How to Do the Carioca Exercise for Better Balance and Coordination

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The carioca exercise improves speed, agility and balance when done on a regular basis.
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If you're looking for a move to boost agility, speed, balance and coordination, it's time to add the carioca exercise to your workout routine.

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The carioca exercise (pronounced ‌keh-ree-oh-kuh‌) is a movement that can be used as a warmup, dynamic stretch or plyometric drill. Also called the "grapevine exercise," this exercise requires quick movements with your feet as you move in a lateral direction.

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This move, which is often used by athletes to improve performance in sports like tennis, basketball and football requires your body to move in several different planes of movement, making it a more functional exercise, says Joey Thurman, CPT, author of The Minimum Method: The Least You Can Do to be a Stronger, Healthier, Happier You‌‌.

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Read on to learn more about how to do the carioca exercise, its benefits, form tips, variations and how to add it to your workout routine.

  • What is the carioca exercise?‌ The carioca is a dynamic exercise that takes your muscles and joints through their full range of motion. The carioca requires you to quickly move your feet in a cross-stepping motion, placing one foot in front of that other as you move in a lateral (side-to-side) motion. As your coordination improves, you can make it more difficult by increasing the speed, adding high knees or even adding an agility ladder.
  • Who can do the carioca exercise?‌ "This exercise is for anyone — as long as you do it with proper progressions," Thurman says. "This is a move that looks fancy — and can be — but it can also be for beginners." If you have any prior ankle, knee or hip injuries, make sure you have clearance from a doctor before starting this (or any other new exercise routine, for that matter). If you have balance issues, you should get your doctor's approval and start out slowly. This move is great for improving strength and coordination after a lower-body injury, as long as you're in the right stage of healing. This is also an excellent exercise for athletes who want to improve speed, agility and coordination.
  • What muscles does the carioca exercise target?‌ "This works many energy systems, depending on the duration and speed, as well as coordination and sequencing," Thurman says. The carioca exercise strengthens your core and your entire lower body — including your glutes, hips (hip flexors, hip adductors and hip abductors), quads, hamstrings, calves and ankles.
  • Why is it called the carioca exercise?‌ The origin of the name of the carioca exercise isn't exactly clear. Carioca is a Brazilian word that means, "a person born or living in Rio de Janeiro," in Portuguese, according to the Collins English Dictionary. The steps of the carioca are similar to the Brazilian dance, the samba, therefore it's thought this is how the exercise got its name. The carioca is sometimes referred to as the "grapevine" or the "crossover exercise" — and is even mistakenly called the "karaoke exercise" due to its similar sounding name.

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How to Do the Carioca Exercise With Proper Form

The carioca exercise looks a bit complicated at first glance, but if you follow the steps and start slow, you'll find your rhythm.

Reps 10
  1. Start with your feet hip-width apart, knees and arms slightly bent in an athletic stance.
  2. Push off with your right foot and cross your right foot behind your left foot, touching it to the ground.
  3. Step with your left foot laterally to the side so your legs are uncrossed and you're back in the starting position with both legs hip-width apart.
  4. Push off again with your right foot and this time cross your right foot in front of your left, touching it to the ground.
  5. Step again with your left foot to the side laterally so you're again back in the starting position.
  6. Repeat this cross-cross motion with your feet, moving to the left side for a specified distance

or at least repeat the cycle 3 to 5 times to the left.

  1. Now reverse the cross-cross motion to travel to the right.
  2. Keep your arms slightly bent at your side the whole time, pumping them to help keep your balance and momentum.

What Are the Benefits of the Carioca Exercise?

The carioca exercise won't build muscle mass (you need to lift heavy weights to do that), but it's a move that strengthens your muscles and improves power, cardiovascular health, strength, agility and more. There's a reason many athletes use this move for sports like basketball, football and tennis to improve their performance.

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1. It Improves Core Strength and Overall Coordination

Your core is working hard with this exercise. As you cross your legs over, your core muscles must stabilize your body throughout the movement. Performing the carioca variation with high knees (more on that below) will further work your abdominal muscles.

"We don't spend our life in one plane of motion and only walk and run forward or backward. We bend, twist, cut, jump, slow down and stop in every plane imaginable," Thurman says. This is why the carioca is such a good exercise: It works frontal plane (side to side) movements as well as transverse plane (rotational) movements.

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The carioca exercise "works overall body coordination, trunk stability, movement capacity, joint integrity, balance and athleticism," Thurman says.

2. It Boosts Speed and Agility

Looking to improve your speed and agility while running or playing a sport? A January 2020 study in the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Studies compared the carioca ladder drill (doing the carioca move inside an agility ladder on the floor) with the slaloms ladder drill (jumping laterally side-to-side in the ladder) to another group that did neither exercise.

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Researchers found that both exercises increased agility, however, the carioca exercise was best at improving speed.

3. It Helps You Recover From and Prevent Knee Injuries

A July 2022 review in Sports Health found that those who had an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury benefit from multi-planar exercises, including the carioca exercise, after getting clearance from their doctor. These types of exercises help improve balance and proprioception (the ability to sense where your joints and body are at all times), which can help prevent injuries in the future.

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The carioca exercise is not just beneficial to younger people or athletes — research has found it helps improve balance and function in people with knee osteoarthritis. A September 2022 review in the ‌Medical Journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran‌ found that exercises like the carioca "significantly improve balance and functionality" in those with knee osteoarthritis.

