ISSUE #41                                           



-“Leg Training: Improving the Standard Lunge”
-“Evaluating Current Training Practices: Shoulder & Vertical
- Jump Training”





The lunge is a fantastic exercise that trains the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves. It also stretches the hip flexors and demands balance and core stability. This exercise requires the physical abilities characterizing many athletic events. Therefore the lunge is a great strengthening exercise for sport performance and also stimulates muscle growth for those looking to improve the appearance of their lower body. 


The lunge has many variations: forward, sideways, diagonal, and can even be performed onto a step, as all of these change the number of muscles recruited and vary the degree to which each muscle is stressed. BUT/ is there a superior technique? Well, I think there is. I recently discovered the hard way that the “reverse lunge” is the #1 contender for best lunge variation.


Here is the technique.

Stand upright, feet shoulder-width apart, holding light DB’s (dumbbells). Take a normal stride backward (with the “trailing leg”) and rest the toe of the trailing leg on the ground. Now squat down with the lead (“working”) leg controlling the weight of the body. Squat down so that the trailing knee touches the ground, and use the lead leg to return to the upright position.


The movement should be very similar to the push-off of a sprinting stride. This movement is called hip extension and will demand a forceful contraction of the hamstrings. The reverse lunge is also called the “split-squat” by some trainers and can be done with a barbell (across the trapezius as in the squat) as the resistance.


Three sets of 8 reps at a moderate weight will result in some pretty sore hamstrings the day after even if the reverse lunge is the only leg exercise performed on that day! Stick with this exercise and you will see improvements in sport performance, because it really focuses on the hamstrings and a movement pattern that is specific to almost all sports (soccer, b-ball, hockey, etc.). 


Why is the reverse lunge better?

Do the movement. It feels very different than the standard lunge. The key here is that the working leg (the front, or lead leg) is always loaded, however this is not true during the forward lunge. In the traditional forward lunge, the lead leg gets to rest because it is unloaded when you step forward and back.


Again, remember that single-leg exercises are almost always superior to bilateral exercises like the leg press. This is true whether you are a bodybuilder or athlete, because single-leg exercises enable you to develop balanced strength between legs and do not let your stronger side dominate! Switch up your training with this exercise for maximal leg development. Also, the movement of the reverse lunge is much more specific to sprinting. No other movement mimics the single-leg hip extension of an explosive sprinting stride as well as the reverse lunge. It’s a simple way to better legs.





It is time to dispel some workout myths, and to shed light on some of the more popular, yet ineffective training techniques. If you can think of any other exercises you see performed in the gym and curious as to it’s benefits, or if you want to know why some exercises maintain their popularity despite their ineffectiveness, send an email.


Shoulder training with dumbbells. It could be better!

First, understand that dumbbell (DB) shoulder lateral raises can be effective, but probably any form of lateral raise OR rotator cuff exercise performed with a DB is simply not the best method of stressing the muscles.


Review the basic principle of resistance training: Muscle must work to overcome a resistance. Traditionally, the resistance is applied in the form of a weight, whether it is a barbell, DB, or cable stack. However, the weight must be moved against gravity, and as we all know, gravity operates downward, not laterally. So apply this to our bodybuilder in the gym performing a DB lateral raise and we can quickly see the glaring weakness of this exercise. That’s right, the initial portion of the lateral raise is almost completely horizontal, therefore the resistance is not properly directed to the deltoids.


The scenario becomes even worse when people attempt to do external rotation exercises with a DB when the arm is tight against the body. The resulting movement is 100% lateral (referring to the external shoulder rotation exercise where the elbow is kept tight against the body and the arm is externally rotated). The rotator cuff muscles are not being used to move the DB out to the side, but rather just to hold it up.


Theoretically, a person could use a 200lb DB for this exercise and still not work the rotator cuff muscles in external rotation. Obviously, a 200lb DB would be too great for most to even hold, but it illustrates how the exercise is just completely ineffective when the wrong form of resistance is chosen. Think about it, no one does standing chest flyes with DB’s because it is not effective, so why try to train shoulders that way?


SO what’s the answer to getting better shoulders? Cables. Cable stacks always move upwards, therefore always moving against gravity, and therefore always offer a resistance. They are not perfect, but for the lateral raise, they are the best option.



Calf raises for vertical jumps. How much difference will they make?

Research has shown both plyometrics and regular weight training to be effective at increasing vertical jump & the best results occur with a combined weights and plyometric program. Athletes that want to improve their jump have to learn to squat and deadlift. If the athlete tries to use the excuse that they “can’t” do these, then chances are they can not jump (or walk for that matter). EVERYONE can squat but most people just need proper instruction and a little “motivation”. 


However for jumping, don’t waste time on calf raises. Why not? Jump. How much effort did your calves really put in here? Granted, they add a little force to the end of the movement, but now jump again, without bending your knees. How high did you get? Did you even get off the floor? Obviously calf strength is not the biggest determinant of your vertical jump, so don’t train with that belief.


Also, forget those jump-shoes, they might help, but may increase the risk of injury (the program included with shoes is way too much training volume for most young athletes!). Athletes must train the hamstrings and low back (together in the deadlift and back extensions) because this (hip extension) is the basis for jump performance. Don’t expect exercises like the leg extension to add height to your jump either! 


Finally, if you improve their jump, chances are an increase in speed won’t be far behind. Check out the CB ATHLETIC speed and plyometric workouts (ISSUES #22 & #35) to attack both speed and vertical jump performance. The key to a good jump program is a good understanding of proper technique and program progression, otherwise, athletes could end up hurt, not helped.


When training with plyometrics, use extra caution and common sense and never train on concrete or other hard surfaces! Train smart, think about what you are really doing. Many guys and girls playing ball at the university level have chronic knee problems, and improper training (such as jumping on concrete) could easily lead to the development of one knee condition or another.


Start conservatively with basic plyometric drills & emphasize the landing phase rather than explosiveness (i.e. land, pause, and balance between each jump). Then after 2 weeks, introduce the “plyometric” aspect of the drill (i.e. land and explode into next jump). Now begin to introduce more exercises or multiple sets… 


Plyometric training should only be initiated after you have had a certified instructor provide you with hands-on technique training. Even the solid, scientifically based, biomechanically correct and prudent CB ATHLETIC programs require visual instruction, otherwise improper training can occur. Prescribing plyometric and jump training without actually having personal contact with athletes is risky, so be conservative and track down a local expert for instruction.


To sum up the best way to improve your vertical jump over the summer:

1)       train legs 2 times per week (1 day heavy, the other day for balance – ISSUE #29)

2)       perform plyometric and speed work 1-3 times per week

(progress from 1 to 3 weekly sessions)

3)       train the abs and low back 2-3 times per week for strength (NOT for high reps)

4)       whatever time is left can be put into upper body work

5)       eat consistently and rest!


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