Lunges are a staple exercise for strengthening the leg muscles as well as the hip, knee, and ankle joints. To review, let’s start with exploring what the hip, knee, and ankle joints do. The ankle joint is a mobile joint. The knee joint is a stable joint. The hip joint is a mobile joint. Mobile joints create movement through space. Stable joints resist or control movement through space. These principles will apply to proper form in the lunge.
Before you begin lunging, it is paramount that form is correct. If form is incorrect, lunges can do more harm than good. Progressions are a great way to check your form and progress safely and effectively.
Stationary lunge stance (no lunge) – Tests mobility and stability of the lower extremities in preparation for movement. For those that do not have adequate strength to do a proper lunge, we start them here. This allows their brain to recognize the lunge pattern in a way that it understands. From here you can add a variety of compound movements like lateral raises, front raises, curls, presses, all of which will challenge your balance and core strength. As you move weights through space in a lunge stance, your center of gravity changes, and your core, leg, and torso muscles will activate to adapt.
Stationary lunge – Lunging but in one place. Start by taking a step forward as if you were stepping over a puddle of water. Keep your chip up, chest proud, abs engaged, and lift your back heel so you are on the ball of your foot. Check to make sure that your ankles are in line with the hips. (If you want to make the lunge easier – widen the stance. Harder – skinnier stance). Also check that your ankle, knee, and hip joints are all in line with each other and pointed forward. No duck feet or pigeon feet (toes in vs. toes out).
Next, simply drop your back knee keeping pressure in your front heel. Gradually increase the range of motion, ultimately getting your front thigh parallel to the ground. As you come up, push through your front heel activating your glutes and hamstrings. As you come up, try to straighten your front leg, but without fully locking out the knee. The knee joint and its associate structures (ligaments, menisci) are most vulnerable in a fully or overextended position.
Once you have mastered the burn of the stationary lunge and basic technique, you can progress to walking lunges. The key with walking lunges is to keep your form principles in tact. It is best to perform these with a coach, training partner, or mirrors to visually check your form. Often times what you think your body is doing is very different from what it is actually doing.
These are the most common faults we see with walking lunges:
- Front knee overly bent and extended beyond the toes. (Knee cap, patella tracking)
- Excess front toe pressure instead of heel pressure. (Knee cap, patella tracking)
- Forward chest posture (Deactivates abs)
- Chin tucked in instead of up. (Deactivates lower abs)
- Leading knee buckled inwards (ACL, MCL, Medial Meniscus problems)
- Improper alignment of ankle, knee, and hip joints. (Knee cap, patella tracking)
- Rotation of the pelvis (must be square).
Variations of lunges:
- Reverse lunges
- Split lunges (bulgarian split squats)
- Jumping lunges (power, speed, fast twitch)
- Curtsy lunges
- Side Lunges