Lunges are some of the best leg- and butt-shapers out there, but how much do you really know about them? Sure, you do them in every bootcamp class, yoga class, Pilates reformer class and (hopefully) in your own workout routine. What you may not realize is how often you actually lunge in “real life”: walking up stairs. Getting in and out of your car. Kneeling down to the ground. Getting back up from the ground. “Lunging” to catch that flower vase that somehow tipped off the top of your bookcase.
In Part Two of the functional training series, we’ll address the lunge and its many variations and benefits.
What is a lunge?
According to Wikipedia, the exercise version of the word can be described as “any position of the human body where one leg is positioned forward with knee bent and foot flat on the ground while the other leg is positioned behind.” Merriam Webster defines the word lunge as “a sudden forward movement” (hence the flower vase analogy).
What muscles are being used?
Primarily lunges work our:
- gluteal muscles (glutes, butt)
- quadriceps (quads, fronts of thighs)
- hamstrings (backs of thighs)
Secondary muscles can include:
- transversus abdominus (TVA, “lower abs”, girdle)
- internal / external obliques (sides of core)
- adductors (inner thighs)
- abductors (outer thighs)
Why are lunges important?
Marty Lavine M.S, P.T. and owner of Denver’s Push Fitness sat down with 303 to expand on the importance of lunges. “It is a great exercise for gluteal function in two manners, both for stability and power. When performed correctly, you engage multiple muscle groups in a very useful, functional position,” Lavine says.
What could possibly go wrong?
The biggest risk in performing lunges is not performing lunges.
During my career, I have worked with several people who had let themselves become so dysfunctional in their physical capabilities they were no longer willing or able to get down on the floor. Because they couldn’t get back up (without legitimate assistance). These folks weren’t visibly impaired, either. They just hadn’t conditioned their own body for so long that it no longer worked in a way that was accessible or relative to their own daily life.
Form is also pretty crucial when adding lunges to your own fitness plan. Because the lunge is a whole-body movement, there are many joints involved that need to be considered for optimal benefit. Lavine advises, “You have to look at the body in 3-D: is the upper-body centered over the hip from the side and front? Is the knee centered, or does the femur (thigh bone) fold inward over the foot with dysfunctional hip internal rotation? That would place undue stress on the IT band, knee and hip which can adversely affect the lumbar region (lower back) as well.”
Imagine living in fear that you, a reasonably healthy, independent person couldn’t get down on the floor to play with your grandkids unless there was a sturdy piece of furniture or a strong helping hand to get you back up. Most people in these situations just avoid the scenario altogether. I’ve had clients tell me they wouldn’t take yoga or get on a foam roller because of this. The good news here is: not only had this been preventable, but a lot of functional movement can be restored with diligence and time.
Okay, these are getting boring. What else can I do?
The key to adding variety to your lunges is to see how they translate to the everyday. You could spend months just learning stair drills (YouTube has literally thousands of ideas). Adding different planes of motion could inspire you to try all sorts of lunge variations.
One of my favorites is the Bulgarian split squat (which, if you reference the definition above, files under “lunge”; not “squat”). Try the lateral lunge with your choice of equipment to add challenge: kettlebells, sand bags, dumbbells or medicine balls will increase the difficulty. Reverse lunges are by far the more gentle lunge if your knees require a conservative place to start. Progress as you get stronger to the forward lunge and walking lunge.
Have fun with these and let me know which lunges become your favorite.
Jodilyn Stuart is the Health & Sports Senior Staff Writer for 303 Magazine, owner of ModaBody Fitness, and has been a professional fitness geek since 1997. If you have questions, feel free to email at: [email protected]