Why I tell the world to stop doing walking lunge (especially doing the warm up)
Following my post where I pleaded for the world to stop hurting themselves with walking lunges, especially in the warm-up, I was asked by the readers to explain why I said this. I treated their questions with the respect that a genuine desire to learn deserves, and took the time to share the following thoughts.
I want to clarify that no exercise is ‘bad’ – however the way we implement or combine or include them can make the extremely inappropriate for the majority – like the walking lunge!
…from my observations, most physical preparation programs do more harm than good. They may give short term results or confidence to the athlete, but result in significant performance restrictions and or injuries long term.
The more an athlete participates in physical preparation, including the younger they start in physical preparation, the greater the incidence and severity of injury. Unfortunately these injuries are being blamed away by many involved in sport as being a function of the increased demands and impact forces in ‘modern day’ sport. This to me is little more than an excuse, an exercise in putting one’s head in the proverbial sand. Quite simply, the majority of training programs are flawed from a physical preparation perspective and are causing the increased injuries.
--King, I., 2005, The way of the physical preparation coach, p. 66-67
Here’s seven reasons why I tell the world to stop walking lunge. I know what many will say - as I mentioned in my post, the world is making great grounds in life departments such as ‘clear living’. However when it comes to exercise, we are back some 30 years ago….
1. HISTORY – WHERE DID IT COME FROM? Thirty years ago, the walking lunge was almost the exclusive domain of the college basketball player in US strength and conditioning program. I am sure there were some other pockets of use history including for example certain martial art disciples, however there was little other reference or application. The lunge existed n bodybuilding, but the walking lunge as we know see it – conducted by all ages, both genders, all strength levels, at any stage of the workout but most commonly in the warm up – that is a post 2000 phenomenon.
So where did it come from? I suggest that the walking lunge is a trend driven by ‘authors’ who lack the experience and wisdom to understand what they are recommending. With the promotion of the ‘functional training’ movement (advanced by one company in particular with strong commercial interests in the sale ‘functional’ equipment) combined with continued desire to suppress effective and appropriate stretching in the warm up – the walking lunge found its way into books about exercises that should be done, including in the warm up. These trend spread from sport to sport, and then down the ages, like a disease creeping around the world with no geographic boundaries. You cannot go out into the world of sport on any given day and not witness its application, in particular in the warm ups.
When I see groups of athletes and individuals being guided to perform this movement, in particular young athletes in their warm ups, I immediately conclude that their coach is a trend-following non-thinker who has not done many of the exercises they recommend. If they did they would tell you what most young athletes would tell you if their voices were not suppressed – walking lunges hurt their knees!! Coaches do them because they choose to blindly follow the dominant trend and actively seek to appear to like all their peers. And it is a dominant trend globally – one that will during the next 10-40 years see an expansion of the knee and hip replacements at a rate that will please the joint replacement industries, doctors and physical therapist. At a cost to both society and the individual that will rival the strain on the economies that poor nutritional and lifestyle choices make.
2. INAPPROPRIATE WARM UP EXERCISE. The lunge is a loaded strength exercise. If it was being conducted in an adult strength program it would come with some sub-maximal repetitions. At what stage of a warm up protocol is it appropriate to apply what is more most people a maximal if not supra-maximal loading in the warm up? The wear and tear on the patella-femoral joint (under the knee cap) is significant and serious and little time passes before you have eroded the cartilage or bone surface, and experiencing conscious knee pain. If the lunge or walking lunge would be done for valid reasons by an advanced athlete, ideally it would be conducted after appropriate warm up activities and sub-maximal sets.
Put simply – there are very few people on the planet that could safely execute a bodyweight walking lunge in their warm up routine and successfully avoid any short or long term knee damage or pain from doing so.
3. THE LUNGE DOES NOT IMPROVE FLEXIBLITY AND IS NOT A STRETCHING EXERCISES. The walking lunge is not an flexibility exercise and does not contribute to increased length. At best it might maintain range, however the subsequent muscle soreness and associated tightness in the quadriceps and hip flexors ultimately means you will lose range. It lacks the element of relaxation which is key to creating changes in connective tissue length, and is followed by and associated with increased tension and shortening of the connective tissue, as any demanding strength exercise does.
