Multi-directional Training for Strength and Injury Prevention

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fitDogFriday_180x150Welcome to this week’s FitDog Friday post. A few weeks ago we wrote about the Labby Limbo, a fun and functional exercise to improve your dog’s core and leg strength.  Today we will feature another valuable movement called the side step.

Functional Fitness

As a human athlete, I have learned over the years that it is very important to workout in a ‘functional’ way.   To me, functional training means training across multiple planes and directions and in ways that require the body to recruit multiple muscles — as a system not as individual body parts — in order to execute the movement correctly.  When someone looks at me funny after hearing that definition, I like to explain this in another way. Life is not simply straight ahead and perfectly balanced.  Sometimes it throws you curveballs that require you to move sideways or force you to lift things that are not perfectly balanced or symmetrical (for example, think about when you carry your groceries to your car).

Many athletes that I know train in one direction only—forward.  They run forward, they train their frontal muscles far more than their posterior muscles and their lateral muscles, which leads to imbalances that cause pain (often in the back or shoulders) and eventually overuse injuries.  I know strength athletes who can bench press over 500 lbs. who can barely perform 1 ring dip!  In my opinion, it is better to be trained to handle life’s ‘imprecision’ so that you can avoid injury due to muscle imbalances.

What does all of this have to do with FitDog Friday?  A lot actually!  Many of the same training principles that apply to the human body also apply to the canine body.  Although the canine fitness industry is in its nascent stages and probably about 10-15 years behind the human fitness industry, we are finally making progress and starting to apply effective human techniques to our dog fitness routines.

The Side Step Drill

While at Superzoo in Las Vegas this week, I learned a great new lateral exercise from the folks at DogTread.  Check out the video of Cocoa (the very sweet and beautiful Chocolate Lab) doing side steps on the treadmill.  This is a tough exercise for dogs as they rarely have the opportunity to move in this way.  The treadmill is a perfect platform for dogs to move in this direction and it is far easier to teach this movement on the tread than it would be on the ground.


My own training regimen incorporates similar movements.  Take a look at the picture to the right where I am performing a side shuffle with a weighted sled as resistance.  This is harder than it looks and really works the posterior and lateral chain.  For both humans and dogs, the benefits are plentiful: more balanced muscle development, strengthening of seldom used muscles which can assist in injury prevention and athletic (and life) endeavors, to name two.


sally surgery_smIf I Knew Then What I Know Now…

Oh how I wish that I had learned about functional canine fitness years ago!  We had a very active Lab, “Sweet Sally Brown”, who had multiple ACL tears over the years.  I am convinced that these injuries could have been mitigated had we trained her more functionally rather than simply running her as much as we did.  As we are learning with human athletes, our canine companions are similarly at risk of these (and other) types of injuries due to muscle imbalances resulting from one-dimensional usage patterns.

How about you readers – anyone else have stories to add?

fitDogFriday_avatarPlease enjoy our FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggy and our co-hosts Peggy’s Pet Place and To Dog With Love. Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below – lots of fun fitness tips and advice!

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  1. Good stuff to think about. For agility training there are lots of twists and turns, and there’s still probably lots to learn about how to properly condition for this sport… beyond warm-up, stretching and general agility training.
    Your pals,
    Diane and Rocco
    Diane recently posted…Cesar Savory Delights #GiveawayMy Profile

  2. Scooter & I have been giving different forms of exercise much thought too this week. Realizing that just plain good ol’ running is not always possible. Exercising using different forms and methods is looking like the way forward for us as well. I like the different use of a doggy treadmill. Some good tips here.
    Paws and Pedals (Kate & Scooter) recently posted…Emergency Vet Visit – How to Exercise a Dog with a Sore PawMy Profile

    • You are smart to explore exercise alternatives. Better to learn this now than after a serious ortho or soft tissue problem comes up.

