The last article of the F.I.S.T. series covered a progressive approach to lunging in the sagittal plane. As previously mentioned, mastery of these lunges should be attained before the exerciser attempts the advanced sagittal or mulit-directional lunges.
LUNGE, BEND, REACH
The first order of business will be to build upon the forward lunge with the forward reach movement. Many sporting activities incorporate a bend and reach pattern while performing a lunging type movement. For example: an infielder reaching to field a ground ball, a pitcher finishing his delivery, a defender in basketball reaching in to steal a ball being dribbled, wrestlers diving in for a takedown, a hockey player sprinting while manoeuvring the puck, a tennis player reaching for a ball, etc.. This lunge, bend, and reach pattern is also seen in many work tasks and activities of daily living. This movement is commonly displayed as people pick up an object from the floor, out of the back seat or trunk of a car, or off of a low shelf.
It is while performing the lunge, bend, and reach that one may suffer a low back sprain/strain or a disc injury. This type of injury plagues people from all different walks of life, from the inactive de-conditioned person to the avid weight lifter or fitness buff. The couch potato at least has an excuse, but the weight lifters and athletes could significantly reduce their chance of suffering an injury by being more specific with their exercise selection. With this understood, it is easy to see the need to incorporate this movement pattern into the training regimes of our general fitness client, post-rehab client, and athlete.
45° ANGLE LUNGES
We will use a progressive descent when teaching the lunge, bend, and reach pattern. This has been developed and used very effectively by physical therapist and lecturer Gary Gray. The progression you will see below starts with a reach to the knee of the lead leg, then to the lower calf, and lastly to the ankle. The example will show the forward lunge, but the same progression is used when stepping at a 45° angle or to the side.
We need to understand a few important points before administering this pattern of movement. Reaching to the knee (Figure 1) introduces a greater overload upon the lumbar extensors, posterior ligament support system, inner unit musculature, and superficial abdominal muscles than keeping the trunk in an upright position. There is also an increased load upon the upper hamstrings and gluteus maximus of the lunging leg. The exerciser should be instructed to maintain a natural lumbar curve and should be conscious of drawing the lower abdomen inward. This is an important step in training or retraining the hip and knee extensors to work with the lower back and deep corset musculature. It is important to coordinate shared loading of these muscles when picking up an object versus rounding out the lower back with a stiff front leg. It is equally as important to share the load when pushing off the floor and returning to the starting position. It is common to see the exerciser thrusting the torso backward with the pelvis moving forward. If these poor patterns occur, it will increase the likelihood of a low back injury. While performing these poor patterns, the exerciser will over utilize the lumbar extensors and under utilize the powerful hip and knee extensors. The Figures below will show these faulty patterns.
Reaching to the lower calf (Figure 2) introduces yet a greater load as the trunk and hip flex to a greater degree with a small amount of lumbar flexion. The same instructions should be adhered to with an emphasis on keeping the chest up and thoracic spine extended while looking forward of the reach target. One should avoid collapsing the rib cage toward the pelvis. These tips will help reduce excessive flexion loads upon the lumbar spine, ligaments, and discs.
Reaching to the ankle (Figure 3) obviously increases trunk and hip flexion and a greater degree of lumbar flexion. This variation has a high degree of carryover for most athletes who are required to perform this pattern. This pattern was first introduced to the athletic world by Vern Gambetta. One should be cautious of this movement and have clearance from the client’s doctor or rehabilitation specialist if there have been any past injuries to the lumbar spine, pelvis, or s.i. joint.
When teaching this movement, one should be able to display proper lunging mechanics with their own body weight first. Each of the multi-directional movements should be taught with the reach progression set forth and should not progress with a lower reach until the previous one has been mastered. The exerciser should be able to step back fully to that starting position without losing activation of the deep corset musculature. Again, the client should also be instructed not to extend the trunk forcefully upon the ascent or move the shoulders behind the hips (Figure 5), which would create unwanted or excessive extension of the lumbar spine with an accompanying protruded abdomen. The exerciser should be instructed to look out past the lead leg at the floor during the descent and ascent to help discourage this unwanted movement.
To increase load when performing the lunge, bend, and reach, light dumbbells from 1-5 pounds are added to each hand, or one dumbbell / med ball is held under the chin. If proper mechanics are adhered to, the load may be increased by small increments.
To further challenge the individual, have them hold only one dumbbell in the hand opposite to the lunging leg. Many activities may require this type of single side loading, thus making the exercise more functional. Highly conditioned athletes I have worked with have progressed to holding 30-35 lb. dumbbells in each hand, up to 60 lbs. in one hand, or even heavier if holding one DB under the chin. When working with athletes, I load to the point at which they can still explode out of the lunge position with good core and trunk control. Depending upon the sport, I usually prescribe higher repetitions per set, ranging 8-15 reps each leg.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s cover some preliminary information regarding multi-directional lunges. Remember, the depth of the lunge, trunk angle, and dominant plane of movement are specific to each individual and should be analyzed for specificity in programming. Even though you may find one plane of movement is dominant for your client’s activities, I believe that all planes of movement should be trained while biasing the key movement pattern. Multiple plane training has a strong carry over effect for athletes involved in sports requiring chaotic movement and reacting to an opponent or a ball.
