How to Do Zig Zags

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Also Known As: Lateral zig zags, zig zag drills

Targets: Lower body

Equipment Needed: Cones

Level: Advanced

The zig zag is a type of agility drill that can challenge the cardiovascular system while training the muscle in the legs, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, gastrocnemius (calves) and soleus (shins). These quick movements raise your heart rate, challenge both balance and coordination, and can improve speed and athletic performance, especially in certain types of sports such as soccer or football.


There are several different ways to perform zig zag drills. The zig zag described here includes jumping from cone to cone. But some people jump over cones, some run in a zig pattern around cones, some use quick feet in a zig zag drill with an agility ladder, and others combine a zig zag drill with other movements like a box drill.

The feature that generally defines zig zags is that they require you to move in a diagonal path very quickly.

Better Sports Preparation

During training, it is common for athletes to move in a vertical pattern (such as when you are running or sprinting) or to move from side to side (such as when you are doing lateral jumps). But many competitive sports require movement patterns that are more complex.

For example, when you chase a soccer ball during a match, you are likely to combine several paths of movement (forward, backward, sideways, and diagonal) in order to outplay your opponent. If you practice these movement patterns during workouts, your body will be more prepared for them during competition.

Exercise physiologists use the acronym "SARQ" to describe this type of training. SARQ stands for speed, agility, reactivity, and quickness. Athletes in many different sports and at different levels benefit from SARQ training. These exercises are commonly included in programs for athletes in sports such as volleyball, soccer, and football to boost performance. The quick movements mimic the skills required during competition.

Improved Engagement

Workouts that include SARQ-type drills also boost engagement by forcing your body to interact with equipment, other participants, and/or your physical surroundings. For example, boot camp workouts and playground-style workouts include zig zags with cones, agility ladder drills, rope exercises, heavy tire lifting, and other equipment-based drills.

They are popular in gyms around the country because time flies when your brain is engaged. In fact, studies have shown that this type of workout encourages adherence to an exercise program.

High-Intensity Functional Training

Zig zags may also be included in high-intensity functional training (HIFT) workouts. HIFT emphasizes functional, multi-joint movements, and employs both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises. The zig zag requires muscular strength and power to jump but also cardiovascular endurance to keep the pattern moving from cone to cone.

According to researchers, high-intensity functional training can elicit greater muscle recruitment than more traditional exercise. HIFT can be modified to any fitness level and improve cardiovascular endurance, strength, and flexibility.

Other benefits of HIFT include improvements in maximal oxygen consumption, decreases in body fat, improvements in bone mineral content, improved cardiovascular endurance, and improved sports performance (including agility, speed, power, and strength).

Step-By-Step Instructions

Before you try this or any exercise, you should be in good health. Always seek the guidance of your healthcare provider if you are new to exercise or if you are coming back to exercise after an injury, illness, pregnancy. You can also work with a qualified fitness trainer to get form tips and exercise advice.

Since this is an advanced exercise, you should have some experience doing plyometric exercises. Plyometrics are jumping exercises or drills that require you to take both feet off of the ground at one time. For example, jumping onto a box is a plyometric exercise.

While plyometric training offers benefits, it also comes with some risk. It is possible to land incorrectly and injure yourself or fall while learning plyometrics. Try a few basic plyometric moves such as a squat jump or a lateral jump before attempting the zig zag.

Jumping Zig Zag

It's best to perform this drill outside or in a large indoor space such as a gymnasium. You will also need 9-12 cones. It will take a few minutes to set up before starting the exercise.

Set Up

Place the cones about 3 feet apart from each other in a zig zag pattern. That is, place one cone in front of you, then the next cone about 3 feet to the right in a diagonal. The next cone will go about three feet to the left in a diagonal, and so on.

You may need to adjust the distance between each cone after you run through one zig zag drill. You want the cones to be close together enough that you can continue a continuous jumping pattern without taking extra steps, but far enough apart that it forces you to challenge your ability.

Zig Zag Drill

Start standing in front of the first cone at the base of the zig zag formation.

  1. Bend your knees and jump forward diagonally to the second cone. Use an upward swing of the arms for momentum.
  2. At the second cone, land softly with knees bent to prepare for the next jump.
  3. Immediately spring forward and jump diagonally and to the left towards the third cone.
  4. Continue to jump in a diagonal pattern from cone to cone until you come to the last cone.
  5. Turn around and return to the starting position.

Do the zig zag drill for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Incorporate it into a cardio drill or into a boot camp style workout.

Common Mistakes

There are a few common mistakes to look for when doing zig zags.

Short Jumps

When you are first learning to do zig zags, your jumps may be short and low to the ground. This is fine when you are learning. But eventually, you want to make sure that you jump high enough and far enough that you feel challenged and your heart rate stays elevated.

Stiff Landing

If you land with straight stiff legs, your lower body joints may suffer. It will also be harder to spring into the next jump.

Be sure that you land softly with bent knees. The bend provides a cushion. As your feet contact the floor, continue to bend the knees and bring the arms down so that you can immediately spring up again (using the arms) and bound to the next cone.

Modifications and Variations

Need a Modification?

The easiest way to make this exercise easier is to start with the cones closer together. That way you can keep the movements smaller. If you are working with kids or if the exercise is new to you, this is a good way to get comfortable with this type of jumping (plyometric) movement.

Up for a Challenge?

There are countless zig zag drills that can challenge you.

For example, you can combine the zig zag jumps with box runs. To try this modification, set up four cones in the zig zag pattern and then four cones in a square. Start by jumping diagonally to execute the zig zag drill. Then run in a box formation after four jumps. That is, run forward to the first cone. Stay facing forward, but run laterally to the left to reach the second cone, run in reverse to the third come, then run laterally to the right to the last cone. Sprint to the start and begin again.

Many people also do zig zags as a sprinting drill rather than a jumping drill. For this drill, you would still place the cones in a zig zag pattern, but much farther apart. Rather than jumping from cone to cone, you sprint from cone to cone while keeping the body facing forward. This requires you to run on a diagonal and change directions quickly when you reach each cone.

Lastly, you can do a version of zig zags using an agility ladder. To do this drill, lay the agility ladder out in front of you. Start at the base of the ladder and jump on a right diagonal to the outside of the first square. Immediately jump on a left diagonal to the outside of the second square. Land softly and bound up and over to the right side of the third square. Continue the pattern until the end. Turn around and repeat the pattern back to the start or do another agility pattern drill to the starting position.

Safety and Precautions

You should have healthy knees, ankles, and feet to do zig zag drills. You should also be sure that you are jumping on a surface that has some give to it.

Jumping repeatedly on a very hard surface (such as concrete) can cause greater exercise-induced muscle damage. Consider doing these drills on grass or even on sand (which will make the jumps and runs much harder). Indoor gymnasiums also have floors that are safer for jumping.

Try It Out

Incorporate zig zag drills into any of these workouts.

3 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Milanović Z, Sporiš G, Trajković N, James N, Samija K. Effects of a 12 Week SAQ Training Programme on Agility with and without the Ball among Young Soccer PlayersJ Sports Sci Med. 2013;12(1):97–103.

  2. Feito Y, Heinrich KM, Butcher SJ, Poston WSC. High-intensity functional training (hift): definition and research implications for improved fitnessSports (Basel). 2018;6(3):76. doi:10.3390/sports6030076

  3. Arazi H, Eston R, Asadi A, Roozbeh B, Saati Zarei A. Type of ground surface during plyometric training affects the severity of exercise-induced muscle damageSports (Basel). 2016;4(1):15. doi:10.3390/sports4010015

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.