Cross-Lateral Exercises

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Cross-lateral exercise describes movements in which your arms or legs cross over from one side of your body to the other. These exercise movements are considered by some, such as author Eric Jensen, author of "Brain Based Learning," to be linked to improved brain coordination and better academic performance. Organizations such as Action Based Learning recommend cross-lateral exercises as part of their recommended school curricula and now have programs including those exercises in schools in 40 states.

Why Are Cross-Lateral Exercises Important?

In a 2005 Journal of Pediatrics article, experts from colleges and universities were gathered into a panel to review research about the effects of exercise on school age children. They were looking not only at the physical benefits for decreasing obesity and improving health but for positive behavioral changes as well. They reported that students who had opportunities for increased physical activity in school had improved academic outcomes. Rae Pica, author of "A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child," writes that cross-lateral exercises are an essential part of this improvement in learning.


According to Pica, children who have limited exposure to these kinds of exercises or have problems doing them struggle in basic skills such as reading and writing. These exercises are usually learned with crossing pattern activities such as crawling or walking but if a child doesn't learn these skills early or is lagging in physical coordination, the introduction of cross-lateral exercise can be added in at school to improve their abilities.

Examples of Cross-Lateral Exercises

Any movement in which an arm or leg crosses to the opposite side of the body is a cross-lateral exercise. Examples would be marching or skipping while tapping a hand to the opposite knee when it is raised, alternating toe touches where you touch the opposite side toes when you bend forward, or raising your heel behind you when you are walking so your opposite hand can reach behind you to touch it. Even dancing can be a cross-lateral exercise.


Buffy McClelland, a researcher at Oxford University, reviewed studies from educational and brain research journals and reported that all age and proficiency levels of children could benefit from increased sensory integration and body coordination. Improved learning was not found to correlate with increased levels of aerobic fitness but with better body coordination. Musical instrument practice also showed improved learning perhaps because of the conscious coordination skills learned in that process. She noted that cross-lateral exercises should only by done when developmentally appropriate and could actually be detrimental to children under age 7.