As promised, a Lunge pattern dissection (and another Jeremy Lin photo!!)

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 Spoiler Alert: Today’s post has nothing to do with Jeremy Lin or Linsanity but my last post had an abnormally high amount of views which I have to credit solely to Mr. Lin’s picture. So, give the people what they want right?!

Earlier in the week I talked about my trip to watch some high school basketball games and how I paid particular attention to the warm-up routines by each team. Not only did I watch what they were doing but also how they were doing it. In other words, I was evaluating the quality of movement. 

It has been drilled into my head every time I go to a rehab seminar that every exercise is a test. This means that while we may add an exercise in to a strength or rehab program for a specific purpose of strength or stability gains, we will also observe how the exercise is performed and constantly check and re-check these exercises with hopes of an eventual progression to something more challenging for the individual once the movement pattern is adequate. To take it one step further, every warm-up is also a test. I know that the athletes who are going through the warm-up think these activities are simply helping them get ready to play. However if used correctly, a coach or strength trainer can gain a ton of information by watching the athletes move.

As I talked about in my last post, the lunge pattern was the most common warm-up exercise I saw and also the most common one that was butchered. The lunge is extremely versatile in that it is a fantastic warm-up, strength, and stability/ mobility movement pattern.

 As many of you already know, there are hundreds of variations of the lunge: walking lunge, walking lunge with overhead reach, backward lunge, side lunge, inline lunge and return, weighted lunge, grilled shrimp, boiled shrimp, fried shrimp… and the list goes on and on.

For the purposes of this post however, I want to share the 3 most common lunge pattern flaws that I observed this past weekend during warm-ups:

  1. Anterior Patellar Shear (APS): This is just a fancy way of saying that the knee is traveling too far forward over the toes. This is also probably the most common flaw I see. The problem with APS is that it makes the lunge more of a quad dominant exercise rather than glute/hamstring. Often times, we know right away if this is problem because the athlete will “feel the burn” on the front of the thigh rather than the back. You will also find in the lead leg that the people who demonstrate APS push-off with the front part of the foot rather than the heel. As with most lower extremity movements (particularly the squat, deadlift) we want most of the force being transmitted through the heel as this facilitates the posterior chain to activate. The easiest way to do this is by removing the shoes altogether so the athlete can really feel his/her engaging with the ground. Obviously, this is not always possible (although it would be interesting to coach a team and make them do an entire pre-game without shoes. Talk about intimidation!). APS is also common in people who say they can’t do a lunge because it makes their knees hurt. Usually, they are just not doing it correctly as APS puts a ton of stress on the knee-joint itself. 
  2. Knee Valgosity: Knee valgosity during a lunge/squat/ really any movement pattern at all, especially in the female basketball population is a HUGE red flag. The incidence of non-traumatic ACL injuries among the female population is way too high and often times landing in knee valgosity is the culprit. Most often this is due to a lack a hip strength/stability (gluteus medius) and really makes me cringe whenever I see it. While we can never prevent all ACL injuries, I strongly believe we could cut down on the incidence simply by screening out and correcting this problem.
  3. Inability to reach an (almost) kneeling position: This was something I saw far too much of at the basketball tournament. I think this is partially due to laziness, but I also feel like a good portion of the athletes simply could not get all the way down. In most cases, I like to see the back knee get within an inch or two of the floor at the bottom of the lunge. The reasons for this inefficiency are endless. One is certainly an overall lack of stability and balance within the movement pattern as I observed a few athletes who started the descent into the lunge, began to shake, and just stood up so they would not fall over. A second reason is  a lack of extensibility within the soft tissue of the hips and leg and mobility within the hip capsule. These findings could only be confirmed upon further, specific testing. 

Finally, here is a lunge pattern without anterior patellar shear or knee valgosity, and with the ability to get the back knee (almost) to the ground: 

In conclusion, the lunge pattern and all its variations are a fantastic group of exercises that serve multiple, useful purposes. However, like  most exercises, if done incorrectly they can cause more harm than good.

Have a great day!

  1. Sarah Abbott says:

    Hey Justin,

    Great post! The videos make it easy to illustrate what you are describing. I noticed in the videos with incorrect form, there was a lag between the movement of your torso and the movement of your leg. It can initially look like poor core stability, but often times is issues in form as you stated. Another common mistake I’ve seen at the high school and college level is that athletes don’t take a long enough stance to allow enough room to perform a lunge. Have you thought about doing a post on mini-bands or valslides?


    • Sarah,
      thanks for the feedback. I have to admit I am no expert of Valslides although it is certainly something I can look into and possibly put together some videos of what some other people have done with it. Mini bands are also another possibility. Thanks again!

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