      We like to think of smart, balanced training as “Prehab” which is much better than “ReHab”.
      steve recently posted…Multi-directional Training for Strength and Injury PreventionMy Profile

  3. On our run, mom sometimes does “karaoke” move/steps which makes me run a bit sideways. Being an agility dog, I’m familiar with moving/twisting in different directions. When I was at the Pet Expo last Saturday, mom was shocked how well I did with the weave poles. Definitely, being a senior dog (soon to be 12) I have great strength and balance. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar
    SUGAR: Golden Woofs recently posted…Teach Your Dog To Jump In/Out A TireMy Profile

  4. You do need to work out more than just the “forward” muscles, you are right. Variety is the best way to prevent injury. They need to start allowing dogs into the fitness clubs! You can’t feel bad about what you didn’t know with Sweet Sally Brown as life is all about learning more and more. Heaven, Mom has told me that when she was a baby they did not even have seat belts in cars…no one meant any harm but no one realized at the time how much seat belts were needed. We can only do the best we can with the knowledge we currently have 🙂
    emma recently posted…Crazy Finds On A Walk | GBGV | FitDog FridayMy Profile

  5. I found your comment about Sweet Sally Brown and her ACL interesting. Do you think that ACL injuries would be less likely if more owners did functional training? I always worry about Jasper because he is so hard on his body, but we have also had many friends with ACL injuries. Very interesting to think about.

    What if you don’t have a treadmill? How can you functionally train a dog then?
    MelF recently posted…Favorite Friday Video – Best Friends, Border Collie StyleMy Profile

    • Yes, I do believe that ACL injuries can be minimized with proper training. There have been studies on human athletes, specifically women field hockey players, who are prone to this type of injury, that suggest proper training can reduce the risk. And I know first hand from my own experience that common back, shoulder, neck, and elbow injuries are often caused by poor training, weak core (which is related to poor training), and misaligned bodies (i.e. poor posture when seated or standing).

      Same would hold true for dogs. It’s time that canine fitness starts to catch up with human fitness. Thanks to all of the great the FitDog Friday participants and readers, we will make this happen!
      steve recently posted…Multi-directional Training for Strength and Injury PreventionMy Profile

  6. Dog parents are becoming much more aware of canine fitness…I think this is part of the overall move towards better fitness and preventative health measures … Just wondering how, without a treadmill, you would do similar lateral training with your dog…Is there an exercise you’ve developed for this?
    GizmoGeodog recently posted…Meet Bella Entlebucher, This Week’s Canine GeocacherMy Profile

    • Hi Gizmo. You can do a version of the side step without the tread.

      Stand next to your dog, facing their side. Put one hand on her collar and one hand on the opposite hip. This helps to keep your dog ‘square’ during the movement (you can see what I mean by square in the picture of me doing the sled drill). Now, step toward your pet until they step to the side laterally, but with no (or little) forward motion.

      If you have a smaller dog, you can do this from your knees– just make sure you are on a soft surface or wearing knee pads!

      Make sure to move in both directions — start on one side, do 5-10 steps, and then move to the other side and repeat.
      steve recently posted…Multi-directional Training for Strength and Injury PreventionMy Profile

  7. Great information. The video was great and really showed how to train side steps. Have a great weekend.

  8. Hi Y’all,


    My Human has spent her life schooling horses and dogs. When she was very young she worked with Schutzhund dog training as well as retrievers. Schutzhund requires lots of moves from dogs, including walking backwards and crawling.

    As a result I’ve learned to heel moving sideways and backwards as well as doing turns where I do the walk around and she turns in place and then reverse, I turn in place and my Human circles on the outside. I also do agility for fun…but the best fun of course is retrieving and carrying stuff.

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Follow Up Friday with Fitness!My Profile

  9. Thanks for this, and your app info on Peggy’s blog. Humans in our family have all hurt knees, hips and backs running, and same with our last golden lab Cookie, so good advice. We have partnered with our pals at The Pet Network this week. Happy Fit Dog Friday.

    • With most humans, and dogs, running should never hurt themselves from running as long as their bodies are balanced, have a strong core, and are properly positioned during movement (and throughout the day). I have done a lot of research on this and am convinced that most of these types of injuries could be avoided with proper training!
      steve recently posted…Multi-directional Training for Strength and Injury PreventionMy Profile

  10. Steve – thanks for stopping by this week! And thanks for sharing the new Side Step Drill! Great to see you as always. We are headed back from the tradeshow today so we will have to catch up with a post next week! Happy Healthy Regards!

  11. Interesting to use the treadmill to encourage the dog to move laterally. I wouldn’t begin to know how to train that on stable ground.

