Mastering the Basic Fitness Moves - Part Two - Lunges
In part two of Mastering the Basics we are going to discuss another great lower body exercise; lunges. Lunges can be varied in so many ways to target so many lower body areas that if you are not doing them in your workout, you are doing yourself a great disservice.
Lunges are a lower body exercise that primarily works the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. As I said, there are a number of variations that can be performed and depending on the type performed these muscles will be worked to varying degrees and some secondary muscles including the hip adductors and abductors will contribute as stabilizers. Adding to their versatility, lunges can be performed with almost every piece of resistance equipment in the gym including dumbbells, barbells, elastic bands, and kettle bells.
When doing lunges for the first time with a novice client, I always start with static lunges. I also do not use weight initially as lunges require good balance and performing them with weight before you can master the core movement pattern can lead to people flinging dumbbells around as they struggle to stay upright.
Lunges can be performed statically or dynamically (AKA walking). A static lunge is one that is performed by stepping and then returning back to the starting position after each rep. Static lunges can be done forwards, backwards, or laterally (sideways). A walking lunge is one in which the person, rather than stepping back to the original starting position, propels themselves in the desired direction. Walking lunges can also be performed forwards, backwards, and laterally.
If this is the first time you are performing a lunge feel free to use a chair or some other stable surface to place your hand on. This will allow you to maintain balance and safety and also allow you to focus on the core movement pattern itself. To perform a static lunge you will start with your feet together. Take a LARGE step forward with one leg placing it firmly onto the ground. Poor step length is a common area where people mess up. Oftentimes the step is too short causing the knee to travel over the toes and placing too much stress on the patella which can be painful and possibly cause injury if performed like this consistently.
With the foot planted firmly, bend the front knee to lower the body to the ground. The back leg can be bent as you lower to the ground, but I instruct my clients to keep it as straight as possible in order to get a stretch on the hip flexor muscle group. Both head and chest should be as upright as possible though the entire movement; DO NOT allow your trunk to lean forward. This is another common mistake. The descent of the lunge should be controlled, do not go down so fast or so far that the back knee strikes the ground. This is dangerous and can cause injury.
After you have lowered yourself until the front thigh is parallel with the ground, push forcefully off of the front leg to propel yourself backward to the starting position. You can repeat another rep with the same leg, or you can alternate legs. I choose to have my clients alternate when performing the movement as it gives each leg a mini rest before it has to perform the next rep and allows more quality movements to be performed.
A backward lunge, in my opinion, is much easier to perform statically versus its forward counterpart. The upper body mechanics of the backward lunge remain the same, keeping the head and chest upright without leaning forward at the waist. Take a LARGE step backwards, large enough to ensure that the front knee remains behind the toes. In a backwards lunge as you step back, only the toes will make contact with the ground, after they do you will want to bend the front knee, again until the thigh is parallel with the ground. Once the front thigh reaches parallel you will use the front leg to force yourself forward and up to the starting position. Again you can perform one leg at a time, or alternate.
Lateral lunges are mechanically different from both the forward and backward variations. You still want to keep the head and chest as upright as you can, but there will be some bend at the waist as this will be needed to keep weight balanced and perform the movement correctly. Starting with the feet together you will begin with a LARGE side step landing with the foot placed firmly on the floor (Some people feel that you should turn the front foot out slightly as you step, however I feel that it is more effective for the intended targeted muscles to leave the from toes facing forwards). Once stable you are going to bend the forward knee and push your butt back, it will somewhat resemble a hybrid between a lunge and a squat, again keep the knee behind the toes on the working side. Once you have bent the knee so that the working side thigh is parallel to the ground, push off forcefully with the working side leg to return back to the starting position. As with the other two variations, you may do all on one leg first or alternate.
Walking lunges, no matter what direction they are performed in, are mechanically the same to begin with as their static counterparts. They only differ in that instead of returning to the starting position after each rep, you will propel yourself in the desired direction prior to the next rep. It is interesting to note that although forward lunges are more difficult statically, backward lunges are more difficult dynamically. Lateral lunges become increasingly difficult when performing the walking variation. When doing walking lunges you may need to take what I call a stopping step in between each rep, meaning that when you return to upright position you will place both feet on the floor to maintain balance. Once your balance in improved you can opt to perform one rep progressing directly into the next one without a stop step at full upright.
Lunges are so versatile and can be performed in so many different ways it would be impossible to write a fully comprehensive manual, but I did try to touch on the three most common variations. Lunges are a great way to build the quads and buttock muscles and to give the lower body a nice lean look. They also are effective at helping to normalize strength between legs if you have a noticeably weak side. Start easy with lunges and work your way up. Also be honest about whether or not you are ready to try more complex or weighted versions. Do not try to progress until you have mastered the basic movement pattern. Until next time. - Aaron