Our bodies move forward and back, sideways and rotationally. But virtually all cardio machines only offer linear motion in the sagittal plane (front to back): treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, stairclimbers, rowers and more. When you train functionally, however, you move in all planes of motion and thereby experience more balanced conditioning that can simplify doing activities of daily living, from hoisting luggage to pulling weeds.
If you love the treadmill or elliptical, no problem. Keep up the good work! But by adding lateral exercisers and rotation movements, you’ll help improve how your body moves. Challenging muscles in all their movement capacities leads to greater strength, range of motion and ease of overall mobility. You can benefit from improved agility and balance, better posture and alignment and decreased risk of injury. And new moves and cross training can boost motivation and adherence. Plus, if you’re an athlete, training with lateral exercises enhances athletic performance.
You’ll train your glutes, inner and outer thighs, peroneals on the lower leg and the core, in addition to all the small stabilizer muscles.
Let’s consider how to easily incorporate lateral exercises into your fitness routine.
- Take a functional or boot-camp class – If you’re not used to training functionally, this will get you moving your body in many different ways, using your body weight and/or equipment or accessories. You may be shuffling side to side, twisting with a medicine ball or pushing a sled. Not all moves will be lateral, of course, but this is a great introduction to a different way to train if you’ve predominantly been a cardio floor or weight room addict. Plus, you can talk to the instructor to get more ideas for lateral exercises.
- Perform calisthenics – Think jumping jacks, side steps, grapevines, carioca, lateral lunges and leaps, speed skaters, side walking with a resistance band, side squats, hip abduction and adduction, lateral raises, side bends, lateral bear crawls, lateral burpees, side step-ups and more.
- Incorporate accessories – Keep things fun with gliding disks, which add friction (i.e., resistance) to lots of exercises, including lateral movements. Find a slide board, don the special booties and glide back and forth for an exhilarating cardio session. Use cones and jump side-to-side through them, and take advantage of elastic resistance bands for various upper- and lower-body exercise such as lateral pulldowns, lateral raises, standing abduction and side bends.
- Do yoga and Pilates – These powerful practices are a great way to work the body in all three planes of motion for greater strength and flexibility. In yoga, take on side planks, side angles and poses such as Triangle, Reverse Warrior and Standing Half Moon, for instance. In Pilates, do Side Bend, Mermaid and all sorts of side-lying leg lifts.
- Try the LateralX – Only from Octane Fitness, this unique cross-trainer lets you move your legs from a stepping movement to an adjustable side-to-side motion, with 10 lateral width levels. You can choose various challenges, such as the Lateral Interval routine or exclusive Workout Boosters like ThighToner and QuadPower, to maximize use of the glutes and inner and outer thighs – unlike what you can do on a traditional linear elliptical.
- Embrace Zumba – This dance-party workout has you moving in all directions, and you’ll definitely get your lateral groove on while you let loose.
- Ice skate or inline skate – Bump up the fun factor while you train laterally inside or outside. This is a terrific way to exercise without really even realizing it!
When trying any new exercise, be careful to do it slowly at first, and with correct form. Ask a trainer or consult online resources if you need guidance.