Multiplanar Movement: The Power of Training Lateral Movements

You know all about squats and lunges and biceps curls and bench presses and pushups. These are conventional exercises that frequently show up in workout routines. Now it’s time to mix things up. And no, you’re not doing this #forthegram. You’re doing it because it’s what your body wants and needs.

You’re doing it because your body is meant to move in multiple planes, and really, it’s what the tissues in your body just might be craving. Because, well, your average gym exercises simply don’t cut it. Yes, they help you build strength, but by moving in multiple planes, you’ll carve your abs, insulate yourself against injury, and build more strength than you may think.

You’ve seen wild exercises on Instagram, and yes, many of those are stunts. But your body needs just a little bit of stunt in it, because it’s meant to do more than you think. Most traditional exercises keep you in something called the “sagittal” plane, which is, essentially, the direction you walk in. Think about it. When you walk, your quads contract to lift your knees and move them forward, and your shoulders sway your arms forward. Your calves contract to drive your heels forward, and your glutes eventually help drive your pelvis forward.

The common theme: It’s all going “forward.” That means you’re not training your muscles to twist at the torso, you’re not training them to fight that act of twisting, and you’re certainly not training your body to move laterally.

These are blind spots in every routine, and they can cost you. That’s why you might struggle to move on the basketball court when playing defense, and it’s why you might throw your back out when twisting to get something out of the back seat of your car.

The fix: Train multiplanar movement more often, because it’s what your body wants. And while it may be hard now, it won’t be that way for long. Your body is meant to adapt to whatever training you feed it, so if you add multiplanar moves now, your body will eventually build the muscle to drive those movements.

Keep these 3 types of movements in mind in your training:

Lateral Movements

You’ve seen LeBron James slide across the basketball court to guard an opposing scorer, right? LeBron is moving laterally, and in the process, he’s pushing his glute and hamstring muscles to support him in multiple directions. The simple defensive slide is an example of lateral movement, and you use it more in your day-to-day than you think.

If it wasn’t for lateral movement, you’d have to fully turn your body every single time you needed to get out of the way of anything, and then walk. Lateral movement lets you dodge that.

To train lateral movement, explore exercises like lateral lunges. Start standing, then step with your right foot to the right a few feet, shifting your weight to the right. Bend your right knee and push your butt back, keeping your left leg straight. Stand back up, explosively driving your right foot back to toward the left. That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 10 to 12 per side.

You can also simply work lateral defensive slides, the exact move a basketball player uses to defend opponents.

Rotational Movements

Quick, plant your legs. Now try to look behind you. Your torso turned to help you do that, right? This simple act is a rotational movement, and yes, it needs to be trained.

Your body is meant to rotate, giving you the freedom to look around, but that mobility dissipates if it isn’t trained. Training it has other merits too: Your core muscles (yes, that includes your abs!) often drive this rotation, so training rotation can help you develop the carved midsection you may be chasing.

Need an easy rotational exercise to start with? Try the Russian Twist but do it slowly (read: Unlike many in group fitness classes). Lie on the ground in sit-up position, then contract your abs, raising your torso a few inches above the ground. Extend your arms straight over your chest. Rotate your arms to the right side slowly, aiming to turn your shoulders fully to the right. Rotate them to the left side slowly, aiming to turn your shoulders to the left. Work for 40 seconds on, 20 off; do 3 sets.

Offset Stance Movements

You won’t always get to set your feet in perfect squat or deadlift form to lift a box. In these instances, you have to stagger your feet, or shift your weight off-center just slightly. Despite that, you have to exhibit strength to lift that box from this odd angle.

In those situations, you’re using an offset stance, and it’s critical to train this. Doing so will light up your core … it’s readying your body for these real-world situations. Your body becomes acclimated to being strong and exhibiting strength from an odd angle, so the next time you have to move a piano with some friends, you’re ready for it.

You’re also challenging your entire core in these situations, because it’s your core muscles, from abs to glutes to spinal extensors and obliques, that make the micro adjustments to help you show off strength in these offset stance situations. And you can never have too much core training, right?

Start with the basic staggered-stance Romanian deadlift to begin your offset-stance journey. Hold dumbbells or kettlebells at your sides, core tight, left leg slightly behind your right leg, left heel off the ground, majority of your weight in your right leg. Keeping your abs tight, push your butt back and lower into a deadlift. Lower until you feel a stretch in your right hamstring. Keep your hips and shoulders square while lowering. Stand back up, squeezing your glutes. That’s 1 rep; do 3 sets of 8 to 10 per side.
Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.

Fitness Director for Men’s Health Magazine and CSCS trainer -

Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men's Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience. He's logged training time with NFL and track athletes, and his current training regimen includes weight training, HIIT conditioning, and yoga. Before joining Men's Health in 2017, he served as a sports and tech columnist for the New York Daily News.