Although banded lateral walks look relatively simple, this low-impact exercise is a really effective way for strengthening the glutes.
By moving your legs away from your body as you step to the side, this exercise fires up the abductors… which helps to build more strength and stability around the hips.
It also improves hip extension and external rotation.
This helps to promote better posture and improve the biomechanics of both upper and lower body movement paths.
Banded lateral walks are also great for beginners and you can adapt the exercise to suit your current level of fitness and strength.
But, it’s an exercise we often see performed incorrectly, and there are some key mistakes to avoid.
This guide provides a clear overview of the banded lateral walk, including how to perform it, the benefits, and muscles worked.
We also discuss where the best band placement is (spoiler alert, it’s probably where you’ve never even thought to put it).
- Use banded lateral walks to strengthen the hip abductors, primarily the gluteus medius.
- Focus on small steps and keep the band taut as you step from side to side.
- The lower you place the band on your body, the harder the abductors need to work.
- Don’t forget to strengthen your hip adductors too.
What is the Banded Lateral Walk (Side Step) Exercise?
The banded lateral walk (also sometimes referred to as a “banded side step”) is a resistance exercise designed to strengthen the hip abductors and glutes.
It involves stepping side to side, with a resistance band placed around either your thighs, ankles or feet. The band creates tension and means your glutes and lower body muscles need to actively push against this tension to move.
The exercise is also very versatile and can be performed at home or in the gym.
Where Should I Place the Band?
The only equipment you need for banded lateral walks is a resistance band of some kind.
The thicker the band, the harder the exercise becomes (because more resistance is applied to the movement).
Resistance bands come in a range of shapes and sizes, and any band will do, but we find those described as “glute bands” tend to be smaller and lend themselves well for exercises like clamshells and other banded hip abduction exercises like lateral walk side steps.
How to Perform Banded Lateral Walks
To do a banded lateral walk:
- Place a resistance band around your thighs, ankles or feet. The lower the band, the more challenging the exercise.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Slightly bend your knees and hinge forward at the hips so you’re in a quater squat or thereabouts.
- Keep your back straight, chest up and engage your core.
- Do not lean to one side as you move and keep your trunk upright throughout the exercise.
- Take a step to the right with your right foot, then follow with your left foot. Ensure the band stays taut and you maintain tension throughout the movement.
- Repeat this for the desired number of steps or distance, then switch directions.
Coach’s Tip – It’s really important that your knees don’t cave inwards during this exercise. This suggests you’re internally rotating at the hips and that you’re not actively engaging your glutes. This is why we recommend taking very small steps and focusing all your energy on keeping the band taut by pushing against it.
Banded Lateral Walk Muscles Worked
The banded lateral walk primarily targets the glute muscles, which include the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
The gluteus maximus, the largest of the three, is responsible for hip extension and outward rotation, while the gluteus medius and minimus play a crucial role in hip abduction and stabilization.
As well as the glutes, the exercise also engages the quadriceps and hamstrings.
Your core will also be engaged throughout to help maintain stability as you step from side to side.
Gluteus Medius Activation
Banded lateral walks are really effective for activating and strengthening the glutes, especially the gluteus medius (outer hips).
Strengthening the gluteus medius helps to improve stability around the hips, which supports both upper and lower body biomechanics.
Improved Balance and Stability
By working the hip abductors and the gluteus medius and minimus, the banded lateral walk helps improve balance and overall stability too.
This is particularly useful for older adults and makes it a great strength training exercise for over 50’s.
Better Athletic Performance
Better hip stability is going to aid better athletic performance in any sport or physical activity.
Any sport that needs quick lateral movements, such as tennis and basketball, can really benefit from stronger hip abductors.
The banded lateral walk can be performed anywhere and doesn’t require any equipment other than a resistance band. This makes it a versatile exercise that can easily be incorporated into any workout routine.
If you’re traveling and don’t have access to lots of equipment, exercises like this can still let you do a very challenging workout.
The hip abductors and gluteus medius are often neglected in traditional workouts, leading to muscle imbalances and instability around the hips, that can increase the risk of injury.
Knee pain can also often be caused from weakness around the glutes and hips.
So, if you’re looking to avoid picking up these sorts of injuries, exercises like the banded lateral walk are definitely worth including in your fitness routine.
Strong glutes are essential for maintaining good posture. They help align the hips, which in turn aligns the entire body, leading to improved posture and reduced back pain.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Losing Tension in the Band
The band should remain taut throughout the exercise to keep the muscles engaged. This means taking small steps instead of large ones is a better approach as this makes it easier to keep the band taut.
Standing Upright (No Quater Squat)
You want to maintain a slight bend in your knees and hinge at the hips to engage the glutes effectively.
This will naturally make the glutes switch on.
Rushing the Movement
Perform the exercise slowly and with control to maximize muscle engagement and prevent injury.
We’d recommend doing banded lateral walks in front of a mirror when you give them a go for the first to check that your knees are moving with your thighs.
If they are caving inwards, it suggests you aren’t activating your glutes properly.
Banded Lateral Walk Variations
Banded Squat Walk
Add a squat between each step to increase the intensity and further engage the glutes and thighs.
After each lateral step, perform a squat before stepping again.
Bodyweight Lateral Walk
If you’re new to strength training, start with just the bodyweight lateral walk before adding any resistance.
Although you won’t have any band to actively push against, try and imagine you are pushing against a band, as this will help promote good technique and get you in the habit of squeezing your glutes and generating power from the hip abductors.
Focus on Technique
Can I do banded lateral walks every day?
While it’s a low-impact exercise, it’s still important to allow your muscles time to recover. Aim to include it in your routine 2-3 times a week.
Where should I place the band?
You can place the band above your knees, below your knees, around your ankles, or even around your feet. The lower the band, the more challenging the exercise. Research suggests placing the band around your feet leads to the greatest glute activation.
I’m feeling the burn in my thighs, is that normal?
Yes, while the banded lateral walk primarily targets the glutes, it also engages the muscles in your thighs.
Can I do the exercise without a band?
Yes, but the band adds resistance that increases muscle engagement, making the exercise more effective.
Banded lateral walks are a beginner-friendly way to strengthen the hip abductors, which is an area often neglected in fitness routines.
Focus on small, controlled steps that keep the band taut throughout the side step movement.
Place the band around your thigh to begin with, and then place it around the ankles or feet for a more challenging exercise.
If you currently have hip/knee pain or discomfort, speak to a Physical Therapist first before starting any new exercises like the banded lateral walk.
Featured image and video demonstration credit – GPS Human Performance