By Stephen E. Alway, PhD, FACSM
Besides being born with the best genes possible, how can you jump higher, climb better or run faster? Perhaps such goals might be only to get to the ball in a pick-up game of basketball, or maybe you need to run faster if only for a few strides to get to a softball bounding in the infield or a basketball burning up the court. Maybe, this last winter season of skiing or snow boarding was disappointing for you because your thighs were always fatiguing and letting you down on the long runs. If any of these apply to you, then it is time to inject some serious training energy into you hip and thigh musculature and to power up these pistons of your lower body. With lunges, you will be surprised how quickly you will begin to show improvement in muscle power and general body balance, and this will give you a nice edge on any court, hill or field.
The hip structure and the muscles that surround this area provide the base of your lower body power and drive. Part of the spring upwards in an attempt to dunk a basketball requires that the hip and knee extensors are strong and powerful springs. The lunge exercise strongly activates and imparts explosive power to the gluteal muscles, the hamstring muscles of the posterior thigh and the quadriceps muscles of the anterior thigh. It is therefore ideal for providing a base for your improvement on the court, or in the field. Of course, it has the added benefit of tightening your thighs and gluteals for the pool scene this summer.
There are three sets of gluteal muscles. The gluteus maximus is the largest and thickest hip muscle and it contains the strongest and largest muscle fibers in the body. The upper attachment of the gluteus maximus is on the hipbones and the lower attachment is on the posterior side of the femur bone of the thigh below the hip joint. This strong muscle pulls the thigh posteriorly (backwards) in an action described as thigh or hip extension.
Three hamstring muscles sit on the posterior side of the thigh. The biceps femoris has a long and a short head. The long head begins on the posterior part of the ischial bone of the hip. You literally sit on these bones when you are in a chair. The short head of the biceps femoris begins along the lateral side of femur bone of the thigh. Both heads of the biceps femoris come together to attach to a single tendon that connects to the small lateral bone of the lower leg called the fibula.