If you’ve heard me talk about training at all, you’ve definitely hear me talk about different aspects of functional training and how it pertains to both fitness results and sports performance. In this post I will demonstrate a simple yet challenging technique for training functionally: directional treadmill training.

At first glance, directional treadmill training is somewhat counter-intuitive. Instead of walking or running in the obvious forward direction, you manipulate the speed of the treadmill to allow yourself to move forward, backward and sideways (side step). Since forward movement is the most natural type of human movement, it seems somewhat odd to include sideways and backwards movement in your exercise or sports conditioning routine. But as you have learned from my previous two functional training posts, training in many directions (while maintaining appropriate form) is part of a well-rounded fitness routine.

When someone asks you to step sideways or backwards on a moving belt, it can be scary, even if you’ve done many other types of athletic movements before. You should always start out in the forward position, get yourself warmed up, and then slow the treadmill down to a really slow pace before changing directions. To get started, walk briskly at 3.5 mph in the forward direction, slow the treadmill down to about 1.0 mph and put both feet on either side of the belt, grasp the handrail on one side of the treadmill and begin side stepping.  As you get more comfortable with the movement you can move into the appropriate position (squat position with a straight back), and then increase the speed and let go of side-rail as you improve and feel comfortable.

Once you’ve gone about 30 seconds facing left and 30 seconds facing right, you should turn back to the front and walk again for about one minute at 3.5 mph.  When you feel ready, slow the treadmill down to about 2.0 mph and again put both feet on either side of the belt.  Grasp the handrails and turn around, placing both feet on either side of the belt (you are now facing backwards on the treadmill).  When you feel ready, start walking backwards on the belt while grasping both side-rails. As you get comfortable and improve, you can let go of side-rails and just try to balance while walking backwards.  When you get more comfortable, you can manipulate both the speed and incline of the treadmill.

As you can see, when you get totally comfortable moving in these various directions, you can have a lot of fun with this type of training. Learning to move both sideways and backwards while holding appropriate posture transfers not only into real world situations, but into athletics as well. This type of conditioning will allow athletes to move both laterally and backwards with more confidence, precision, and speed.