The goals of the gym can be divided into two main categories: vanity and performance. Generally, the Gen Pop gym-goer has vanity goals like more muscle, less fat, being ripped, etc. The athlete who is paid to play has his eyes on performance. What can they do to improve their performance on the field? Although there is significant crossover between the two, one exercise (of many) will help with both. If you guessed the side lunge exercise, you’ll get your gold star on the way. The lateral width for athletes and lifters of the general population is great because this is where the gains are made, in the sagittal plane.
The Sagittal plane divides the body into left and right halves (head to toe) and involves forward and backward movements. Your favorite exercises, such as squats, deadlifts, bench, and bicep curls, are all Sagittal plane movements. So, the frontal plane divides the body in front and halves and involves lateral movements. Exercises like side walks raises, and side lunges live here.
Performing side lunges can be a little uncomfortable, but strength and conditioning coach Matthew S. Ibrahim, Ph.D. is here to explain why every athlete should incorporate it into their programming.
What is a Side Lunge?
A side lunge is a unilateral front plane exercise that consists of stepping to the side and sinking into a squat/lunge hybrid, turning this lunge into a mobility and strength exercise. Mobility because the supporting leg is straight, which stretches and mobilizes the groin muscle. Strength is also needed in the working leg as the adductors, glutes and quads work hard to pull out of the lunge and back to the starting position.
How to do the Side Lunge exercise
- Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart and pointed forward.
- Take a big step to the side with your right leg.
- Push back into the right hip while keeping the left leg straight.
- Feel a stretch in your left groin muscle as you sink into the lunge
- When you have gone as far as your mobility allows, push your right foot across the floor and return to the starting position.
Benefits of the Side Lunge for Athletes
“Sports are performed in all directions, at different speeds, in challenging positions, and sometimes in lower angles regarding the hips, knees and ankles. This is precisely why the training of the lower body in the frontal plane is so important for athletes in all sports. Forgetting about the frontal plane, you are missing a key component to really excel in sports: master strength, speed and multidirectional power.
If your goal is to stay strong and durable in your sport, there is a ton of benefit for training in the frontal plane to improve the health of the hip joint, knees and ankles. Most importantly, strengthening the muscles in your inner thighs (groins/adductors) is another factor that keeps these joints durable.
Note: The sports are in all directions, especially in the front plane. This is why lateral lunges are so important in training for athletic performance,” explains Ibrahim.
To reinforce Ibrahim’s point, strengthening and mobilizing the adductors plays a vital role in minimizing the lateral movement of the knee joint, where the knee gets into a lot of trouble. When strengthening the knee joint to support lateral movement, it also improves its stability in the sagittal plane.
Strengthening the adductors with exercises such as the lateral lunge reduces the occurrence of groin strains. A review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015 suggested that lack of adductor strength was a significant risk factor for groin strains.
Side Lunge Variations for Athletes
“The best way to describe the technique, form, and coaching cues for all variations of the side lunge exercise is simple: place your hips directly behind you while bending one knee (the trunk leans into this direction) and keep your other leg straight, control the descent and the contact with the ground, and then the power returns to the standing position.
Most importantly, we shouldn’t see any hiccups in your movement or shaky transitions. You want very smooth, controlled and athletic transitions from start to finish in each rep. The best athletes in the world are also the best drivers. Side lunges, which are dynamic in nature, are easily the most challenging type of lower body front plane exercise from an athletic development standpoint. explains Ibrahim.
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