The lunge is a staple lower-body movement, which directly maps to running, kicking, jumping and even walking. Not only does this foundational movement build a better backside, but the strength, mobility and mechanics developed during this indispensable group of exercises carries over into every aspect of life.
THREE THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHILE TRAINING THE LUNGE
- Establish a proper stance. The foot placement for lunges can be tricky and confusing for many. To lock it in, begin in a half-kneeling position on the floor. Each knee should be bent to 90 degrees and there should be about 6–12 inches of lateral distance between your feet. Come to a stand, then lower back down to the same position, with the back knee hovering about 2 inches above the ground. This is the ideal position — now it’s time to lunge!
- Scissor your feet. A common fault in lunging is a lack of glute and hamstring engagement. This can lead to collapsing the front knee and less stability throughout the movement. When pressing up from the ground, imagine trying to pull your front heel and back toe toward one another, or “scissor” your feet together. This increased glute activation enables you to move better and load more weight.
- Move like an elevator, not an escalator. When lunging, lower your body straight down and back up, similar to the movement of an elevator, rather than tracking forward and backward like an escalator. Remembering to bend the back knee down toward the floor helps this smooth up and down movement.
Perform 2 sets of 10 reps of each exercise on each side, with a 30 second–1 minute rest between sets
TRX STEP BACK LUNGES
The TRX Suspension Trainer allows you to perfect your lunge range of motion and alignment by unloading your body weight. For beginners, this is a perfect teaching tool, and for pros, it’s a great way to warm up and gain mobility before adding a load.
The Move: Adjust your TRX Suspension trainer to mid-length. Stand facing the anchor point with your hands out in front of you and elbows slightly bent. Begin in your split-lunge stance (feel free to start at the 90/90 position on the ground first to establish foot placement) and bend your back knee to about 2 inches above the floor. Keeping an upright posture, drive your back leg up and in front of your body, and repeat for the prescribed number of reps. Begin again on the other side.
By staying stationary and in one plane of movement, the split squat is the next ideal progression of the lunge. If you feel ready, add dumbbells to this exercise.
The Move: Begin in a split stance with about a foot of space laterally between your left and right foot and maintain a strong, solid posture. Bend both knees to 90 degrees, engage the glutes, and press up off of the floor.
Now we move from stationary to mobile lunges. Care should be taken to ensure proper foot placement and upper-body stability.
The Move: Step your right foot forward, landing in the same lunge position from the previous exercise. Lower your back knee down to about 2 inches off of the ground, stand up straight and strong, then step the left foot forward, repeating on the other side. Avoid “walking on a balance beam” and remember to lower your body straight up and down like an elevator when lunging. Dumbbells can be added to increase the load and challenge.
Moving your lunges to the side challenges the muscles differently, creating a greater load on some of the smaller muscles of the hip.
The Move: Begin with your feet together and standing upright. Step wider than hip-width apart with your right leg, keeping the toes of your right foot pointed forward as you land. Upon contact with the floor, bend at the knee and sink your right hip down and back. Press back to the starting position. After the prescribed number of reps, repeat on the other side. Dumbbells can be added to this to increase the intensity and load, if desired.
Stepping fits into the lunge movement category perfectly. Step-ups make the movements even more unilateral (single-side focus) while also incorporating balance and the ability to modify or challenge easily by varying height.
The Move: Select a box, bench or step (anything that is safe!) that is about knee height. Grasp a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang straight by your sides. Plant your right foot flat and firm on the box with your toes pointing directly forward. Squeezing from the glutes on the right side, keep the right knee tracking directly over your middle toes, and press to a stand. Hold the balance on top of the step for a moment, then slowly return to the starting position. After the prescribed number of reps, repeat on the other side.
FORWARD LUNGE WITH ROTATION
Adding a bit of rotation to your lunges helps improve hip stability, core engagement, and strengthen some of the smaller lateral hip muscles.
The Move: Step forward with your right leg and lower both knees to 90 degrees. In this position, the back knee should be about 2 inches off of the floor. Brace your core and hips, extend your arms in front and rotate toward the right. Return and step back to the starting position. Repeat on the left side. Hold a lighter dumbbell to increase load and intensity.
Another lunge variation with rotation, the curtsey lunge forces the lower body to rotate while the upper body stays stable.
The Move: Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms or dumbbells hanging by your sides. Step one leg behind and beyond the other and bend both knees. When your front thigh is almost parallel to the floor, return to the beginning posture.
By adding speed and explosiveness to your lunges, you dramatically increase the challenge and intensity. Watch to ensure your knees are still tracking forward over your middle toes and your body is tall and proud during this advanced movement.
The Move: Begin in a lunge position with your right leg in front. Squeeze your glutes, keep your front knee aligned over your middle toes, drive your arms upward, jump and switch, landing with your left leg in front.
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