What are lateral exercises?

Think lateral shoulder raises when you raise your arm to the side. Lateral exercises have you moving in the frontal (lateral or side-on) plane, working your muscles from a different direction. Why is this important? Because if you didn’t know it already, your body is a 3-dimensional movement machine.

The human body has three planes of motion: the Sagittal plane, which separates the left and right sides like a bodyweight squat. The transverse plane separates your body’s upper and lower halves and involves rotation. For instance, you may know that wood choppers and Russian twists are a couple of rotational exercises.

Then the subject of this article is the lateral (frontal) plane. As your body is a 3D machine, it pays to train like it for better muscle development and reduced injury risk.

Here I’ll go into the benefits of including lateral exercises in your workout and four exercises for your training pleasure.

3 Benefits Of Lateral Exercises

Although most of your gains happen in the sagittal plane, it pays to train in the lateral plane because your muscles don’t just run up and down but in all directions. Working your muscles in the lateral plane will give you extra pop and these three great benefits.

You’re Less Likely To Hurt Yourself

Training in the lateral plane ensures you’re not creating muscular imbalances. Although muscular imbalances are not a huge deal and are natural, reducing them means you’re less likely to hurt yourself. It’s not like you will pull a muscle when you step out to the side, but you are less likely to get injured when you are more robust in all planes of motion.   

Better Movement

If your sport or daily activities involve moving laterally, then training there will only enhance this. When you strengthen your frontal plane movement, you will increase your strength going forwards and backward.

Decreased Workout Boredom

Being consistent with big lifts (bench, squat, deadlift) is required for gains, but that doesn’t mean you cannot add a little variety to keep you engaged. Training in the lateral plane will improve muscle development and help keep your mind and body fresh and your body laterally sexy. 😊

4 Lateral Exercises

Now here comes the fun part. Here are four lateral exercises for your workout satisfaction. Who says you should get no satisfaction?  

Landmine Cossack Squat

The landmine Cossack squat is fantastic because it trains mobility, flexibility, and strength in the lateral plane. The landmine anterior load is a counterbalance, allowing you to move side to side more efficiently.

How to do it:

Hold the end on the barbell with your feet in a wide stance.

Then get your shoulders down and chest up to ensure your spine is neutral.

Shift your weight to the left-hand side and squat down as far as your mobility allows.

While squatting, externally rotate the right leg so the toes point to the ceiling.

Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

Programming suggestion: Three sets of six to 12 reps on each side work well here.

TRX Lateral Row

The TRX row is a great exercise performed in the sagittal plane, but by doing it from standing side on to, you’ll strengthen your upper back, shoulders, and biceps in the lateral plane. This rowing variation is a nice change of pace from your normal variations, and you’ll strengthen the muscles from a different angle for better flex appeal.

How to Do it:

Loop the TRX handles through each other to form one handle.

Then grip the  TRX with one hand, stand side on to the anchor point, and adjust your feet closer or further away to make it harder or easier.

Keeping your shoulder down and chest up, row until your elbow touches your side.

Then slowly lower back to the starting position and reset and repeat for desired reps.

Programming suggestion: Three to four sets of 10-12 reps per side works well here.

Mini Band Lateral Walk

The mini-band lateral walk strengthens the smaller lateral muscles of your glutes, which are essential for balance and hip, knee, and ankle health. These muscles ( glute mini and glute medius) help prevent your knees from bending inwards, leading to knee soreness and pain.

How to do it:

Place the band carefully around your ankles and get your toes pointed forward and feet hip-width apart.  

Bend your knees slightly and take small steps to the side, keeping the band tight at all times.

Do all your reps to the one side and then repeat on the other.

Programming suggestions: Do 15-20 reps on each side as part of your warm-up or for two to three sets as part of your regular workout.

Lateral Step Up

I could have gone with the side lunge or lateral raise, but where’s the fun in that? Not everyone has the mobility or flexibility for the side lunge. This is where the lateral step-up steps in. 😊 The lateral step-up has you stepping onto the box laterally and increases the workload on the glutes because all three glute muscles are involved. You can vary the height of the box, and by doing this, you can make it harder or easier.

How to do it:

Stand side-on (lateral) to the box using body weight or holding dumbbells in each hand.

Place your right foot on the box and get both feet pointed forward.

Drive your right foot into the box and bring your left foot toward your foot with your left foot hovering in the air.

Slowly lower your left foot to the floor and reset and repeat.

Programming suggestions: Depending on the weight, two to four sets of 6 to 12 reps per side are reasonable.

Wrapping Up

Well, that was painless. Hopefully, you realize that working in the lateral plane is essential for improving the look and performance of your body. Substituting one of the above exercises into your workout routine will improve flex times and help you move like a champion.    

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