Aug 3, 2018
Lunge to Victory

As a strength coach, you have probably implemented lunges into your team’s training program. And for good reason, as it is an ideal lower body exercise for increasing muscular strength and power, decreasing the risk of injury, and improving range of motion. However, in an article for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Joni Boyd, PhD, CSCS, and Katy Milton, MS, explain that while the lunge is a popular staple in many programs, it is also often performed incorrectly.

Like any exercise, athletes need to engage in the lunge correctly to gain all of its benefits. According to Milton and Boyd, athletes who carry out the lunge correctly will not only improve their muscular strength, but also their running speed. Other benefits include strengthening the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings as well as improving core stability and balance.

“The lunge exercise involves several muscles in the abdomen and back that function as stabilizers,” write Boyd and Milton. “The lunge movement requires the torso to maintain stability in a split stance, where feet are apart with one leg in front of the other.”

To help coaches make sure their athletes are doing the correct movements, Boyd and Milton lay out some of the most common errors of the lunge exercise. First, is keeping the feet too close together, which can increase stress on the knee. To fix this, athletes should keep the distance between the front and back foot at a length greater than walking stride. And at the lowest point of the movement their hip, knee, and ankle joints should be no less than 90 degrees. Another suggestion is to keep the front foot and knee pointed straight forward throughout the lunge.

“Even a slight turn of the lead foot or lead knee inward during a forward lunge can increase the torque stress of the knee joint of the front leg,” write Boyd and Milton. “This increase in stress could be problematic for previous knee injuries and could potentially lead to increased knee pain.”

Similarly, athletes should make sure that their back foot and knee are pointed straight forward as well. Allowing these body parts to rotate outward also increases torque stress in the knee joint which can limit performance, aggravate previous injuries, and cause new pain. Besides rotating the feet and knees, Boyd and Milton also explain that many athletes make the error of leaning too far forward during the downward phase of the exercise which can increase the risk of injury or pain.

“Once in the appropriate starting position, the hips should move down and up in a straight line,” they write. “The back and torso should be erected and the abdominals should be contracted through the duration of the movement.”

If your athletes are still struggling to engage in the correct movement, Boyd and Milton offer some teaching cues to use. Here are a few to help coaches get started:

Starting Position

  • Start in a standing position and then take a step with one foot.
  • One foot should be in front and one foot should be behind the torso, similar to a split stance.
  • The feet should be about hip-width apart.
  • The scapula should be retracted and depressed with the eyes looking forward.
  • The back heel should be off the ground.

Lowering (Eccentric) Movement Phase

  • While keeping the torso straight and abdominals tight, lower the hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle.
  • Make sure the front knee is directly above the ankle and not over the toe.

Upward (Concentric) Movement Phase

  • Push through the front heel to return to the starting position while contracting the glutes, quadriceps, and calves.

If you think you need to make the lunge a little easier for your athletes, Boyd and Milton suggest holding onto a stable object with either one or two hands or elevating the front leg a few inches to decrease stress. Athletes can also place the seat of a chair under their front hip, increasing support and reducing range of motion by allowing the glute to sit on the chair during the lowering phase.

Boyd and Milton also offer some tips for progressing the exercise and making it more difficult. These include having athletes do moving lunges, whether forward and backward or side to side, or even having them perform the exercises on an unstable surface. Coaches can also add weight to the exercise, as long as the movement can still be performed correctly.

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