Rotational, Reactive, and Lateral: Three Forgotten Pieces of the Strength Training Puzzle

How to incorporate rotational, reactive and lateral movements into your normally linear fitness program.

In my experience, nine times out of 10 when my clients have gotten injured acutely, injury hasn’t happened in the gym.

Acute injuries can happen while playing a sport, or in life. Doing something like the old, I hurt my back twisting and reaching for my kid’s toy injury.

What sport and life injuries usually have in common is that the person reacted instinctively and put themselves in a weak position, a position their body wasn’t prepared for, often through suddenly twisting, rotating, moving sideways, or reacting unexpectedly and ending up in an awkward position.

Meanwhile, in the gym, everything we do tends to be focused on perfect technique, usually in a controlled manner, and almost always in a purely linear direction. This makes us strong in the gym, and able to handle a controlled, expected and linear environment. But considering life and sport doesn’t always happen linearly or in control, it’s weird that we don’t spend more time preparing our bodies for the real world, isn’t it?

It’s time to include lateral, reactive and rotational movements in your gym routine to better equip your muscles and joints for what you’ll see outside the gym.

Here are three simple examples of each to point you in the right direction:

Reaction Drills

Reaction drills improve, not just your ability to react quickly and effectively to a stimulus, but also to improving your ability to move faster.

1. Ball Drops

This exercise requires two people.

  • Start by standing approximately five meters away from each other. Partner A holds onto a ball that bounces, such as a tennis or racquetball ball. Partner B gets into an athletic stance in preparation to react.
  • Partner A then drops the ball from shoulder height on one side of his body or the other. When the Partner A releases the ball, Partner B must sprint and catch the ball before it bounces twice. 

Not only is this a great drill for improving your ability to respond to a stimulus, but it’s also useful for improving your first-step quickness.

  • 3 sets of 6-10 ball drops each

2. Forward-Backward Shuttle Run

Place two cones about 10 meters apart.

  • Partner A begins at the first cone and runs toward the second cone. When he/she reaches the cone, he/she back-pedals and runs backward toward the first cone.
  • Periodically—every 5 seconds or so—Partner B yells switch. When he/she does, Partner B must immediately stop and change directions.

This drill is helpful for improving your ability to quickly change directions, as well as improving acceleration and deceleration while running both forward and backward.

  • 3 sets of 20-30 seconds each (This is a sprint, so you should feel winded after just 20 seconds).

3. Lateral Shuttle Shuffle

Same as the above, only now you’re shuffling from side to side, switching directions each time your partner yells switch.

  • 3 sets of 20-30 seconds each

Rotational Movements

Rotational movements are particularly useful for improving explosive power that can easily transfer to sport performance. They’re also helpful for improving core stability during explosive movements.

1. Russian Twists

Russian twists are a simple way to get your obliques firing. They also help improve abdominals and lower back stability, as you must work hard to stabilize through the core to bring the weight back to the middle of your body.

  • 3 sets, 16-20 reps

2. Landmine Rotations

Like a Russian twist, landmine rotations help build core stability and strength. What makes them extra challenging is that the weight is in front of your centre of gravity, causing your obliques to work extra hard to stabilize.

Note: It’s not just your arms that rotate during landmine rotations. Make sure you’re rotating your entire body, including your hips, during each rep, so that you rotate a full 180 degrees from start to finish. And think of the balls of your feet and your toes as the pivot point, making sure your feet don’t move.

You can also do these from a kneeling position.

  • 3 sets, 8-10 reps

3. Rotational Medicine Ball Slams

Medicine balls slams are sort of like explosive landmine rotations.

  • Slam the ball down from overhead on one side of your body.
  • Catch it on the bounce, and then bring the ball up and overhead and rotate a full 180 degrees before slamming the ball down again.
  • 3 sets, 16-20 reps

Lateral Movements

Lateral movements are great for strengthening your smaller stabilizer muscles, which goes a long way in preparing your body better for life and sport in terms of reducing the risk of acute injuries. They also help decrease any muscle imbalances you have between your left and right side.

1. Weighted lateral box step ups

Just like a step-up, only now you’re stepping laterally onto the box. These are helpful for isolating each leg individually and building single leg glute and hamstring strength, as well as stability and balance.

Keep these slow and controlled and focus on using the leg on top of the box to stand up, as opposed to pushing off with the foot on the ground.

  • 3 sets, 6-8 reps per leg with two dumbbells at your sides

2. Lateral Cone Bounding

Lateral bounding is a great way to challenge your joints to withstand impact, all the while remaining stable and in control.

  • Start on one side of a cone, or use a short box.
  • Jump up and over and land on the other side. The idea here is to rebound right away, back and forth, to create a bounding action. Focus on keeping your feet together and keeping tight and controlled, yet fast, bounds back and forth.
  • If it’s too challenging to jump over something, then start with a line. Simply hop over the line, back and forth, rebounding as quickly as possible on each landing.

On the other hand, if you master the double leg bound, try single leg bounding.

  • 3 sets of 30 seconds of bounding

3. Cossack Squats

Lateral Movement

Cossack squats, or effectively side lunges, are a good way to build strength in a lateral squat pattern. In a perfect world, you will end up in a side lunge position with your hip crease below the knee, just like a regular squat, while maintaining an upright torso. If that is challenging without weight, then stick to bodyweight Cossack squats. And if you’re able to get into a good position on both sides, then consider goblet Cossack squats with a dumbbell or kettlebell.

  • 3 sets, 6-8 reps per side

Editor’s note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.