It is important to master each lunging pattern individually, then combine 2-4 different patterns (multi-directional) when performing future work sets. Don’t be in a hurry to combine all of the lunge patterns, it may take a few sessions to master the transverse plane 45° angle variations. Also, don’t rush too quickly into adding the bend and reach pattern. With exception of the side lunge, the lunges are first learned with a more vertical trunk. Using an alternate leg approach more closely resembles typical athletic movement, but in order to promote coordination and balance in the developmental phase, many trainers and coaches have their clients perform all of the patterns first with one leg, then the other.
The 45° angle lunges will be shown with the trunk in a rigid and fairly upright position as well as with the bend and reach. The side lunge will be shown with proper hinging mechanics and torso angle between 45°-55° as well as with the bend and reach.
The following 45° lunges will be demonstrated:
45° Forward Lunge – Left leg lunging to the left at 45 degrees forward and right leg lunging to the right at 45 degrees forward.
45° Cross Body Lunge – Left leg lunging across the body to the right at 45 degrees and right leg lunging across the body to the left at 45 degrees.
45° Backward Lunge – Left leg lunging behind the body to the left at 45 degrees and right leg lunging behind the body to the right at 45 degrees.
45° Forward Lunge
It is important to note that this lunge does not involve a pivot action from the foot of the trail leg. One should focus on stepping at a forward/diagonal angle while trying to keep the big toe only on the ground. The stride length is greater than that of the forward lunge and the knee of the back leg is usually bent only slightly. A movement such as this, on the playing field, often results in a groin strain if the athlete has not exposed his body to this movement pattern.
Figure 6 Start
Figure 7 45° forward with trunk rigid - 1 DB (front loaded)
Figure 8 45° forward with bend and reach- 2DB’s
45° Cross Body Lunge
The cross body 45° lunge involves a pronounced pivot on the foot of the trail leg. This initial movement is commonly referred to as the crossover step, which takes place in many sporting activities. Many individuals will short step this lunge, make sure that the knee of the trail leg is slightly behind the hip in the lunge position.
Figure 9 cross body 45° with trunk rigid - 1 Med Ball (front loaded)
Figure 10 cross body 45° with bend and reach - 1 DB
45° Backward Lunge
This pattern is the most difficult lunge pattern to perform. It involves a greater degree of spatial awareness, agility, balance, coordination, and eccentric strength. The exerciser should focus on opening the hip and shoulder first, then a soft pivot of the trail leg foot will naturally occur. Like all of the lunges, but even to a greater extent, the exerciser should focus on pushing up from the lunge position forcefully while rising high on the ball of the foot of the trail leg. The exerciser should concentrate on getting taller as they get closer to the return position.
Figure 11 start
Figure 12 Behind body 45 with trunk rigid - 1 DB (front loaded)
Figure 13 Behind body 45 with bend and reach - 1 DB
The side lunge has been widely utilized in strength conditioning programs. Many coaches teach this lunge while keeping the torso in a vertical position. As you know, lateral lunging movements requires more than 45° of hip and knee flexion incorporate trunk flexion or a hinge action from the hips. When stepping laterally, the trail leg is usually in a lengthened position. You’ll observe that the lunging leg will naturally step out about ½ to a full foot forward of the trail leg. The exerciser should focus on keeping the trail leg straight with the foot flat to slightly rolled in. We do not want the knee of the trail leg to buckle inward, as this puts unwanted stress on the medial collateral ligament, anterior cruciate ligament, and medial meniscus.
Figure 14 Side Lunge with DB
**Remember, all lunge variations can integrate upper body movements as seen in the last article.
TRAIL LEG WALK THROUGH
There is one more variation I would like to discuss. This movement pattern involves a walk through with the trail leg. Most lunge movements in sports require the athlete to drive forward from the lunge position versus a push back to the starting position. This movement will usually serve to be a little kinder to the knee of the lunging leg. The forward lunge and side lunge, with bend and reach or without, are the easiest to administer. The 45° options are a little more complex, as the exerciser must square the feet and torso after the ascent of each lunge. I like to use an alternate leg approach with this variation. It is best to master each lunge independently first, then integrate to multi-directional combinations. It may feel a little bit like square dancing when first attempting the multi-directional approach. I have also found that holding one dumbbell in each hand or one dumbbell under the chin allows the smoothest transitions from one leg to the other. If you choose to hold one dumbbell at the side, you will need to switch hands before stepping out with the opposite leg.
I hope you will find these variations to be beneficial to spicing up your lunging protocols. I know your clients will become much more functionally fit and will be better prepared for the demands of life, work, and sports performance.
- Cibrario, Stone (1999) Functional Integrated Strength Training Video Series (Lower Body), (F.I.S.T.), F.I.S.T. Inc., Northbrook Il. (847)-562-1611