One of the most overlooked, underutilized primal movement patterns from many workout routines is the lunge. It is mistakenly considered by most to be an easier, less effective alternative to the squat.
Similar to the squat, the lunge works the prime muscles of the lower limbs: the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, hips, calves; and develops core stability. The lunge actually involves a greater range of motion for the glutes and hamstrings, supporting their development.
Not to forget it is very metabolically demanding – meaning it burns lots of calories!
The squat variation most commonly used by gym-goers (high-bar squat) is performed with feet in line about shoulder width apart with feet facing forward. This is understandable due to the many benefits it carries such as developing overall leg musculature, strength and power.
Many of the fundamental functional movements we perform in our everyday lives – climbing stairs, walking, running and jumping - involve our feet being in a unilateral, staggered stance. Our feet are rarely in a position that replicates the position of the traditional squat or leg press during physical activities.
Neglecting a movement pattern like the lunge which develops our ability to move dynamically one leg at a time means the benefits gained from that exercise program is unlikely to be optimal, especially for injury prevention.
Stability & Balance
Many people have difficulties with exercises that require a lot of balance to perform, sometimes shying away from doing them completely.
Learning to be aware and in control of your body’s position in space is of great importance for fall prevention, movement efficiency and injury reduction.
The split position required for the lunge has been shown to have a significant influence for many athletes, rehabilitation patients and seniors in promoting stability, body awareness and efficiency of movement.
As the lunge is performed one leg at a time, it also has the benefit of detecting your muscular imbalances. Lunging requires you to co-ordinate the muscles of your lower limbs including the hip adductors (inner thigh) and abductors (outer thigh) which provide you with important assistance and stability. These muscles are often forgotten by gym-goers, probably because they are quite small and not very noticeable. Yet they are imperative to hip stability, overall leg development and athletic performance.
Due to the mental and physical demand of this split position exercise, those who utilize it in their workouts should improve their stability throughout the lower body and torso.
Another advantage of the lunge is that it promotes groin and hip flexibility. The large range of motion that is required from the lunge can help improve the flexibility of the ankle, knee and hip joints.
Lunges can also be employed as dynamic stretching movements for the hip flexors. Individuals who have had groin or hip flexor problems, or lower back issues, will find the lunge a very beneficial exercise.
Before taking on lunge variations such as reverse lunges, lateral lunges or walking lunges (with or without load); learning how to correctly perform the unloaded static front lunge is essential. Improper form while conducting this exercise could be detrimental to your progress and may even result in injury.
Position yourself in an upright posture, feet hip width apart, standing tall while engaging your core muscles.
1. Take an exaggerated step forward, landing softly on your leading foot’s heel with both feet facing forward.
2. Placing your weight on your lead legs heel and maintain tension in your hamstring as you bend your knees to dip into a lunge.
3. Lower your back knee under control to a point where it is 1 to 2 inches off the ground.
4. Your front knee and hip should be at a 90 degree angle.
5. Whilst maintaining a solid upright core, drive off the lead legs heel back to the starting position.
Key points to remember:
- Do not lean forward. Stand up tall and try to keep your chest up.
- Do not allow your front knee to move past your toes. Keeping your knee in line with your ankle
- Try to avoid any inward or outward rotation of the knee.
- Keep a neutral hip position. Avoid any anterior or posterior tilt.
The lunge is one of the most essential movement patterns preceding most sports skills. It’s a single leg progression exercise with multiple variations that you can progress and overload to help improve your movement proficiency across multiple planes of motion.
With so many reasons to have lunging variations in your workouts, it should be a staple lower body exercise in your workout routine.