Learn the subtle nuances involved in the lunge exercise and how to boost your performance, maximize your results, and minimize injuries from these simple coaching tips.
The lunge exercise should be a foundational, staple movement in any balanced fitness or strength and conditioning program. It comes in many variations, but the essence of it involves split-stance strength training meant to help build strength in the leg muscles, and stability in and around the ankle, knee, and hip joints, as well as the spinal column in general.
There are forward/reverse lunges, walking lunges, lateral lunges, plié lunges, twisting lunges, and weighted variations of all of the above using dumbbells, barbells, clubbells, kettlebells, and many other training implements. There are lunges that involve slower, grinding strength, and lunges that require more dynamic, plyometric strength. Some are done on flat ground, and others with a box or step.
The bottom line is that the lunge exercise is superb and if you’re not already incorporating them into your program, you absolutely should. And if you have been using them, then the following tutorial will give you all the direction you need to not just maximize the benefits and results you’ll be receiving from them, but also improve your performance and minimize the risk of injury from performing them improperly.
How to do the Lunge Exercise with Optimal Technique
Technique Tips and Strategies to Help You Master Proper Lunge Form
1) Spinal Alignment and Posture - Your spine should be lengthened in both directions throughout the full range of motion. Think of lifting your head away from your shoulders, as if a cable was pulling the crown of your head directly upwards. Lengthen your neck and keep your shoulders pulled downward – stabilized on your ribcage (ie packed down). Tuck your tailbone slightly underneath your pelvis in much the same motion as a dog tucking its tail between its legs. The tailbone tuck should be slight – just enough to lengthen the lumbar spine without rounding it excessively. Resist the temptation to lean forward at the hips or waist, and instead perform a shallower range of motion if hip tightness is present. Don’t force good posture to happen, but instead, simply allow it to happen by relaxing.
2) Leg and Foot Positioning + Leg Drive - For most lunge exercise variations, your legs and feet should be spaced hip-width apart – feet pointing forward. In the case of tight hips, it’s ok to go a little wider, but work towards a hip-width stance. The majority of your bodyweight should be equally distributed on the entire underside of your lead foot when in the lunge position. Resist the temptation to drive through the heel or forefoot exclusively. Instead, focus on driving the ground away from you by applying straight downward pressure throughout the entire underside of the foot. The lead knee should track over the ankle joint and the rear knee should remain in alignment with the rear ankle throughout the full range of motion.
3) Breathing + Core Activation - For most people, exhaling during the effort portion of the exercise is ideal. So, when pushing yourself back up to standing, that’s when you perform a strong exhale. When lunging back down, allow a passive inhale to get sucked back into your lungs, but don’t actively breathe in, which will over-oxygenate your blood and possibly make you lightheaded. During the exhale, gently contract your entire core musculature to stabilize your hips and spine and aid in additional power generation. This core activation will become essential when adding any additional resistance.
4) Range of motion – Descend as deeply as your range of motion allows, until either a) your rear knee is at a 90 degree angle or more, or b) your rear hip feels moderate tension from being stretched, or b) you cannot maintain one of the above technique cues. Ascend until standing upright again, hips in line with each other – directly underneath your shoulders.
Using optimal technique in your exercise program is not just the best way to train, it’s the only way to train if you want to succeed for the long-term. When you integrate all of the above components into the lunge exercise, you ensure that ongoing improvements can be made over the long term because you’re practicing optimal technique. If you’re using a less efficient technique or if you’re neglecting one or two of the components, then you put a limit on your performance right from the start. Train smart and watch your performance and results skyrocket!
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CST Coach, CST-KS
Health-First Fitness Coach