If you play a sport, the chances are pretty damn high that the game takes place in all the different planes of movement – apart from sprinting, there are barely any legitimate sports where you only move in a forward direction.
Tennis, football, American football, squash, rugby.. hell, even cricket requires the ability to move fluidly in all directions. Forwards, backwards, sideways, diagonally. Movement fluency is vital to being a good athlete.
The problem however, is that in the gym most of our training takes place in a single plane of motion. Deadlifts, squats, bench press, shoulder press.. these are the bread and butter lifts for most of us, and all of it occurs in the same way, up and down, up and down.
These ‘linear’ exercises certainly have their place in anybody’s training regimen (i.e. for strength development), but too much of anything can be a bad thing.
If you train too much in one direction (thus neglecting multi-directional training), imbalances start to develop everywhere. Muscles begin to atrophy and compensations start to occur, leading to muscles that are either too tight or too weak.
In conclusion, one direction absolutely sucks.
(If you hit the gym merely to work out and look good, then this stuff is probably not relevant to you, so feel free to click x.)
I play football (soccer), and anybody else who plays knows that there are plenty of non-linear movements that occur constantly throughout a game – shuffling to one side, jogging backwards, small diagonal sprints, etc.
Next time you play, pay conscious attention to how frequently these happen. You’ll certainly begin to consider multi-directional training far more of a priority once you see how large a part of the game it is.
Multi-directional rack kettlebell walks
It’s a bit of a mouthful, I know, but multi-directional rack kettlebell walks are brilliant. I’ve seen plenty of people doing loaded carries walking forwards, but never in a different direction.
The positive effects of this exercise are numerous: You get a strong isometric contraction in the delts whilst supporting the weight, and it is superb for the core.
People spend hours upon hours doing sit-ups and end up with kyphosis and back issues to show for it. I haven’t done a single sit-up for about 4 years and I have abs (nice ones too, may I add).
Walking with weight is a great way to strengthen the muscles, ligaments and connective tissue throughout the body, and once you incorporate multi-directional work and stop-starts, it becomes almost parallel to a real sporting situation.
Show me a how a sit-up or a bosu ball squat even come close.
Although traditional farmers’ walks are just as brilliant in their own way, grip strength doesn’t become a limiting factor in this variation (and the kettlebells don’t constantly smash into the side of your thigh as you’re walking).
How to do it
- Deadlift two evenly weighted kettlebells
- Perform a clean to get them to the shoulders (one at a time if you have to)
- Position the kettlebells on the outside of your arms
- Keep tall posture with chest and elbows up throughout the exercise
- Walk for a pre-determined length or distance
- Perform walks in all directions (forwards, backwards, sideways, diagonally)
If you want to use this exercise, simply use it as a ‘finisher’ at the end of your session. Today I really wasn’t on it, so after my main exercise I just decided to do numerous sets of these, and boy did I get a workout.
Depending on your needs you can use these more for strength (heavier weight, shorter duration) or strength-endurance (lighter weight, longer duration).
After a heavy strength session, I’d definitely lean towards strength-endurance. Mix it up depending on how you feel and the needs of your sport.
As expected, walking backwards is a lot more difficult than walking forwards, because our bodies are designed to move forward. You’ll sense the demands on the core a hell of a lot more going backwards.
Walking backwards also activates a lot of muscles which are hard to target during conventional training, such as the muscles in the front of the shin. It makes sense that training these muscles makes us better at decelerating, an important part of playing any sport.
The better you are at decelerating, the more control you have over your own body, vital in high-speed situations.
Not only that, but walking backwards is more intense than walking forwards at the same pace, so it also increase the conditioning component.
Walking laterally was even more of a challenge than going backwards, and it absolutely canes the abductors (in a good way). If you’re like me and you have tight abductors, lighten the weight when performing this variation, as strengthening muscles that are already tight isn’t always the smartest move.
Using a lighter weight also serves as a kind of dynamic stretch, thus mobilising the muscle.
I plan to use these multi-directional walks as often as possible, and coupled with the mobility work I’m currently doing, I’m confident they will have a huge impact on my fluency of movement as an athlete.
There’s nothing worse than being restricted and not able to do what you your body wants you to. Get on them now.
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