Purpose: Side Stepping with front feet elevated is a challenging advanced level exercise that works to strengthen the inner and outer hip muscles (adductors/abductors), while challenging the iliopsoas and other “core” muscles to stabilize the spine.
Equipment: Wide set of stairs or similar elevated surface
Targets: Because this exercise shifts weight to the rear, by elevating the front end, the shoulder abductors/adductors aren’t working as hard as when the front feet are on level ground. Also, because the front feet are elevated and the hip is in extension, this exercise is MUCH more challenging on the psoas/iliopsoas, and should be used only under the guidance of a pro if the iliopsoas has been injured.
NOTE: This exercise targets musculature that can be weak in senior dogs, but care should be taken to not overload the rear. A lower front foot target can absolutely be substituted in this situation, or substitute the Pivot/Step to Target exercise
- When executing this exercise we’re looking for both pelvic limbs to move evenly throughout… both right and left PL abducting/adducting the same distance. The dog should also be moving slowly enough as to not hop, or skip.
- We want the spine to stay in neutral alignment (not curved to the side/no lateral spine flexion) while executing the side stepping motion, as well as staying perpendicular to the front foot target (stairs in this setup). Often dogs will fail to coordinate the thoracic limbs and pelvic limbs, resulting in more of a pivot motion. Adjusting the position of reward so the dog’s head is facing slightly away from the handler can help prevent the pivot, and breed clarity for the dog.
- Lastly, I found handling this exercise much easier doing several repetitions all in the same direction, and then switching to the other side, vs trying to combine the directions of motion. I preferred working the dog across the front foot target stepping to the left, releasing from the target, walking back to the start and reset. Of course, then the exercise would also be executed in the other direction. Trying to change handler position was super clunky/awkward mid exercise.