To reduce muscle imbalances, Cleveland Indians strength and conditioning coach Tim Maxey has made ground-based, single-leg strength training the cornerstone of his program. While others might have you on your back pushing machine weights, Maxey has you upright, with your feet on the groundthe way you run, throw and hit with power.
"Most athletes spend way too much time training the front side of their bodiesthe side they can see in the mirror," Maxey says. "As a result, imbalances often result from overusing exercises such as the Squat and Bench. In actuality, it's the muscles you can't see in the mirrorglutes, hamstrings, erectors, lats and scapular stabilizersthat make you a good athlete. These often neglected muscles have a significant impact on your performance."
To work these seldom-seen musclesyour "posterior chain" in S&C lingoMaxey has made the Lunge and variations thereof an integral part of the Tribe's training. "Your body functions as a total unit on the diamond, so we train it as a total unit in the weight room," he says. "That's why the Lunge is a major exercise in the program."
Muscle symmetry and a solid foundation are also crucial for optimal performance. So, Maxey supplements the Indians' workouts with secondary lower-body exercises. Overall, his program has built a team that has power at the plate and explosion in the field.
To get on their level, perform the following routine up to twice a week, with at least two days of rest between.
Stand with bar on back and feet slightly closer than shoulder width
Step forward and slightly toward midline of body
Lower into lunge position until back knee is about two inches from ground. Focus on getting both knees to 90 degrees
To return to start position, push back with front heel
Step forward with opposite foot and repeat
Dumbbell Variation: Same as above, but hold dumbbells at side. Use dumbbells lighter than 40-pounds, and do not swing them during movement.
Sets/Reps/Weight (Off Season): Weeks 1-2: 3x10 at 70%, Weeks 3-4: 4x6 at 78-81%, Weeks 5-6: 4x8 at 75%, Weeks 7-8: 4x5 at 80-82%
Form Matters: When you step forward, land on your whole foot, not the ball of your foot, to take pressure off your knee. To work the right muscles (glutes and hamstrings) and make the movement less quad-dominant, push back with your front heel. Use the back leg as your anchor; keep it planted and pushed back. Do not let the back knee touch the ground; lower it so it's two inches from the floor. Squeeze your shoulder blades together throughout the whole movement. And, since this is a strength-building exercise, not a power exercise, move slowly through the lunge. When you start going fast, momentum takes over, and the chance of injury increases. Finally, don't add external resistance until your technique is perfect.
Benefits: Because of the way you use your core and pelvis to balance, you get a lot of stabilization training from this exercise.
Maxey's Notes: Before we lunge in the off-season, we always perform a warm-up/movement prep and brief core session, which usually includes med ball throws and chops. This ensures that our hip flexors and core are warmed up and functioning in sync. If your lunges are dominated by your hip flexors, your hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings) won't be doing the work.
Stand with physioball between lower back and wall, holding dumbbells at sides
Assume stance just wider than shoulder width with toes slightly pointing out
Slowly push butt back and down to lower into squat position, keeping knees behind toes
When tops of thighs are parallel to floor, drive into start position
Advanced variation: Perform exercise on one leg
Sets/Reps: 3x12; gradually increase weight
Benefits: This trains double-leg hip, glute and hamstring strength at a slightly different angle than a standard squat. When you change the angle, you change the stress on the muscles.
Dumbbell Straight-Leg Deadlift
Hold dumbbells in front of thighs with slight flex in knees
Keeping back flat and shoulder blades together, bend forward at hips and slide dumbbells down thighs to shins
Driving hips back, lower dumbbells as far as possible without changing flex in knees or spine position
Move upward to start position through same motion; finish by squeezing glutes together
Sets/Reps: 3x10; gradually increase weight
Benefits: This strengthens your entire posterior chainglutes, hamstrings and erectors.
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