Training the brakes: An athlete's guide to deceleration and change of direction

Training your brakes is key for multidirectional sports. Situations in your game that require you to rapidly slow down or immediately change your direction of path are manifold. Often, these situations are also bolstered by a requirement to deceive an opponent or react to the environment faster than the rest. Finding a yard of space, beating the offside trap, evading a tackle or pouncing on a loose ball are just a few examples, and I'm sure you can think of many more!

Did you know that intense deceleration and change of direction occurs in most competitive sports substantially more often than intense acceleration, high-speed running, sprinting or jumping?

Did you also know that injuries relating to poor deceleration and change of direction technique are pretty high, and often relate to the lengthy ACL's and high ankle ligament sprains that we all want to avoid? And did you know that the energy required to complete these tasks is drastically higher too? Time to learn...

This article will "brake" down the fundamentals of deceleration and change of direction, the what, the why, and the how! Whether you are an S&C coach, a physio, or a player yourself, by the end of this read, you should have the tools to better prepare the brakes for enhanced athletic performance!

Presence of deceleration and change of direction

Compared with acceleration, deceleration is top trumps across the board. Ground reaction force is up to 2.7 x greater in deceleration, and largely occurs in much shorter time frames of less than the 50 ms vs. up to 150 ms in acceleration. Intense decelerations therefore impose a 41% greater mechanical load on the body per metre vs. intense accelerations.

This tells us that high force and fast is key, so training for eccentric strength and high amounts of eccentric RFD is a must.

From further research, we know that the main players in the deceleration field are the quadriceps, the soleus, and not forgetting the hip extensors. Each of these must function eccentrically to control triple flexion of the lower limbs asthe body decelerates and descends in space. When we change course and direct ourselves elsewhere it is often the same muscles, with assistance from the lateral and medial hip muscles (glute and groin), that are responsible.

Injuries during deceleration and change of direction

Unfortunately, due to the increased demand on players to be fitter and faster and to compete more often than ever, it doesn't look like these numbers are getting any lower any time soon! So, what should we do?

Training to improve deceleration and change of direction

Now we know the presence of deceleration and change of direction movement in sport, the striking injuries that come as part of these movements, and the muscles that are involved - it's probably time to discuss how we can be better at performing these movements, and reducing our injury risk at the same time!

As with all athletic capabilities, at KPI we believe in a global approach to training. What we mean by this, is that we take into account a whole host of physical capabilities when determining what type of training our athletes should engage in. This ranges from mobility and stability, to power and strength, and importantly training the technique of the movement skill itself! Let's take a quick look at each below...


Having sufficient mobility in your hips and your ankles is important to ensure that you are able to get in and out of deep positions that you may find yourself in during deceleration and change of direction. Furthermore, put simply, if your muscle is forced to lengthen (stretch) beyond its capacity, especially whilst under load, then it's likely that a muscle strain will occur! The most common muscle strain to occur during change of direction movements is in the adductors (groin)!


When working outside of your centre of mass, it's essential that you are able to stabilise your joints with your muscles! Poor ankle, knee and hip stability is associated with reduced performance and also increased risk of ligament injury! If you are not able to stabilise around your joints, your performance will reduce due to the inability to effectively transfer force that you produce against the floor. You are also likely to place stress on the ligaments that encase your bones together and cause ligament sprains! Common and incredibly detrimental injuries that occur due to poor joint stability during deceleration and change of direction include anterior cruciate ligament sprains, and ankle ligament sprains.

Power and strength

We like to say that no movement is worth having if it's not done quickly and forcefully! Decelerating and changing direction is often about buying yourself space or time in your sport. Often, you can do this by moving your body faster than your opponent - and without underpinning strength and the ability to produce force quickly, you cannot do this! In addition to this, injury to muscle or ligament often occurs during deceleration and change of direction when we are unable to withstand the ground reaction force exposed to our bodies. When doing so, our muscles are exposed to high strain and/or our joints are placed outside of a safe "zone" potentially exposing them to harmful stress!

Movement skills

Understanding how to coordinate muscle activation to stabilise your joints in dynamic and challenging situations is tricky. When taking that onto the field, when reaction time, decision making and uncertainty is involved, moving efficiently becomes even harder! It’s a good job that training movement skills in the gym is available, and there to help you bridge the gap between gym physical qualities and field performance expression! We like to break our movement skills training for change of direction into the “deceleration phase” and the “redirection phase”. Check out a few highlights below:


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