Lunges are often a despised part of a training program and rightly so because they are difficult to master and can cause considerable soreness. You will see them performed stationary, dyamically, one legged, alternating legs, with weight, with dumbells, with barbells, jumping, on a box, the list goes on. One thing is for sure: lunges are a tough exercise. They are tough for experienced trainers, let alone beginners. Some of the reasons that lunges can be so demanding include:
- they are a body weight exercise and are very difficult for overweight people
- they require a large amount of co-ordination and balance
- they work the hamstring and gluteals in a lengthened position which causes a high amount of muscular damage and subsequent DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)
- poor control of your pelvis and lower back can precipitate injury
- they work a large amount of muscles in a short period of time placing high demands on your heart to deliver oxygenated blood and return de-oxydenated blood rapidly.
- Your heart rate and blood pressure will increase due to the previous demand for oxygen.
With such a complicated exercise, it is important to take it slowly and develop proper technique before increasing the difficulty of the exercise. Here are my top tips for performing lunges safely and effectively:
- Start simple: start with squats. If you can’t squat safely, don’t lunge. When you do start lunging start with stationary lunges and build to step back lunges and then to walking lunges etc.
- Technique comes first: work on your technique with the simpler exercises.
- Keep your torso upright throughout the movement: don’t len forward, don’t lean back. Easier said than done.
- Keep your pelvis neutral: Imagine your pelvis is an upright bucket of water whilst you are standing. As you lower into the lunge, you don’t want the bucket to spill so keep your pelvis in the same position.
- Find 90° at the bottom of your movement: At the bottom of the movement your bent joints should all be at 90° or close to it. Your front hip, your front knee, your front ankle, your rear knee and your rear ankle.
- For athletic development incorporate your arms: You don’t walk or run with your arms still make sure your alternate arm is forward with your alternate leg, just as when you walk and run. Runners should try an maintain about a 90° bend in front and rear elbow.
- The front leg is doing the work! Many people push out of lunges with their back leg. Whilst this is not dangerous it is not allowing you to develop the muscles the exercise is designed to target. Use your front leg to push up out of the movement with a strong glute and hamstring contraction.
- Stomp the floor: it can help to picture stomping the ground to perfect the movement mentioned above. Another key teaching point is to push up, not forward with your leg. NB: the stomping cue only refers to pushing out of the movement, you should place your leg on the ground softly with control.
- At the top of the movement you should achieve triple extension: Triple extension is extension of the hip, knee and ankle joint simultaneously. It will give you maximum power off the ground and into the next lunge. Once you master this you will be jumping more than you are lunging – and remember running is a series of one legged, alternating hops and lunges are ideal to help master this.
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