This week’s post is about why you need to lunge correctly and more often. The lunge is one of my favorite movements. I love the lunge because it is a strength building exercise that exposes weakness: weakness in a single leg or weakness in a position in the lunge. The lunge forces the athlete to develop a keen spatial awareness in order to maintain balance throughout the movement and perform it identically on both sides. Lunging correctly and regularly in training will strength major muscle groups such as the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Lunging will increase your knee and hip stability while fine tuning muscle mechanics for any movement that involves a split stance.
The first mistake I see is that people don’t lunge enough in their training. When looking to strengthen glutes, hamstrings, and quads, people prefer the squat or deadlift. Sure, the squat or deadlift might be sexier lifts because they allow you to throw a ton of weight on the bar and move that weight aggressively. Lunges are more subtle; you must use less weight, especially in the beginning when mastering the movement. Like I said earlier, the lunge exposes unilateral weakness that the squat or deadlift will mask. Lunges may not be as sexy as the powerlifts, but when performed proficiently, they are way more impressive in my opinion and can allow you to move moderately heavy loads across distances (think barbell walking lunges).
The second mistake I see is that people lunge incorrectly. Three major errors when lunging are the short lunge, the torqued lunge, and the “funky knee” lunge. The short lunge occurs when the athlete doesn’t step far enough with the front foot and the knee reaches far past the ankle. Doing this results in ITBS (iliotibial tract band syndrome) which forces the TFL and IT band to bear the weight of the movement, leaving out the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. The torqued lunge occurs when the athlete steps too far forward with the front foot, causing the pelvis to torque in order to achieve the movement. Doing this results in a tugging sensation on the hamstrings in a way that shortens them instead of lengthens and strengthens them. Torquing is dangerous, especially when the movement is loaded with weight as it creates an unstable position to push off from at the bottom. Lastly, we have the “funky knee” lunge. You’ve probably heard me refer to a valgus knee. A valgus knee occurs when the patella moves medially toward the body and pulls the femur head inward so it no longer stacks directly above the talus bone in the foot. As the knee pulls inward the pelvis will posteriorly tuck (if you read my last blog post, you know there is no luck with the tuck!).
As with every learned habit, we can unlearn it. It takes awareness, commitment, and patience. Let’s review how to lunge correctly so that we can put our increased awareness into good use:
- Stand upright with feet directly placed under hips.
- Choose a starting leg and either step that leg forward or behind depending on direction of the lunge.
- When the foot reaches the ground, keep the toes and ankle in line with the knee and hips (no warrior stance or gymnast lunge with the back leg and no toe-in/toe-out stance with the front leg)
- Whichever direction you’ve stepped in, your front shin MUST be vertical (perpendicular to the ground)
- With your front shin vertical, actively press your knee onto your ankle and your ankle onto the ground and lower your back knee to the floor (knee should tap the floor lightly without losing tension in the legs)
- Keeping your torso upright, you are in a 90/90 position: both your front and back legs are creating a 90 degree angle behind your knees
- To stand, continue driving your knee onto your ankle and ankle onto the ground as you activate your inner thighs and press yourself upward (think scissoring motion to avoid any external rotation or torquing)
To really drive in the 90/90 position, practice the 90/90 lunge. The 90/90 lunge allows the athlete to feel a harmonious action take place between the hamstrings and quads. You want these muscles to be working synergistically to flex and extend the legs. By keeping the feet in place, you can focus more on the front knee, making sure it tracks outward slightly to avoid any pulling inward which most people are naturally more predisposed to do.
To 90/90 lunge:
Step forward or backward into a lunge stance, keep your feet in place and lower down to the 90/90 position. Hold for 2-5 seconds in this position and then press upward. Lower back down again without changing your stance. Practice (X amounts of sets and reps per side). Practicing this will allow you to figure out the proper footing and distance that you need between your feet to create the 90/90 position. When you go to lunge for strength sets, your body will know how far forward or backward to place that foot in order to achieve the proper angles.
As you master the 90/90 lunge, start to add lunge variations to your training: the curtsy lunge, the lateral lunge, the short-stance, the jumping lunge, the weighted lunge, the overhead lunge. There are so many variations and ways to challenge yourself. Do not get comfortable lunging only one way. Explore different variations and planes of movement. Diversify your training and don’t be afraid to expose weakness. By exposing weakness we increase awareness and become more capable and prepared for whatever life throws our way.
Thanks for reading! Check out my videos for demos and tips!