    Years ago when I was fencing, I used to practice lunges in empty subway cars in the middle of the night. It taught me balancing skills that I’ve retained many years later, as I’ve discovered in boating.

    Both agility equipment and kayaking with Honey seem to be giving her the same balance benefits. And hopefully that ability to handle unusual movements will keep her strong and healthy no matter what comes our way. It certainly pays off in coping with icy sidewalks.
    Pamela recently posted…6 Ways Living With a Dog Is Like Traveling to a Foreign CountryMy Profile

  12. Haha Toby’s favorite game is “chase” which requires lots of backing up and sudden shifts of direction and turning corners. I never thought about it from a fitness perspective. Guess we’d better keep chasing him!
    Amy recently posted…FitDog Friday: Is Your Dog Keeping You Fit?My Profile

  13. That makes complete sense. I wonder how I can incorporate this into our walks and time together. Forgot to tell you – check out my post from Wednesday, we gave your t-shirt a plug!
    Finn recently posted…It’s Coming, Blogville….My Profile

  14. Sounds like a great way to train.

    There is some research being done regarding certain injuries, such as ACL tears. One of the things they are looking at is whether de-sexing too early contributes to the condition. I also think improper structure can be a factor. Then there is just the plain old accident. It would be great to strengthen to try to avoid it.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Follow-up Friday 7-26-13My Profile

    • Interesting regarding the neutering. I think Sally’s was due to mostly Lab Exuberance, but since it happened in both knees at a fairly young age, maybe there was some genetics involved. Targeted training undoubtedly would have helped.
      mkob recently posted…Multi-directional Training for Strength and Injury PreventionMy Profile

  15. I was having a “people too often only train in forward motion” conversation with someone just this week. I had never thought about this for the dogs. Thanks. Time to get some creative lateral canine motion going!
    Beth recently posted…The Long and the Short of FitMy Profile

  16. Great point guys. I, myself, have a habit of only doing exercises that require forward movement. I will have to so some thinking on this and see what exercise I can come up with that Chester and Gretel could incorporate into what we already do.
    Jessica Rhae ( recently posted…July Keeping Up With K9 Kamp Wrap-up: Calories In vs. Calories OutMy Profile

  17. Great post. Rita moves ALL directions when she’s playing with her boxer friend, but when she’s just with me, we tend to just walk and walk and walk. I’l have to try the non-treadmill exercise with her.
    Jackie Bouchard recently posted…Keeping Up With K9 Kamp: Calories In, Calories OutMy Profile

  18. Great post. It makes perfect sense to me that if we try to add variety and different moves to our own exercise routines, then the same would go for the dogs. This also looks like an exercise we could do indoors on the days when the rain, snow, or heat has us stuck inside.
    Jan K recently posted…Wordless Wednesday – Do You Know?My Profile

  19. It looks way too hard for us, I have really short legs so we’ll take a pass and just keep moving forward! Love Dolly
    Dolly the Doxie recently posted…B&W Sunday: On a RockMy Profile

  20. It looks way too hard for us, I have really short legs so we’ll take a pass and just keep moving forward! Love Dolly
    Dolly the Doxie recently posted…B&W Sunday: On a RockMy Profile

  21. I’ll definitely be adding this to Rocco’s agility training. I’m curious if you have any specific exercises to help with knee problems? Rocco was recently diagnosed with grade 1 slipping patellas (not that bad, but still…) exercise seems to help him the most, but other than walking I’m not sure how to help him build the muscles around his knees.
    Andrea recently posted…Raw Food Day 11My Profile

    • Andrea- we will be providing some suggestions for things that Rocco can do to strengthen the knee– which is what he needs to ‘protect’ the slipping patella.

      One thing you can do is integrate some hill work. If his injured knee is in the back, walking/running uphill can build leg muscle. If in the back, downhill can help. If using the downhill, I would walk at least to start because downhill yields a higher impact on the body.
      steve recently posted…6 Exercise Tips for Senior DogsMy Profile

  22. This looks very interesting, but I have a very lazy dog who wants nothing more than a cuddle. However, I have fostered dogs who would have benefited from this a lot. It stands to reason that it’s good to keep everything moving for us and our dogs.

    • Most lazy dogs only get that way from habit and once they get used to being active, they love it. Start with some of these drills and you’ll see!
      steve recently posted…Black & White Sunday 8-11-13My Profile

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