Are We Doing Lunges Wrong? Hint: Maybe

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As some of you know I had the luxury of spending the past few days attending Phase II of the Elite Baseball Mentorship hosted at my stomping grounds, Cressey Performance, listening to Eric Cressey, Eric Schoenberg, and Matt Blake discuss, well, training baseball players.

And while training baseball players is our Soup de Jour at Cressey Performance, what many fail to realize is that we train a wide variety of athletes (softball, basketball, football, hockey, boxing, and at one point we even trained a fencer!) as well as general population clients at the facility.

While the crux of the information covered over the weekend pertained to baseball players and the intricacies involved with managing their care and programming, a fair percentage of it spilled over into the meathead/general population crowd as well.

As is the case every time I attend a seminar or workshop there’s always a nugget or two of information that blows me away and makes me wonder “why am I such a moron?”

One such instance involved a comment that Eric Schoenberg made regarding lunges and how we (as an industry) coach them.  In a nutshell he questioned the audience (us) as to why we don’t include more of a hip hinge pattern when we introduce it and coach the lunge?

Ask any strength coach how he or she generally “patterns” the squat, deadlift, kettblebell swing, or any number of other foundational movements, and almost always they’ll say everything revolves around the hip hinge.

Why, then, when we coach the lunge, as Eric noted, do we gravitate towards more of an upright torso (which in turn results in more of a “gross” extension based pattern)?

“Huh,” I thought. “That’s interesting.”

But to be more specific, for visual reference, the video below best depicts my reaction the second Eric made this point.

To give more of a play-by-play description:  I’m Triple H, and Eric’s comment is John Cena straight-up power slapping me in the grill.

It……was……awesome.  And helped to turn on a light bulb in my head.

And, the whole shebang makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Coaching the lunge with an upright torso isn’t inherently wrong; it just might not be the most ideal way to go about things for some people.

Especially with regards to baseball players and more of the meathead/athletic crowd (who live more of their lives in “gross” extension anyways).

Think about it:  those in extension tend to have excessive anterior pelvic tilt, which in turn leads to more femoral internal rotation, which in turn leads to more tibial internal rotation, which then, as we all know, is the real cause of global warming.

But in all seriousness, someone may exhibit faulty hip mechanics, we then coach them to perform a lunge pattern in a way that feeds into said faulty hip mechanics, and then we bark at said athlete or client when his or her’s knee caves in when they lunge.

What’s more, coaching the lunge with a more upright posture only feeds into the extension pattern which doesn’t do their lumbar spine (and more specifically their facet joints) any favors.

And, to add insult to injury, if someone is purposely programmed to think that staying upright is ideal (which isn’t always the case for some), the DBs are going to serve as a counterbalance to keep them in extension.

Instead, what’s wrong with cueing more of a hip hinge and slight forward lean to save their back and to help offset a poor pattern?

One simple cue would be: don’t think of shoulders over the hips, but rather shoulders over the knees.

Thoughts?

This is something that completely flew over my head up until this past weekend, and is something I plan to fix sooner rather than later.

Sadly, I can’t fix the epic fail of having Taylor Swift playing in the background in the above videos.

Did what you just read make your day? Ruin it? Either way, you should share it with your friends and/or comment below.

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  • Kyle

    Tony good stuff man. This is something I wrote about a little while back (http://kylearsenault.com/2013/07/24/load-the-hip-to-enhance-lower-body-training/). It is a game changer when it comes to proper recruitment and overall athleticism as well as getting out of the extension based patterns.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks for sharing Kyle!

  • Anthony

    Good stuff Tony! I think the forward lean happens naturally a little bit when doing reverse lunges. I coach split squat with a completely vertical torso but a reverse lunge requires a little more forward lean. Look at the dumbbells in your videos. When you lean forward the dumbells stay closer to the front foot. I think that is where it should be. I don’t like to have the center of mass/weight moving very much forward and back.
    I think a good way to help with this is to try putting the back leg on a valslide or slideboard. That tend to force some forward lean because if you shift your weight too far back and stay vertical then you end up performing a leg curl to get back to standing.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Yep, you’re right Anthony. But I still feel the DBs, when using more of an upright torso (especially if one is purposely trying to stay upright), tend to act as a counterbalance to keep people in extension.

      Sure, there’s going to be a bit more forward lean with reverse lunges, but I still feel many people are programmed to think that HAVE to be upright, which isn’t always the case.

      Nevertheless the slideboard is an excellent option if people have access to it.

  • Clifton

    I teach lunges, especially lateral, curtsy, and reverse with a fairly aggressive forward lean. Much more hip utilization there. I argue all the time that a bilateral proficiency in a hip hinge pattern doesn’t translate to a single leg hip hinge, and the single leg hip hinge isn’t taught much. Good article.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Right on Clifton! Thanks for the input, and glad to see that I’m not on the right path…..;o)

  • TImely article! I did them today and just felt ‘off’ somehow. Realized just now that I was probably maintaining a vertical torso because of the FMS-focused workshop I was at this weekend. I normally use and coach a forward lean because it just feels more natural.

  • John J Brooks

    Funny this is something I’ve been playing with. We use kettle bells (its what we have) and coach the athletes to bring the bells to the balls of the lead foot (with the chest up of course) as part of a single leg hinge progression.