It is a strength exercise. I know of no-one who should be doing in their warm up, where the warm up is less than 30 mins, and that includes the elite male strength athlete. It has no place whatsoever in the warm up routine of a young or developing athlete. Yes where will you most likely see it being done – in the warm up routine young or developing athletes.
4. MUSCLE BALANCE AROUND THE HIP AND THE IMPLICATIONS OF THIS IMBALANCE. When I released the ‘Lines of Movement’ concept in 1998, something I had been developing for the prior decade, it was a result of my awareness of the need to balance the muscles around the hip – especially the quad/hip flexor group and the posterior chain group – hamstrings and gluteals. I was concerned that the plagiarists who hijacked this concept and published it unreferenced would lack the understanding and passion for the intent of this concept such that their frequent publishings would advance this understanding. In hindsight my concerns were founded. In fact, these same plagiarists, even after moving to someone else's concept because they need to be seen to be new and ‘cutting edge’ – demonstrate their lack of understanding of my concept and its intent with the exercises programs and equipment they promote in their more recent ‘writings’.
What I am saying is that the cause I set out to help – the health of the hip and knee and all connective tissue of the lower extremities – has not been served by the shallowness and lip service that my Lines of Movement concept set out to solve.
Balance : all things being equal, and independent of any specificity demands, the selection of exercises should show balance throughout the body. For example for every upper body exercise there would be a lower body exercise. For every upper body pushing movement, there would be an upper body pulling movement. For every vertical pushing movement there would be a vertical pulling movement. For every hip dominant exercise there would be a quad dominant exercise. And so on. -
- King, I., 1998, How to Write (book)
[NB. The above quote should not be confused with the verbatim and paraphrased copies that have appeared in many unreferenced sources since.]
What we have in the lunge and walking lunge is an exercise that is at the extreme end of the continuum of quad dominant exercises, which the is not balanced by sequence, volume or load potential by another exercise. Quite simply – athletes exposed to this misguide trend of the walking lunge develop imbalances between their quads dominant and hip dominant muscles (the terms I provided in my ‘Lines of Movement’ concept. As such they experience a higher frequency and greater severity of lower extremity injuries – both soft tissue and bone. Groin, abdominal, hamstring, quad, and calf strains. Shin splints. Knee pain.
5. EXCESSIVE LOADING AND RANGE FOR STRENGTH LEVELS If a coach had any ability or awareness to assess each individual athlete for their ability to safely and effectively execute a lunge, let a lone a walking lunge, they would realise that the vast (more accurately overwhelmingly) majority of athletes being asked to perform these exercises lack the ability to tolerate the strength of their own body weight through the full range or in most cases, any range at all. Therefore even if a coach sought to justify inclusion of this exercise on the basis that the athlete needed strength in this range, there is no basis for justification on the grounds the athletes lacks the strength to tolerate the movement. In essence, not only do we have the injury creation realities of excessive loading and inadequate warm up, we also face the transfer of poorly executed loaded movement to sport.
In other words, not only are we injuring the athlete, which in itself is a solid performance decrease, there is also massive potential for the adaptation to these inappropriate movement patterns to further cause performance deterioration.
6. INAPPROPRIATE LOADING WITHOUT SUFFICENT WARM UP. If for whatever reason you believed this exercise were appropriate for you, there are a number of strategies I would strongly recommend you implement. You will note these are not implement by the hordes of young athletes around the world being led to execute these movements in their warm ups. You can learn more about these in my education especially my Level 1 KSI Coaching Course, but here’s some tips to get you going:
a. Joint mobilizations: I teach another unique concept where I apply passive joint preparation drills in the warm up process, particularly relevant for knees. I developed these for personal use whilst rehabilitating my knees post surgery, so I have a very personal connection to the role and benefit of these drills.
b. Control drills prior: another unique concept I introduced to strength training was the concept of performing certain drills to switch on the muscles, especially the stabilisers that control the movement – prior to loading.
c. Warm up sets. How do you do a warm up set of a walking lunge at less than or at 50% of your work set load when your bodyweight is your work set load? That is the challenge for you – because you need to precede these movements with a warm up.