Although more studies are needed, exercises like the carioca can help improve balance and function in people with knee injuries.

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4. It Strengthens Your Entire Lower Body

It's hard to find an exercise that equally strengthens your core and your entire lower body. It works your core, hips, quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and ankles.

5. It Promotes Hip Mobility

The carioca exercise helps boost hip mobility with the cross-over or side-step motion, which loosens up your hip muscles and improves flexibility. As this exercise requires you to go in two directions, it helps prevent muscle imbalances by keeping your hips flexible on both sides. Many athletes use this exercise as a dynamic warmup before starting their sport.

Common Carioca Exercise Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

1. You Over-Rotate Your Hips

Your hips will turn some as you do the cross-over motion. However, be mindful of not over-rotating them. Keep your core muscles activated the whole time to provide support for your upper body.

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"You want to keep your hips pointed forward and try not to twist your entire body," Thurman. says. "You want to keep your momentum going laterally — or side to side. Take a proper deceleration at the endpoint, and accelerate quickly under control."

2. You Don't Keep Weight on the Balls of Your Feet

While performing this move, keep the weight on the balls of your feet versus doing it flat-footed. This keeps your muscles activated and makes it easier to perform the move with speedier footwork. In addition, keeping your weight on the balls of your feet strengthens the muscles in your calves and ankles more.

3. You Start With Distances That Are Too Long

When starting out, focus on shorter distances and take it slow. "Think about this in 10- to 20-yard [increments] and not full football fields if you are a beginner," Thurman says.

Carioca Exercise Variations

1. Slow Carioca for Hip Mobility

If you're having difficulty getting the steps of the carioca down or just want to work on hip mobility, try doing the move slower and taking wider, more exaggerated steps.

Reps 10
  1. Start with your feet hip-width apart, knees and arms slightly bent in an athletic stance.

  2. Push off with your right foot and cross this foot behind your left foot, as far as you can go without rotating your trunk too far.

  3. Step with your left foot laterally to the side so your legs are uncrossed and you're back in the starting position with both legs hip-width apart.

  4. Push off again with your right foot and this time cross your right foot in front of your left, as far to the side as you can go without twisting your hips.

  5. Step again with your left foot to the side laterally so you're again back in the starting position.

  6. Repeat this cross-cross motion with your feet, moving to the left side for a specified distance —

    or at least repeat the cycle 3 to 5 times to the left.

  7. Keep the moves slow and exaggerated, feeling the stretch and movement in your hips.

  8. Now reverse the cross-cross motion to travel to the right.

  9. Keep your arms slightly bent at your side the whole time, pumping them to help keep your balance and momentum.

2. Carioca With High Knees

If you're ready for a challenge, try out this advanced variation. It'll get your heart rate up and strengthen your core, hip flexors, glutes and calves. This variation is great for those wanting to develop more power and strength for activities like jumping and running.

Reps 10
  1. Start with your feet hip-width apart, knees and arms slightly bent in an athletic stance.

  2. Push off with your right foot and pull your knee up as high as you can before crossing it in front of your left foot.

  3. Step with your left foot laterally to the side so your legs are uncrossed and you're back in the starting position with both legs hip-width apart.

  4. Push off again with your right foot and this time cross your right foot behind your left, touching it on the ground.

  5. Step again with your left foot to the side laterally so you're again back in the starting position.

  6. Repeat this cross-cross motion with your feet, pulling your knee up toward your chest before crossing your foot in front. You're only doing the high-knee motion when crossing your foot in front. You don't need to do the high knee motion when crossing your foot behind.

  7. Move to the left side for a specified distance —

    or at least repeat the cycle 3 to 5 times to the left.

  8. Now reverse the cross-cross motion to travel to the right.

  9. Keep your arms slightly bent at your side the whole time, pumping them to help keep your balance and momentum.

Tip

To further challenge yourself, place an agility ladder on the floor and perform the carioca inside of it. It requires even more agility to focus on keeping your feet inside the squares of the ladder. You can also hold dumbbells to further strengthen your muscles.

How to Add the Carioca Exercise to Your Workout Routine

The carioca exercise is a versatile move that can be used in your workout routine in several ways:

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  • In a dynamic warmup:‌ "This is a great way to warm up, especially before a game that requires agility and cutting," Thurman says. A dynamic warmup loosens up your muscles, increases blood flow and gets your body primed for activity.
  • As a plyometric exercise:‌ This type of exercise uses speed and force to build strength and agility. The carioca is considered a plyometric exercise, especially when you do it with high knees or add in an agility ladder. Other examples of a plyometric exercise include jumping rope, jump squats and box jumps.
  • During a HIIT circuit:‌ Add in the carioca as part of your high-intensity-interval training (HIIT). This is when you alternate between short periods of intense exercise with lower-intensity recovery periods.
  • As a body-weight exercise:‌ This exercise doesn't require equipment and is a great move to add into a body-weight strengthening routine. "Add this after doing some light movements, such as running in place, body-weight squats, lunges or trunk stability [exercises] like bird dogs and dead bugs," Thurman says.

Overall, the carioca exercise is a great exercise to strengthen your core and lower body, improve hip mobility, boost cardiovascular health and improve balance, agility and speed.

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