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Exercise Anatomy

Stepping In The Right Direction

To master the overhead lunge, you need to maintain midline stability and proper foot placement.

On the last afternoon of the 2014 CrossFit Games, individual athletes were tested with an inhuman WOD called “Midline March.” What made that workout cruel and unusual was that each round ended with a 50-foot overhead lunge (155-/115-pound bar). Those in attendance or watching on ESPN may have been shocked by how some of the world’s best athletes struggled to complete them. However, if you’ve ever trained overhead lunges, either with a bar, plate, kettlebell or dumbbell, you know how fatiguing they can be.

The reason this movement is so brutal is because it thrashes the quads, glutes, core, erector muscles, hip flexors, traps and deltoids while also calling into play kinesthetic awareness, balance and proprioception. That’s why the overhead lunge is deceiving and insidious — it looks relatively simple, but the exhaustion resulting from the work of all these muscles sneaks up on you and can quickly fry you to a crisp.

How can you avoid the fatigue associated with an overhead lunge? Good technique. What constitutes correct mechanics for the overhead lunge? Good question.


Form First

Before practicing an overhead lunge with weight, start out with a wooden dowel (or PVC pipe). Hold the dowel as you would in an overhead squat. If you can’t maintain the bar over and behind your head, you likely have a mobility deficit in your shoulders, ankles or both, so undertake a program to increase mobility in these joints before continuing with the overhead lunge. If you can maintain bar position, then walk through a few non-weighted reps using the technique outlined below. Make sure you can perform at least eight full repetitions with each leg using no resistance before holding weight overhead.

Technique Standards

Perform the overhead lunge (non-walking) as follows:

• Hold a plate, weighted bar, kettlebell or dumbbell overhead with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent.

• Maintain the weight in a position in the same vertical plane as the shoulder joint(s).

• With one leg, step forward into a deep lunge position.

• Extend at the knee and step back to the starting position.

Tips to Reduce Fatigue

Keep these directives in mind to master the overhead lunge:

• Don’t “short-step” your forward lunge. This creates two mechanical problems: It causes your knee to move well beyond your toes during the lunge, which increases shearing forces at the knee, and it causes your forward heel to come off the floor, reducing total force production in the ensuing knee extension. Instead, land with a flat foot so that your shin is perpendicular to the floor at the bottom of the lunge. (The heel of the non-lunging foot will come up.) If you’re having trouble stepping deeply enough, practice lunging backward and then descending. It’s much easier to gauge and attain the proper distance of the front foot when you’re moving backward.

• Perfect posture throughout the movement is critical to delaying fatigue. Maintain “midline stability” by keeping a tight core with your head level, eyes focused straight ahead, chest high and shoulders pulled back.

• Don’t bend your elbows or let the weight drop in any way during the movement. Remind yourself to “reach up” throughout the step forward, descent and return.

• Remember to keep your hips directly under the weight as you lunge. It’s easy to intuitively let the bar move before you do; avoid that at all costs because it can increase stress in your lower back.

• In a walking lunge, step forward with your back leg on the “return.” Focus on pushing off the ball of the back foot.

• Breathe out when lunging forward and in when returning to the starting position.

• Think of the overhead lunge as a movement to develop power. Maintain focus on loading the core, hips, knees and foot on the descent, and then exploding out of that position powerfully by driving your foot down “through the floor” in the return.