Your legs deserve a lot of credit for carrying you through your day. Not only do they keep you upright, they move you in whatever direction you need. A lot of your time may be spent moving forward toward coffee or backward to grab forgotten keys. But horizontal, or lateral, movement happens more frequently than you may realize. Whether you move laterally to sidestep a puddle or cut across the field to score a goal, a wealth of exercises exist to help improve your lateral movement.
A Solid Base
Effective movement in any direction starts with a firm foundation in the lower body. Lateral movement, particularly in a sports or fitness context, initiates from activating the muscles of the lower body in an athletic stance: knees slightly bent, tailbone back, feet hip-width apart. Traditional exercises for the legs such as squats and deadlifts build strength in the entire system activated in this stance. Squats target the quadriceps, hamstrings and glutes as well as the calf and even the supporting muscles and tissue at the ankles. Deadlifts work many of the same muscles as squats but incorporate more muscles in the lower and upper back. Either stationary or walking lunges work the legs and lower body through a range of motion while traveling, and quadricep and hamstring curls develop strength through intense isolated work of either muscle.
Lateral Isolation Exercises
Lateral movement uses muscles of the lateral subsystem that includes the upper glutes, muscles of the inner and outer thigh and stabilizing muscles deep in the lower back. Side lunges or lateral box jumps isolate and strengthen the leg and other muscles of the lateral system. You can increase the burn on the entire system by adding weights to the movements. Lying side leg lifts or inner thigh squeezes with an exercise ball isolate the muscles of the inner and outer leg used in lateral movement.
Elastic bands can be your best friend when conditioning the legs and lower body for horizontal movement. Adding varying levels of difficulty to simple movement forces the lateral system to strengthen by overcoming the resistance. Performing a side shuffle in an athletic stance with a resistance band around the ankles changes a quick movement to a strength-training burn. Internal and external rotation of the hip to move the knee inward and outward against resistance creates a unique isolation movement for the muscles of the lateral system. A resistance band around the ankles as well as just above the knees provides the obstacle to develop strength in this move. Maintaining the tension around the ankles and the knees makes this simple movement a challenge.
Plyometrics are an effective and challenging way to condition the legs and lower body for lateral movement. Side-stepping over low hurdles, crossover step drills, and lateral stepping and shuffling patterns using a floor ladder all develop the legs to move the body quickly in a lateral direction. Running lateral sprints for 10 yards and back again or side shuffling through a box drill not only condition the legs for strength in lateral movement but also increase lateral reaction time and the ability to move quickly in multiple directions.
Jullie Chung writes regularly for various websites. She is a nationally certified fitness trainer and performance enhancement specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and trains regularly in yoga, flatwater kayaking, boxing and mixed martial arts. An avid outdoor fan, she regularly hikes, climbs and trail runs.