The Lunge Warm-up: Biomechanical Reminders and Tips for Optimizing Spine Function

If you haven’t seen Coach Jay Johnson’s video on implementing a lunge sequence as part of you dynamic warm-up, you can view it here. I love this routine for the simple fact the it engages your muscles dynamically in multiple planes both concentrically and eccentrically before you start to run. Additionally, it is a fantastic way to train the corset function of the abdominals and improve balance. But before you begin the routine, you should understand the simple mechanics of a lunge to ensure that you aren’t promoting a dysfunctional movement pattern.

Normal Lunging Reminders :

  • Feet should be shoulder width apart with toes pointed forward
  • Torso should be slightly leaning forward while maintaining a neutral lumbar spine
  • At least 80% of your weight should be on your front foot and the remaining 20% distributed on your rear foot.
  • When Lunging, it is important to keep your tibia in line with your knee and hip to prevent excessive knee valgus and hip adduction
  • Don’t let your front knee cross your front ankle
  • Keep eyes up, looking forward

Why are these reminders important?

  • Keeping your feet pointed forward in the direction of the lunge will help to evenly distribute the force over your lead quad without putting unnecessary stress on either side of the knee
  • Keeping a neutral lumbar spine while hinging from the hip to create the slight forward lean while reduce the activity of the lumbar extensions to maintain an upright posture. Also the amount of force being placed on the anterior portions of your vertebral discs will be reduced by limiting forward spine flexion.
  • Keeping the tibia in line with the knee and hip will prevent excess force being placed on the medial meniscus of the front leg, as well as reducing the amount of stretch being placed on the already taut IT Band
  • Keeping eyes up and facing forward is important as vestibular sense affects position sense. This means that if your eyes are looking down toward your feet, it will cause your spine to flex, placing an additional load on the anterior disc material.

One final thought, I love Jay’s routine like I said, but be mindful of adding in trunk twists if you are doing your runs when you first step out of bed in the morning. Why? When you sleep, your discs swell from excess fluid that accumulates during the night from your static sleeping posture. So you are at your tallest height first thing in the morning. However, this excess height means that your disc pressure is also at its highest point. Placing your spine under a twisting motion, will cause a shearing force on those vulnerable swollen discs leaving you at a higher risk for injury. So it is therefore wise to at least wait an hour after waking up before performing the routine to allow for the excess fluid to be squeezed out by imbibition (process that occurs in the spine from motion and gravity to pump nutrients in an out of our discs).

The lunge routine is a great way to engage the quads, hamstrings, adductors, glutes, hip flexors, and calves. But keep these points in mind when beginning to integrate the routine in order to facilitate proper mechanics and prevent injury.

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