If you go to the gym regularly, you might get bored of the same grind day after day. Maybe it’s busting out miles on the elliptical or treadmill, or climbing floors on the stair climber. One way to mix up your workout without getting bored is to try a new direction—literally— with multidirectional work. You might have seen other gym-goers going backward or sideways on the machines and wondered, what’s the point of doing that?
Well, it turns out, there are a lot of benefits to multidirectional work, notes Certified Personal Trainer and Head Trainer for IdealFit Lindsey Mathews. “Typically, when you’re doing cardio on a treadmill, elliptical machine, stair climber, or another piece of equipment, you move in the forward direction,” she says. “But, doing your workout in a different direction, such as sideways or even backward, might be worth considering. It works muscles that you aren’t used to using.”
Here’s a look at what else you might get out of multidirectional machine work and how to stay safe while you turn things around.
Multidirectional Workout, Multitude of Benefits
Our muscles adapt quickly to exercise. So, if you’re feeling like your workout isn’t as difficult as it once was, you might benefit from a multidirectional switch-up, says Tony Carvajal, certified CrossFit trainer and RSP Nutrition elite athlete.
“When moving laterally and backward on the elliptical, treadmill, and [stair climber], you are now engaging new sets of muscles, such as the hamstrings, adductors, glutes, and quadriceps,” he says. “In other words, you’re getting more bang for your buck. Now, instead of just focusing mostly on one area of your legs, you recruit more muscles in a shorter time.”
What’s more, “Changing directions gives some variety to the workout. [It] keeps you more mentally engaged and staves off boredom,” adds Jeffery Davis, certified personal trainer and owner of NextLevel Strength and Conditioning in Hermitage, Tennessee.
Plus, Mathews adds that if it feels challenging to move backward or sideways at first, that’s because it is. “It will probably require more work to keep your balance,” she says. “However, you’ll benefit from a few more calories burned!”
If you’re trying a different direction for the first time (especially sideways or backward on the treadmill) you may need to ask a trainer or friend at the gym to spot you. This will help make sure that you can do so safely without falling.
Once you’ve got the movement down, it’s best to take it slow to start, Carvajal recommends. “I would start slowly at a walking pace and practice getting a rhythm,” he says. “The more often you practice these movements in these directions, the more comfortable you will get and eventually be able to pick up the pace.”
Mathews adds that you’ll be working out in a different way than your body is used to. So, it’s important to take extra care—and hold on if you need to. “Once you start to feel fatigued, your chances of stumbling increase,” she says. “If you trip when you’re moving in a different direction than you’re used to, it could result in a nasty fall. To ensure your safety, it’s best to hold onto the sidebars until you feel completely confident. And don’t go faster than you’re comfortable with.”
Davis also recommends the following tips to stay safe:
- Avoid podcasts and TV while doing multidirectional work. You really need to pay attention to your workout to focus on posture and breathing. Try to avoid distractions and you’ll also help to avoid injury.
- Whether forward, backward, or sideways, never lock your knees when using an elliptical, treadmill, or stair climber. Keep a slight bend.
- Don’t change directions at speed. It’s just not worth the risk of injury from falls, twisting, or tangling your feet. Slow down and get comfortable in your new direction before picking up the pace.
How to Fit Multidirectional Work into Your Routine
Once you’ve got the movement down, you can dedicate part of your workout to going in a different direction. But, you don’t need to do a lot of multidirectional work to benefit, Carvajal says. “I would spend about a quarter of the average time you usually spend training on these machines doing multidirectional work,” he recommends. “For example, if you usually do an hour on the [stair climber], I would spend 15 minutes alternating evenly from side-to-side and backward.”
However, if you only have a limited amount of time, he says picking up the pace (in whatever direction you can) is your best bet to get the most out of your trip to the gym. “Intensity is key. If you only have a short amount of time to get on these machines I would say go faster,” he says. “Once again, it’s all about getting the most you possibly can from that small period of time. Get that heart rate as high as possible for as long as possible to get the best results.”