Lunges are a great exercise that you can do in the gym, or anywhere, as they require little or no equipment. They work all the leg muscles, including your thighs, gluteus, hamstrings and core. Not only are lunges one of the best exercises for toned legs and a perky butt, but they also are back-friendly. Strong quads make you much less likely to hurt your ankles or knees running for a tennis shot, trail running or in yoga class. Learning how to do them properly can help you move better and enhance movement competence.
The lunge is thought of as one of the primary patterns of movement, or an essential building block of many more complex movement sequences. If you find yourself struggling to control the range, stability and timing of a standing lunge, which is a fundamental movement, you might have issues in the real world, be it tennis, stairways, yoga or soccer. The skill you develop doing lunges isn’t just that you are doing an “exercise,” but rather that you are training movement. These are the patterns the body creates in everyday life and sport. (Don’t worry, if your knees can’t tolerate lunges, there are other terrific quad-building exercises better suited for you.)
It’s always important to learn proper technique, and the standing lunge has constants. Stay tall, and keep your knee over the second toe. But that thought has its nuances. Standing poses in yoga, like Warrior One (think of a fencer), involve a minor tweak. In this lunge, the front knee actually moves toward the baby toe, and the front foot position has the leg bent to a right angle.
At the same time, you need the front heel to be pushing down, and the ankle to lift and stabilize. Simultaneously, the back outer heel has to be pushing down to work with the same intensity as the front foot. Then you have the whole trunk lifting up to extend your spine. That’s a whole lot of precision to master.
The same holds true in the standing lunge, in that both legs have work to do. Good form is keeping the knee over the second toe, as it is easier on the knee. But a 2010 study challenged this notion by taking students through long-step lunges and short-step lunges while recording knee forces. The researchers found insignificant ACL tension in the short lunge where the knee goes past the toes. They also noted greater posterior ligament forces in the long-stride lunge, where the knee stays behind the toes.
The real world of sports, however, is more than nuances, as an athlete will do whatever it takes, really, to get the job done. An athlete, though, has put in tremendous hours of the fundamentals of training. A solid foundation of a lunge is a good first step. Go to vimeo.com/278250820.
Here’s what a good lunge looks like:
Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart and pointed straight forward. Lift your chest, and retract shoulders slightly. This simultaneously improves posture and activates the core muscles.
Take an exaggerated step out, landing softly on your heel.
Lower under control until the back knee is just above the ground, but not touching.
Keep the core tight, and drive back off the heel to the starting point.
Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.