexion positions which need greater muscular work. Because of this position, it is very difficult to use harder, heavier steps to apply braking force as the step length and direction the force is applied are both negatively affected. To reduce this, steps become more frequent, but the lack of effective deceleration means that the final plant step is too heavily relied on

Quick Tips: This is the simplest one to evaluate. The athlete most likely needs increased capacity to work at longer muscle lengths and better coordination to apply that force. More strength development and more exposure to the movements. Nothing particularly complex. This is the most common thing you see in youth athletes. They haven’t yet developed the braking strength and movement skills to do it differently. And more specifically, in that population, they don’t need to lower their COM much as they are already pretty low being short and don’t have that much momentum to stop anyway. It is possible in more senior athletes there may be some range of motion limitations. So its worth combining what you see in the change of direction with information from your other performance tests.

I have split the above issues up into three for ease of writing, but they are all linked, and you’ll see combinations of 2 or all three of them. Unfortunately, coaching is never going to be easy.

My final recommendation is remember these 180 degree turns also give a great opportunity to look at direction dominance and asymmetry, of which are really common. So pay close attention to how athletes perform differently on each side and challenge both of these sides in training.