Fact: A lot of go-to exercises like squatting, lunging, deadlifting, and pressing involve forward and backward motion. But incorporating lateral exercises—basically, side-to-side moves—into your workout routine is also super important.
Lateral movements are incredibly beneficial to everyday life, certified personal trainer Francine Delgado-Lugo, CPT, movement and strength coach and cofounder of Form Fitness Brooklyn, tells SELF. The more you incorporate lateral exercises into your routine, the better you’ll move and feel overall, she explains.
With that in mind, Delgado-Lugo created a five-move, total-body workout for SELF that relies on lateral exercises. It’s great for building well-rounded, functional strength, and is easily scalable to different fitness levels. But before we dive into those details, let’s discuss what lateral exercises are, their benefits, and how you can add them into your exercise routine. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know, then get ready to seriously strengthen your entire body with Delgado-Lugo’s awesome routine.
What are lateral exercises?
Lateral exercises are exercises in which you move side to side or use your muscles in a sideways fashion, says Delgado-Lugo. Examples of lateral exercises include lunging to the side, raising your arms out to the side, and shuffling sideways.
Lateral exercises happen in the frontal plane of motion, which is one of three planes of motion. The other two planes of motion include the sagittal plane, which incorporates forward and backward movement (think: walking, running, squatting, and pressing), and the transverse plane, which involves rotation or twisting (like with a bicycle crunch or mountain climber twist).
What are the benefits of lateral exercises?
There are a ton of benefits to lateral exercises that make them a worthwhile addition to your routine. Lateral movement can help support balance and rotation as well as help you resist impact forces. The latter is because, in part, lateral exercises strengthen muscles that lengthen and shorten in the lateral direction, Delgado-Lugo explains. For that reason, lateral exercise plays a big role in injury prevention. For instance, being strong laterally can up your chances of staying upright if you slip on ice. It can also better protect your knees and hips when a dog excitedly barrels into your legs, says Delgado-Lugo.
Moreover, the body is designed to move in all planes of motion, which is why it’s vital to exercise and strengthen your muscles in all planes of motion too. Most of us spend a lot of time in the sagittal plane both in everyday life and also in our workouts. But by intentionally incorporating all three planes of motion into our routines, our bodies will be able to move more safely and effectively in pretty much every scenario.
How can you add lateral exercises to your routine?
Ideally most of your workouts should incorporate movements in multiple planes of motion (which, of course, includes the frontal plane), says Delgado-Lugo.
That said, most of us could stand to incorporate more lateral work specifically, so it can also be a good idea to occasionally do workouts that primarily focus on side-to-side exercises. The below five-move workout checks that box, while also incorporating doses of movement in the transverse and sagittal planes.
Delgado-Lugo suggests adding this circuit to your routine about once a week. As with any workout, just make sure to do a warm-up first—here are five pre-workout stretches you can try. Keep scrolling for an amazing lateral workout that you’ll want to add to your weekly routine.
What you need: One pair of light dumbbells (3–8 pounds) and one pair of medium to heavy dumbbells (10–20 pounds). The “right” weight, of course, varies per person, but you can use this range recommendation as a jumping-off place! You’ll know the weight you chose is too heavy if you’re gassed before you hit the minimum recommended reps, or if your form starts to falter before you get there. On the other hand, you can probably go heavier if you still have a few reps in the tank after hitting the max recommended reps. (Here are some great dumbbell recommendations.)
- Lateral plank walk
- Lateral lunge
- Skater hop to floor touch
- Forearm rainbow plank
- Lateral raise
- Complete each move for the designated number of reps listed below. Rest minimally in between moves (though of course take breaks if your form starts to falter or you feel like you can’t catch your breath).
- After you’ve done all five moves, rest 60–90 seconds, then repeat the circuit. Complete 3–4 rounds total.
Demoing the moves below are Cookie Janee (GIFs 1-2, 4), a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; and Heather Boddy (GIFs 3 and 5), a group fitness instructor and creator of the Geeknasium workout program.