Home > Training

3 exercises to improve side-to-side movement

Walking and running backwards and sideways can help relieve overused muscle groups as well as stimulating new pathways in the brain

Are you training for a spring marathon or half-marathon, and at this point you feel like you’re locked into your forward-motion training program like a horse with blinders on? When we’re always running in the same direction (forward), we may end up neglecting certain muscles and putting a lot of strain on our knees and hips. Developing sideways agility can come in handy when you’re trying to dodge through crowds at the beginning of a race. Here are three exercises to throw into your easy run days, to change things up, keep you nimble, and even help you recover from injury.

RELATED: Why Canada is your ideal winter training location


Grapevines are the criss-crossing exercise you see people doing to warm up for races. (It’s not necessary to do them barefoot, but it is a good idea to keep your arms as still as possible, to open up the hips.)

Walking backwards

Walking and running backwards are excellent exercise, since they engage different muscles than what we use when moving forward and are often recommended by physiotherapists in rehabbing knee, hamstring and back injuries. If you haven’t done it before, start with walking, rather than running, and if you’re alone outside, be sure to do it in a safe place, and take care to look behind you frequently to avoid obstacles. 

On the treadmill, set the speed to 1.5 mph and start with an incline of 2.0. Step onto the treadmill’s side rails and hold the handles before turning around, then walk backwards. Step onto the side rails and twist your upper body around to increase the incline by 2.0 for every 30 seconds of walking. Work up to an incline of 10. Continue, lowering the incline by 2.0 every 30 seconds (stepping on the side rails in between) until you’re back to zero incline.

RELATED: North Carolina man completes backwards marathon–at almost 60

Walking sideways

If you’re outside, grapevines are the easiest and quickest way to get the sideways motion. On the treadmill, simply follow the instructions for walking backwards (above), but side stepping. Do not cross over like you’re doing a grapevine–just keep extending the same leg in the same direction for 30 seconds at a time, increasing the incline by 2 every 30 seconds. It’s better to switch directions as you go, using the treadmill’s side rails before switching, rather than going all the way up to an incline of 10 on the same side. Do not increase your speed until you’ve done the full circuit a few times.

You may be sore after these exercises, so it’s best to do them no more than twice a week to start. As you get more adept, you could try gradually increasing the speed on the treadmill with each workout.