7. LOST OPPORUNITY TO DO SOMETHING MORE APPROPRIATE. Now I am talking about lost opportunity. I believe (nothing new about this!) that time is your only truly limited resource, so use is wisely. I know a lot of things that would be far more effective use of your time than the walking lunge, especially in the warm up. Take for example strength – real stretching. I know, we are in an era in the worlds history where you have been conditioned (during the Decade of Deceit, 2000-2010) that stretching is bad, will make you weak, will cause you to injured, should only be done at the end of the workout, blah blah blah. I don’t ever want to be following what the masses do – how can I give athletes the performance advantage if I am doing what everyone else is doing?
Look at it this way. If you do it the way everyone else is doing it - all things being equal, how are you going to be better than everyone else? Realistically changes do occur (albeit slowly) in sport training - because someone dared to do it differently. These people gain the advantage, are at the cutting edge. The sheep follow. Which do you want to be?
-- King, I., 1997, Winning and Losing (book) And I also aim a genuine desire to have an injury free career and life for the athlete.
Conclusion So what does the future hold for you and the walking lunge? I have no doubt that sometime in the next 10-30 years there will be a mass shift away from this exercise, driven by a belated awareness of the damage is had caused. I have placed more concepts and theories in the market that I can remember that were unpopular at the time yet some years later became mass accepted. Typically, at the tipping point of acceptance, a ‘trend spotting author’ that relies on publishing to maintain market credibility and income, will with great fanfare ‘bring these concepts to the market’, with no reference to the pioneers. The mass acceptance of what I teach you now about the walking lunge will be great for the individuals whose training lives begin after this shift.
But what about the ones who have been doing this movement for years now, or will be doing this movement for the time between now and when the market perception shifts? They will pay the price.
Take advantage of what I have shared with you. It is just one of the many training theories and concepts I have formed and shared during the last 30+ years. However one idea that will give you longer and better quality life will be better than none!
So what will it take for you to benefit?
However for you to benefit from this wisdom you will need to possess a human trait that perhaps only 5% or less of the population do – you will need to be comfortable breaking the mould, going against the grain, declining these movements when others blindly follow. This will most likely determine whether you will benefit as of now from this wisdom I have shared. What will others think?
I know personally the stones that paradigm shifters get thrown. The irony is that those who mock you today will one day be doing what you are doing. One example of that is burned into my memory is one particular coach who was extremely scathing about my concepts – and then published them for the ensuing 10 years without a single reference. It wasn’t much fun to watch or be part of, but it was a great example of what those who get left behind are willing to do to appear as if they were at the forefront of ‘new ideas’ all along.
Resist the temptation in program design to conform to mainstream paradigms simply for the sake of conforming, no matter how dogmatically they are presented, or how much you may be ridiculed or ostracized for trusting your intuition over conformity. Make our own minds up based on a combination of respect for your intuition, the athlete/client’s intuition, the results, and in respect of the body of knowledge available.
-- King, I., 2005, The Way of the Physical Preparation Coach
I share the above for the same reason I train athletes –because I want to give them the best that I can to help them be the best they can be. As you can see I lack the motive of appeasing, impressing or endearing myself to my peers. I understand that my approach to training will always antagonise the emotionally immature, whose ego attachments are threatened by ideas or actions they do not do. In our coach education we attract those who seek to fulfil their po9tential, as opposed to those who seek to protect their ego. And as for the athletes – they are very happy to receive the best training guidance available in the world, giving them an injury free career and life, and placing them on the podium ore often than otherwise!
And now with the internet, if you are a non-athlete training, and have succeed to battle you way through the static on the ‘net and found these teaching that for the last few decades have been exclusively for a small elite and very fortunate group of elite athletes – that’s to your credit! Enjoy the rewards!