  • Jake

    Tony, do you feel as though the forward leaning torso would also increase knee stress?

    • TonyGentilcore

      Ehh, not so much. I mean, there’s always going to be “some” forward translation of the tibia, and as much as I like coaching the squat (and lunges) with vertical shin angles (especially for those with knee issues), so long as the heels aren’t coming off the ground I don’t see it causing too much stress.

  • Brett

    Tony – lightbulb moment for me too. Thank you so much brother. So simple…can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Glad it helped!

  • Ryan

    Ohhh – I like this. I’ve thought about it before, and now that I have your blog to back me up, I’m going with it! 🙂 Keep up the good blogs.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Well, don’t use me as the litmus test….haha. It won’t apply to everyone you train, but hopefully it helps to some degree.

  • Aaron

    Would you tend to shy away from front-squat grip lunges then and do all lunge patterns with dumbbells? As with the FSG if you attempt a forward lean you will dump the bar.

    • TonyGentilcore

      YEah, the front squat grip reverse lunge will be a more advanced progression, and this one might not bode for the hip hinge cue. Someone who’s in an excessive extension pattern probably shouldn’t be using this variation anyways.

  • Christian

    Firstly thankyou for your free blog.
    Secondly would you apply the same for split squats?

    • TonyGentilcore

      First: thank you!

      Second: I don’t see why not.

      Remember: this cue won’t apply to every person for every situation (nor every single leg variation). Someone with anterior knee pain may need to be coached with more of a vertical shin angle.

  • Paul S

    Great insight, Tony! Definitely a game changer for me. As for music choice in the videos…..not so much 😉

    • TonyGentilcore

      Touche, Paul. Touche. In my defense, though, it wasn’t my choice. I swear! No, really, I swear.

  • Donovan Gary Alan

    Great read! It makes a ton of sense especially when seeing someone do a Bulgarian split squat–it’s almost impossible to stay up right. Maybe there’s a correlation there. Either way great read!

  • J.J (Double J)

    Interesting point Tony

    BTW…you get a pass on the Taylor Swift music.

    • TonyGentilcore

      hahahaha. Thanks. But like I said in another comment, it wasn’t my choice…..;o)

  • Brian Nevison

    Great article. I really like using the forward lean for lunges. To me, it seems to put less stress on the knees, which may be due to the increased glute activation. The lean seems to be more natural for most people, especially with reverse, lateral, and forward walking lunges.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Right on Brian. My sentiments exactly. It’s just a matter of finding out which variation is the right fit for each person.

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  • Jeffrey

    You just slapped me in the face.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Hopefully it didn’t leave a mark!

  • Elizabeth

    I’m glad you caught on to this, too. My PT explained that I should be lunging with a slight tilt forward when I went in for knee issues. He cued by saying, “Lunges are essentially a front-loading exercise”. I was a lot more comfortable after I incorporated a slight hip hinge.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Exactly. It’s not a right fit for everyone – especially those with FAI, for example – but for a lot of people it’s going to work like a charm. Glad it worked out for you Elizabeth.

  • Eric Schoenberg

    Great to see you at the Mentorship TG! Always fun to spend time at CP! Thanks for putting this out to your readers to get some more feedback! Look forward to seeing you soon.
    -Eric

    • TonyGentilcore

      My pleasure Eric. And thanks for dropping so many knowledge bombs!

  • andrew s

    good stuff. nick tumminello actually talks about this in his single leg training dvd and how it is more applicable to sports to lunge in a more hip dominant fashion.

    • TonyGentilcore

      Nick’s a smart bastard.

  • Carolyn Hysted

    So happy to find this out! Trying to maintain an upright position with a partially fused lumbar spine ain’t the easiest or most comfortable thing to do!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Ouch! No kidding! Glad this post helped.

  • Georganna Rapaport

    I just did lunges today and had saved this awhile back meaning to look at it! Thanks, will keep in mind next time. Funny that you mentioned Taylor Swift in the background. I had to giggle at that when I watch the videos. 🙂 Appreciate all the great content!

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  • Scott e

    Isn’t that really another movement altogether anyway, I think why most lunges are coached upright is because they evolved form are more used from a runners, by that I mean sprinters perspective, (long slow distance is what joggers do not runners) , if we want to emphasize the hip hinge from a strength perspective then why not just do one leg deadlifts or as some call them birdpeckers

    • TonyGentilcore

      Eh, I wouldn’t call it an entirely different movement altogether. It’s still a lunge. It’s just a way to tweak it to fit the needs of the lifter.

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  • Lucas

    Great read Tony! I’m a ball player and am starting to incorporate more lunges into my lower body workouts. I’ve always tried to be aware of my anterior pelvic tilt because i can slip into extension pretty easily. I would always try to stay completely upright whenever doing a weighted lunge. Even when i kept my core as tight as a cobra, my trunk would always lean forward a little to avoid hyperextension whenever I tried to add weight. I figured i would have to work more on my hips a lot more before increasing the intensity. This article gives me a little confirmation bias but it does make a lot of sense. Keep up the great work!

    • TonyGentilcore

      Thanks Lucas, and glad it helped!

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