Be it during the weekly PE class at or training under the track and field coach, lunges are one of the first few athletic movements that are taught to us at a young age. Like squats however, our ability to practice them correctly falls under the “use it or lose it” umbrella of predicaments. Unfortunately, most people find themselves belonging to the latter.
Proper lunging requires strength, stability and coordination between both the upper and lower parts of the body. These days, haphazard lunges have become an all to common sight, even in gyms. Despite being considered a basic movement pattern, the lunge is quite complex in terms of sequencing. It's all too easy to form bad movement habits, but disproportionately hard when it comes to breaking out of one. Whether you're committed to learning it correctly the first time around or resetting your current habits, taking a “back to basics” approach never fails to get the job done.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
1. Banded hip distraction
One of the most common errors with lunging (and squatting for that matter) is the valgus of the knee. This is characterised by a break of the centre line of the knee as it travels forward, resulting in it “caving in”. Healthy lunges require the knee joint to be aligned with the ankle joint, failure of which can result in joint pain. A proper firing of the hip abductors usually does the trick in addressing this, and the banded hip distraction allows the athlete to familiarise themselves with this sensation so that they may actively employ them in lunge-based activities.
2. Front foot-elevated split squat
Maintaining balance in lunges is often an issue, so it can help to regress the locomotive nature of the movement to a stationary one to allow for an easier practice of the basics. With the front-foot elevated squat, the focus is on achieving proper hip, knee and ankle function, along with proper bracing. You'd want to set the rear foot back far enough so that the heel is elevated. Once this is done, simply squat up and down. Make that your knee travels in the same direction as your toes.
3. Reverse lunge
The reverse lunge allows you to further refine your movement patterns in a way that's a little more knee-friendly, which helps due to the fact that practice will and should occur on a a frequent basis. Taking what you learnt from the front foot-elevated split squat, you will now incorporate a hip hinge into the movement. Since you are lunging backwards, you will naturally be more cautious and slow down due to the fact that you won't be able to see where you are stepping. Use this to your advantage and consciously hinge your hips as you move.
4. Segmented forward lunge
Another common mistake with the lunge: gross misjudgement of stride length. Most people tend to take too big of a step when lunging forward, thinking that this allows them to work the legs harder; all it does is to strain the hips and the lower back. By breaking the forward lunge into two phases – the initial step forward followed by the sinking of the hips – one is able to acquaint themselves with what a proper stride feels like. In essence, a proper lunge stride should not put you off-balance right on the onset nor leave your hips out of the equation. It is typically a half over twice your regular walking stride, but it can vary across individuals. Experiment to find out what works best for your body; there should not be any pain in any of your lower joints.
5. Walking lunge
Moving on the original iteration of the exercise itself, you should be able to display all the movement qualities you worked on with the previous drills. One thing that continues to confuse some people is the torso angle – many are unsure of whether to keep a vertically upright torso or one that is slightly inclined forward. While there is nothing wrong with lunging in the former fashion (this tends to work the thighs a bit more), the latter is the result of hinging the hips as you move, which allows you to activate more of the posterior chain. So, it really boils down to what you want to get out of your lunges.
As one of the most dynamic exercises out there, lunges are a fantastic asset to have in your training arsenal. They great for overall conditioning as well as bullet-proofing your lower body and core. However, it is very easy to get carried away with lunges technique-wise, so take your time to build a proper foundation before you end up having to check yourself!