14 Lateral Movements to Improve Your Workout

If you are interested in improving your exercise program to enhance both your life and sport abilities, then the extremely functional activity known as Lateral Movement should be included in your regimen.

Brock Armstrong
Episode #416
Photo of a woman doing a lateral lunge

Side-to-side (or lateral) movement is very often missing from most of our training and exercise programs. We see plenty of front to back, and up and down, motions like lunges, squats, push-ups and pull-ups, but oddly we don't see many lateral movements.

Think back to your last full-body workout. When you did that, you were probably mostly either moving forward or standing in place, right? Maybe some reverse lunges snuck in but even those were few and far between (unless you happen to be a serious runner). But if you have ever watched high-level competitive athletes, you know that most of their lower body injuries occur during lateral movement, twists, abrupt changes of direction, or even collisions. Think of a football player zig-zagging down the field, a skier carving up a slope, a hockey player slamming on the breaks and suddenly reversing direction, or a soccer player diving dramatically to the ground clutching his knee.

Okay, maybe not that last one but you get my drift. Ultimately, not training properly for these lateral moves can often result in injuries, low performance, and yes, also a less aesthetically pleasing appearance.

Not training properly for these lateral moves can result in injuries and low performance.

Thinking back to the fit folks that I have coached, I would say that 80 percent of them moved poorly on their lateral plane. And yes, I count myself in that number at certain times in my athletic life.

In the book Science and Practice of Strength Training, the authors state “it is especially important to strengthen joint structures in lateral movements (abduction-adduction) and in rotation relative to the longitudinal axis of a body segment.” The authors continue by writing “if the muscles and joint structures that resist lateral movement are not strengthened, the injury risk is very high ... Lateral movements, however, are not trained; unfortunately, it is exactly these muscles and structures that should be the training target.”

Why Lateral Movement Matters

Our environments are much more controlled and easy to traverse than they used to be (sitting at a computer, sitting in a car, home delivery, binging shows on the couch) which means we don’t get the amount or variety of movement that our bodies have evolved to expect and rely on. Our ancestors were certainly moving around in many more directions, levels, and planes than we do now. And this is a big deal! Let me tell you why.

Forward movements like running and biking use the same dominant muscles, stressing your hamstrings, calves, and quads. If you stress the dominant muscle groups, causing them to become increasingly stronger as your smaller muscles shrink or stay the same, you cause an imbalance, which can lead to tissue degeneration and injury.

Working all those small but mighty stabilizer muscles is just as important as working larger dominant muscles if we want to get them ready to perform well. And there are few better ways to work those muscles than to engage in side-to-side movement.

Plus, it is just plain fun to change things up from time to time. Moving in unique and different ways can really reduce boredom and increase our desire to hit the gym, the park, the trail, the pool or the playground.

Lateral movements also help reduce the risk of everything from losing mobility as we age to reducing the number of sports injuries we incur.

I hope you are starting to see that adding all sorts of lateral movements to your training is crucial. Lateral movements not only improve your strength, overall stability, and full body coordination, but they also help reduce the risk of everything from losing mobility as we age to reducing the number of sports injuries we incur.

If we enhance our balance and proprioception by engaging in lateral movement drills, we can also help bring more balanced strength to our entire life.


About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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