A couple weeks ago I blogged about the squat, an exercise I believe everyone must do in order to move well and perform daily activities. Today, I’m going to nudge you toward a second exercise – the lunge. Lunges are almost as important as the squat – IMO – because you use movements similar to the lunge every day. Think of all the times you’re on one foot instead of two (like the squat); walking, going up and down stairs, hiking, running, playing sports, etc… Training the body to support itself with the legs split and to stabilize on one leg is essential if you’re to live a life that is at all physically active. The lunge also does a GREAT job of strengthening and toning the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. You would be OK with tighter tush, right?
Like with any exercise it IS very important to perform any variation of the lunge at a level that you can consistently execute well. Performing walking lunges while your body is wobbling all over the place is not a good idea. You should be challenged, but you should also feel strong and stable. Many trainers and fitness “experts” go overboard with how technical they make the lunge out to be. If had a nickel for every time I’ve heard “Don’t let your knee go past your toes!”, I’d be rich (not really, but you get the point). Imagine a game of tennis… Can you see all the lunges you would perform while reaching to hit the ball? It’s a lot! And how many of them would have your knee past your toes or even the entire body in a unique position that you wouldn’t normally see someone replicating in the gym? A lot of them!! Athletic activities are NOT performed by well by people who move like mummies! Don’t train like a mummy…train for what demands you will experience in your activities and daily living.
You should perform the lunge (and any exercise) at a level that enables you to perform the movement well (strong & stable); minimizing the risk of injury. Here are a few versions for you to chose from, some easier than “primal standard” – stepping out into a lunge and returning to the starting position – and some more difficult in order to challenge you as you advance:
Easiest: position the handles of our Free Motion adjustable cable column to their highest position, straight in front of you as you look at the machine. The handles should be a little more than shoulder width apart from each other. Grab the handles and let your arms remain straightened above your head. Get into a lunge (or split squat position). In a controlled manner, lower yourself to the floor and return upward just before your knee touches the floor. Do a few reps in this position, and then swap leg positioning. The great thing about this version of the lunge is that you can add weight to the weight stack in order to make the exercise easier. The more weight you place on the weight stack, the more weight there is pulling you up. This is a must for anyone who has a hard time with the lunge because of their bodyweight as compared to their strength level. The Smith machine can also be used to perform the lunge in a very regressed manner. But I hate the Smith machine so I’m not even going to mention that version. I’m not going to spend one sentence promoting that piece of junk…or did I just do that???
The next two versions involve holding onto dowel rods. Again, assume a lunge or split squat position, but this time hold onto a dowel rod in each hand so that they are in contact with the ground. Lower and yourself and raise back up just like you would in the prior version. Using one dowel rod (opposite of the forward leg) will make the lunge a little less stable. Once you’re good with this, you’re ready for the next step…literally. The “lunge” requires you to start in a normal, standing position with your feet parallel to each other, and to take a step forward before returning to the starting position, all in one fluid motion. With this version (as with all others) part of what will determine whether you’re performing the lunge correctly is if your legs are stabilized well. You shouldn’t see your knees moving laterally hardly at all, if any. Technically, the center of your knee cap should move inline with your second toe.
Once you’ve mastered primal standard with your body weight you can either challenge yourself by adding weight (i.e., holding onto dumbbells) or challenging your stability. One rung up from the primal standard forward lunge is to perform one step after another, continually moving forward instead of pushing yourself back to the starting position after each step. This is called the “walking lunge”. Lunging backward is also more challenging. If you’re really stable with these versions you can try the “jumping lunge”. With this version you’ll aim to spring off the floor with each ascent. You can stay in the split squat position with the same leg forward for a few reps before switching, or you can switch legs while in the air. Sounds cool, right?! Lastly, if you really want a challenge, perform the lunge without a step (split squat position), but place a wobble board under your front foot. If you ever get to where you’re able to do this 10 times on each leg without the edge of the wobble board ever contacting the floor…I want to hear from you so I can tell you how awesome you are!