Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lunge Better

Good hip flexor stretch

One of the most popular leg exercises in the gym is the lunge. It's straightforward enough that anyone and everyone can usually do it. Place one foot out, lower yourself, then return to a stand.

The problem that tends to plague it is that it gets butchered when a person isn't aware of how to execute it. Not only that but the most common variant is the forward lunge with dumbbells.

Also as of recent I've noticed more use of Bulgarian split squats as the go to single-leg exercise. Each exercise has their place and Bulgarian split squats are great. What I specifically like about lunges is the moving component, especially in the walking version.

Lunges aren't too hard and are a great single-leg exercise as well. After adjusting to the change in balance and a few tweaks here and there, a person can move better within minutes.

Try these cues and see how they affect your performance.
Visualize a Hurdle
- Sometimes stride lengths are unintentionally cut short. For each rep lift your knee straight up and then shoot your foot downwards at angle in front of you. Imagine you're going over a small box.

Lift your knee straight up,
then aim your foot down at an angle.

Land Close to Parallel
- This is a very subtle detail. The foot should be close to parallel when making contact with the ground. It has a slight down tilt, plantarflexion, to it. Look at this diagram,

Click to enlarge
(Trust me, you should)

The blue line is the angle of the foot and the orange line is the ground. Starting from the left, let's discuss each image.
  1. A heel strike is the most common action you'll see. This isn't necessarily bad but I haven't seen it contribute to a better lunge.
  2. Here is an exaggeration of the down tilt. You end up landing on the very front end.
  3. In the far right illustration the foot is almost parallel to the floor. It's similar to an airplane landing on a runway. The nose of the plane is pointed down enough that it's able to make a light impact on the ground.

    Here the foot is angled down a little bit. It can better absorb the shock of impact and get a firm holding underneath it.
Plant the Foot SOFTLY
- Lower the foot while attempting to make almost no noise. Plant it as gently and softly as possible. Let your body sink down on your heel. It will ensure your torso remains upright while you keep your balance.
Reverse Directions
- After you've lunged down, push through your heel to come straight UP. Then you can bring your foot back. Only return to a start after you've stood up. It becomes much more difficult to do if you're still in a knee flexed position.
Now what if you're having trouble despite using these cues? Practice with your bodyweight and hold each position for a few seconds. Work on stepping out and getting accustomed to the split stance. From there lower yourself a few inches, pause, stand, and repeat. Go lower each week then start with low reps. When you get the hang of it, add dumbbells.

As for programming them into a workout there aren't any rules to follow. I find they place nicely after a heavy compound movement like squats. A light set or two of 5-8 reps is enough to elicit a positive training effect. Ultimately the training parameters - and variation - are up to you.

One thing is certain: Don't neglect your legs by avoiding lunges. They're a very important exercise.
Further reading,

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Picking Your Shoes & Socks

What's your pick?

In strength training a person doesn't need much gear to lift. Shoes, socks, and that's about it. Even those aren't entirely necessary in a home gym. When competing, assistive equipment becomes an additional option. This includes belts, straps, suits, heeled shoes, and chalk.

But shoes and socks are usually glossed over by a trainee. There are a few nuances you should know about to maximize the comfort of your feet.
  • I like my socks like my shoes - very thin. Thick socks muffle your foot's ability to feel around in the shoe. It's similar to wearing overly supportive shoes where you're unable to feel the ground.
  • Make sure your socks breathe well. Feet get hot in shoes as is but the wrong socks can make your feet exceptionally sweaty.
  • Thin socks are great but not if they are constantly shifting around. They should conform well to your feet.
  • Long socks are often recommended for deadlifts and floor pulls. They protect the shins from the bar scraping them. This is actually a technical error. It can be the result of employing the back too early or just trying too hard to keep the bar close.

    Whatever the reason may be it creates friction and slows down the pull. Long socks reduce the problem but they don't eliminate it. Practice with short cut socks to ensure you're not scraping your shins.
  • Currently I use low cut Hanes socks. The elastic might be too low for some people as they can go into the shoe and slip off the back of the foot. If that's the case choose ankle socks such as these. (I'm not recommending Hanes. They're examples.)
  • I say no shoe is the best shoe. However due to hygiene and safety issues that never sits well with gym staffs.
  • Since going barefoot isn't always a choice choose a thin minimal support shoe. It should be able to bend in half, twist, and be very flexible.
  • A good shoe will allow you to feel varying terrains. This is most noticeable when stepping on small rocks.
  • Secondary characteristics to consider are price and style. Some shoes are fashionable enough that they can double for casual wear.

My shoe choices
Left: Tai Chi's by Asics / Right: Martial Arts Slippers

  • BirthdayShoes.com is an excellent site for all things regarding minimal shoes. Use it to browse different shoes and their reviews.
  • Squat are another issue when determining your shoe.
  • Because ankle mobility, specifically dorsiflexion, is limited by genetics squat depth will stop at a certain point. Go pass that point and the chances are your form will be compromised.

    Toes go up [dorsiflexion],
    toes go down [plantarflexion]
  • The elevated heel on weightlifting shoes reduces this problem and allows for deeper squats with a more upright torso.
  • How necessary is the heel? It depends on the lifter and is wholly up to them. Squats become easier but they can be done completely fine barefoot.

    I'd say front squats are the exception to this. In front squats you want your torso to stay as vertical as possible. Weightlifting shoes do a great job at accomplishing this.
  • If you feel you would benefit from a weightlifting shoe, check out WLShoes.com. The site reviews many of the weightlifting shoes currently on the market.
Picking the right socks and shoes for yourself isn't too hard a topic. Use the above information to narrow down what fits your preferences and see how it feels.

If you like your choice and it feels good when you lift that's all that matters.
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