For Dr. Brian Hickey, PhD and an assistant professor in exercise science at Florida A&M, the spring and summer time allow him to continue what has been a unique brand of field testing he’s had at his disposal for years: duathlon racing. In fact, Hickey has a sparkling career in run-bike-run: He qualified for the U.S. National team each year from 2005 to 2008, and competed at Duathlon Worlds in each of those years.  A Masters track and field athlete with comparable achievements, Hickey races both track and du throughout the season.

One thing that distinguishes Hickey’s career is simply how long he’s been racing. A high school and college runner, he continues to maintain a heavy event schedule, and even participate in explosive-power track events like the triple jump. He has managed to reduce the wear-and-tear of a long career through application of concepts he refers to as “integrating the planes of the body.”

Paramount to Hickey’s approach is the inclusion of The Lunge Matrix routine. The “3D” Lunge Matrix routine moves through all three planes of movement—frontal, sagittal and transverse. Hickey uses it to warm up for track workouts, but his reasons for using the Lunge Matrix go deeper than just getting the blood flowing.

“It’s about actively integrating the three planes,” Hickey says. He points to research at Stanford that has suggested integrating the planes of movement—and purposefully breaking out of the more linear front-to-back plane that claims so much time in a multisport athlete’s life—can reduce risk of injury.

Part of the mechanism, says Hickey, is the sharpening of proprioception—information transmitted by proprioceptors in the skeletal muscle and joints that communicates information on position and movement to the brain. As Logan Schwartz, FAFS, wrote in an article for The Gray Institute, “The neuromusculoskeletal system is our vehicle for movement; therefore strength training and all training must integrate all three [muscular, skeletal and nervous systems] simultaneously. The most important system to be trained may in fact be the nervous system, especially the proprioceptors in order to develop functional strength that can be taken advantage of during human movement.”

Hickey explains that an increase in proprioception can “increase the body’s ability to respond to the abnormalities in running.” For example, the triathlete with better-tuned proprioceptors is going to be able to react in a way where he or she won’t yank a hamstring when accidentally stepping into a pothole.

Or reduce the degree of an ankle sprain, Hickey says. “A few millimeters makes the difference between a bad sprain and a minor sprain.”

In the case of a severe sprain, the necessary information to deliver an adjustment was not processed. “The nervous system didn’t send that message.”

Performing the lunge matrix before each run, or before track workouts, is a good time to develop these intricate channels and the flow therein, Hickey says.

“Integrating the planes of the body in your warm-up movements adds a dose of training in the brain gym,” he says. “You cross that midline and work on your integration of the right and left halves of the brain, and you become a more complete athlete.”

One of the leading advocates for the Lunge Matrix on the running world is Coach Jay Johnson, in Boulder, Colo. A former University of Colorado coach, he is now the director of Boulder Running Camps and a contributor to Running Times Magazine. For an instructional video showing how to perform the Lunge Matrix click here.

T.J. Murphy is a frequent contributor to Lava Magazine and author of Inside the Box.