EXERCISE IS ONE OF THE BEST PREVENTATIVE MEDICINES a person can do for themselves on a daily basis. Not only can it be cost effective (usually free) but also doesn’t require any equipment or specific training expertise.
Today’s article focuses on one of my favorite leg exercises,
They are versatile and all encompassing when it comes to building fabulous and sexy strong legs. I’ll be covering the following topics with many videos to help guide you:
- Proper technique
- Common mistakes
- Variations to the exercise
- Using weights
- Advanced variations
- How to build them into your exercise
Benefits — Lunges work many large muscle groups, including:
- Quadricepts (rectus femoris, vastus intermedius, vastus lateralis and vastus medialis)
- Gluteus maximus (aka your booty)
- Hamstrings (biceps femoris, semimembranosus and semitendinosus)
- Back (erector spinae and latissiumus dorsi)
- Core (rectus abdominus, transversus, obliques, low back stabilizers, gluteal muscles, etc)
These muscles are necessary any time you climb stairs or hike up a steep hill.
Proper Technique — basic static lunge
- Begin with a shoulder width stance whereby both knees create a 90˚ angles at the bottom of the lunge and maintain that position with each repetition before switching legs
- Straight back, lifting chest, eyes forward
- Front knee following over your 2nd toe
- Shoulders down and core activated (find out how to activate your core)
- Forward-facing feet, hips and shoulders
- Weight distributed evenly between the front heel (and toes) and back toe pressing into the floor with the back heel off the ground
- Back knee lightly touching the ground at the bottom of the lunge
- The front knee can’t fall in front of your toes
— if you are falling into your lunge while letting your front heels rock off the floor and the back knee collapse onto the ground, then YES, this could be dangerous. For most people, a controlled lunge with the front knee just beyond the toes is ideal for strengthening the quadriceps.
- Front heel can’t come off the ground
— Along the same lines as the previous myth, if you are doing your lunge with control, lifting your front heel off the ground is a great variation to the exercise that really challenges your quadriceps.
- Lunging is bad for the knees
— If you have a physical deformity or limitation in your knees then lunging may be bad. If you have sore knees and it isn’t a structural issue, lunges may be exactly what you need. The quadriceps muscle is attached to the patellar tendon and is responsible for controlling the movement of the knees during flexion. If a knee is wobbly or misaligned, you may be causing repetitive stress and injury. Strengthening the quads will allow better control, more strength and less repetitive damage.
Common Mistakes — These are the ones that happen the most. Having a personal trainer evaluate your form is always a good idea.
- Wobbly or misaligned knees
- Rounding back (especially upper)
- Chest leaning forward
- Using the hands on the knees to get up from the bottom of the lunge
- Unstable, tight quadriceps or twisting hips that cause misaligned lunge on the left and right sides
- Too wide or too narrow distance of feet
- Front heel unintentionally lifting off the ground
- Lack of control and falling into the bottom of the lunge
- Not going low enough to get the full benefits of the lunge
- Using too much weight with poor form
Variations of the Basic Lunge — It’s always a good idea to try different variations to your lunge stance, weights and movement patterns so that you continue to challenge yourself and avoid boredom.
1. Feet distance – Start with a lunge position that allows both knees to reach a 90˚ angle at the bottom of the lunge. You can then widen the distance between your feet to challenge your hip flexors, quadriceps and core.
2. Weight distribution — In a static lunge, the stance is maintained with each repetitions (ie. the same foot forward) and the weight is evenly distributed between both legs. In alternating or walking lunges, the weight will change on the ascending and descending phases of the lunge depending on which direction you are moving (ie. forwards, backwards, side ways, or even crossing over in a curtsy lunge). The added movement will further challenge the supporting leg and the associated muscles.
3. Elevated surfaces — Raising your front or back leg in what is called a “split squat” are great for challenging the muscles and your flexibility. Increasing the length of the muscle under tension will make the lunge a completely different exercise.
4. Unstable surfaces — It’s fun to challenge yourself with lunges on a wobble board, bosu ball or TRX suspension trainer with either the back or front foot up (but not both feet). These should only be done with body weight or very light weights to engage your core and stabilizing muscles.
Variations with weight — I’ll only talk briefly on this topic
1. Dumbbell lunge — holding 2 dumbbells by your sides is a typical dumbbell lunge. Make sure your chest is lifting since the weights can cause your shoulders to rotate forward and round your upper back
2. Barbell lunge — this is the best way to lunge with heavy weights. Have the barbell sit behind your neck on the tops of your shoulders with your back straight. Start off light especially with walking or alternating lunges as the weight will increase your momentum and can cause you to easily lose your balance if you core is not engaged properly.
Advanced Lunge — There are infinite variations. These are some of my favorites.
1. Stepping lunge — Scott Herman
2. Goblet lunge with kettlebell — Neghar Fonooni
3. Double rack kettlebell lunge — Neghar Fonooni
4. Dumbbell curtsy lunge (great for working the butt) — Fitastic
5. Jumping lung variations — Neghar Fonooni
6. Walking lunges — Jen Sinkler
7. Deficit reverse lunge — Bret Contreras
8. Reverse Lunge from deficit with barbell — Nick Tuminello
9. 3D lunge (forward, side, reverse) — Nick Tuminello
10. Fighter lunge — Nick Tuminello
11. TRX suspension lunge — Jen Sinkler
Numbers Game — Building your lunge variation into your exercise routine depends on which type of lunge you do. Generally you are either doing:
- High rep and Low weight
— These are either body weight, light weight, or plyometric movements that can be worked into a routine as ‘active rest’ for 10-20 repetitions or a time duration (ie. 30 seconds)
— High repetition as a metabolic activator of fast twitch muscle fiber
— Form is not as critical to safety, but still important due to the high repetitions
- Low rep and High weight
— High weight in repetitions of 3-10 and sets of 3-6 with an adequate amount of rest
— Strengthens slow twitch muscle fibers to build and tone quads and glutes
— Form is absolutely critical due to the heavy weights that could cause serious injury