When looking at functional exercises for people of all ages, there are few that I like more than the lunge. I know that they have a bad rap for being bad for your knees and if you are in the gym, you have seen plenty of people with less than stellar form. In this post, we’ll look at my top 3 lunge hacks for some of the breakdowns in form that I typically see in the gym. Before we start, just a note, performing a full lunge is not for everyone. If you have knee pain while sitting down, standing up, climbing or going down the stairs, or if you have pain while performing a lunge, you will likely want to check in with your Physical Therapist prior to trying the lunge variations below.
So, why lunges instead of all the big, shiny, and expensive machines in the gym? First, while you can “feel the burn” with machines, develop some strength, and in general, get a decent workout, you do exceptionally little to challenge your balance. You also fail to develop functional strength, or mobility (think the ability to get off the ground, go upstairs with ease, or help a friend move a couch). You also fail to improve in breathing control, balance, coordination, posture, and endurance. Yes, I know the lunge does not have the headrest, the lumbar support, or the TV to take your mind off the burn. The lunge is a full experience of movement, strength, and flexibility that helps us age well.
What is a lunge? Simply put, you step forward with feet roughly hip width apart, and lower yourself nearly to the ground. Afterward, return to your starting position. Simple, right?
Below are some foundational faults, then we’ll go into some correctives.
Does your knee wobble left and right when you drop down into your lunge, or squats? Try the following exercise to strengthen your hips and develop control. Coaching Tips: Place the band around your thigh with the resistance pulling across your body. Lower yourself while resisting the band pulling your knee across your body. Retest your lunges frequently to know when you should transition back to your regular lunges.
Do your knees go out over your toes, maybe giving you some pain behind the kneecap? Try this modification. Coaching Tips: Pretend your feet are on roller skates, and you do not want to go down into a split. Pull yourself to the ground (your lead leg will pull back while your back leg will pull forward). This should keep your knees from going past your toes (you will probably really feel your hammies and hip flexors). You should feel less strain on your knees.
Do you lose your balance/lean/lose control of your midsection in your lunges? Try the following anti-rotation lunge. Coaching Tips: Anchor your weight/band, stretching across your lead leg (either across your body, or to the outside). Step into your lunge while resisting rotation.
Now remember, correctives are just how they sound. They are there to get you past where you are having a form breakdown that may make you more likely to have pain or injury if not cleaned up. The important component after cleaning up your form is to load the pattern, adding more weight and increasing the complexity of the exercise. These movements should be pain free and when loading, should not develop the faults from above (usually meaning that you loaded too much too soon).
Thank you for reading,