It's good to train for strength and size
but unless you're planning on someday setting foot on the Olympia stage, simply training for appearances can be a very limiting pursuit. Even bodybuilders will tell you that they're not as strong as they look and that they're definitely not (in general) as athletic as they can be. Building your muscles
in a way that adds "go" to your "show" can boost athleticism
and increase overall health
and mobility -- while still keeping your physique fitter-looking than the next guy.
"There are definitely ways to use solid lifting practices in the gym to blow your performance on the field through the roof," says Taylor Simon, MSc, BA, CSCS, co-director of Taylored Fitness in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.
In this three-part series, we'll dive into the particulars of three of the most valuable moves that have sport carryover. Today, the split lunge.
"This is basically a ramped up version of a lunge," says Simon. "Somewhere, lunges fell out of fashion for most hardcore lifters and I have no idea why. They are a fantastic lower body exercise that places huge demands on balance and coordination while still blasting the glutes with heavy weights."
This move is crucial for several functions in sport. "Sport happens on one leg. Almost all cutting, acceleration, deceleration, and jumping movements occur on one leg, so you should be training on one leg as well."
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Execution. "The split squat is a barbell lunge but instead of having your back foot firmly on the ground you are going to put your back foot up on a bench that is roughly knee-to-mid-thigh height. Your feet should be shoulder width apart, not in line, and your front leg and glute is doing all the work. Try to keep the front knee roughly over your mid-foot and lunge down until your thigh is parallel to the floor."
Tips. Start with a weight that allows you to safely get yourself into the start position and that you have a rack to set the bar in nearby or a training partner to take the weight when your set expires. Lower yourself slowly into the start position and "explode" upwards, squeezing for a count at the top of the movement. Keep your core tight throughout to protect your lower back from injury.
Prescription. "Use enough weight to hit failure around the 6-8-rep mark. When we are looking at improving sport performance the focus is going to be on strength development, not hypertrophy." If you are new to the split lunge, try 3-5 sets of 6-8 reps on each leg as the first or second move in your leg routine -- when you're fresh and you can focus on balance and coordination -- or on a day dedicated specifically to sport performance.
Bonus. This move isn't strictly performance-driven. The split lunge allows you to place a tremendous overload on the glute-ham tie-in, which is typically a trouble area for competitive bodybuilders. And one study showed that the lunge, which closely mimics the split lunge, actually built more strength in the hamstrings than in the quads of trained athletes.