Lunging Fundamentals, Part 1

(First in a three-part series)

The lunge is an excellent exercise which, when properly performed, targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, hip abductors/adductors and challenges the inner core unit to provide the stabilization required when lunging. Lunges may be contraindicated for some individuals due to hip, knee, lumbar spine or ankle limitations. However, even in some of those cases, once the postural imbalances have been identified, lunges may be able to be integrated into their fitness programs.

The key with proper performance of lunges is for the individual to understand the purpose of the exercise, possess a solid kinesthetic awareness (i.e. where they are at in space and time) and to be capable of performing the exercise safely and effectively so they reap the benefits that lunges have to offer. Consequently, this week the fundamentals of front lunges will be highlighted with side lunges and back lunges featured in the following two weeks. As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.

Front Lunges

  • Front lunges predominately target the quadriceps; however, the gluteus maximus and hamstrings work as secondary movers and the hip abductors/adductors stabilize the hip joint and the inner core unit muscles (i.e. pelvic floor, etc.) help to stabilize the torso so that the body may lower toward the floor and return to a standing position effectively.
  • The legs are in a staggered position with a considerable distance between the front leg and the trailing leg, with the legs approximately shoulder distance apart from right to left as though you are standing on two different railroad tracks and the back heel remains elevated throughout the exercise.
  • The shoulders/hips/knees and toes are all facing the same direction. Make certain to check the foot/ankle positions on the front and back feet to ensure each are straight and that the hip is not rotated externally or internally.
  • The pelvic floor is pulled up and inward. Pelvis positioning is critical in a front lunge. The pelvis must remain in neutral. Therefore, avoid shifting the pelvis forward which may cause the entire hip joint to shift placing significant load into the front knee joint and lumbar spine.
  • Think of a string running through the top of the head through the tailbone, keeping the torso stick straight (i.e. as though you are sliding down a wall). And, keep it in this position throughout the exercise. One of the most common errors is to permit the head to drop downward which then throws the entire spine out of alignment and inevitably causes the pelvis to move out of a neutral position as a result. Remember, your spinal curvatures remain in their neutral positions during a lunge.
  • The body lowers toward the floor, keeping the front knee over the front heel (i.e. body weight in the front heel to the extent that you should be able to “wiggle” your front toes throughout the exercise).
  • Driving through the front heel, extend both legs back to full extension without locking the front knee joint.
  • Your main goal during a lunge is to load up the quadriceps so that this muscle group eccentrically contracts on the downward motion and concentrically contracts on the upward motion.
  • Slow, controlled repetitions throughout.

*Think of front lunges as “pushups” for your legs!

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