Lunges are often touted as a magnificent exercise that does wonders for your legs, hips, and knees. Mostly the emphasis is on strengthening and toning your leg muscles. That would be the quadriceps (front of thigh), hamstrings (back of thigh), calves (back of lower leg), and butt (needs no introduction).
This is all good. And, by the way, the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves are the main muscles that stabilize and flex your knees. As we all know (some more than others), knees can be a pain. Having some dysfunction there can stop us in our tracks, and make getting around difficult and painful.
Lunges are an active exercise that challenges our leg strength, balance, core strength to keep our torso upright, and our ability to keep our hips stable as we move forward. Done correctly, lunges can be a great way to keep your knees healthy and protected.
However, often when I see people at the gym or on a trail lunging their way around, there are some dodgy things going on!
Most often what I see that makes me cringe is a lunge being executed with any of the following happening: knees wobbling in or out, torso rounded and bent forward, hips taking a dip with each step, knees jutting forward over the toes. All of these would indicate that there is not enough underlying strength to be able to pull this off without actually doing some damage to your knees!
I would like to make a few suggestions that will get you on the right track to use this great exercise to benefit your knees, not harm them. First and foremost, consider working your way into the exercise so that you can check for yourself how ready you are to do it correctly.
1. Check your balance.
Lunges require a ton of it. Simply stand tall (this is important), engage your core (also important), and lift one knee up so that you are standing on one leg. Hang out like this for as long as possible. Not only is this a good way to see how you do with this, but it’s also a great way to fire up the exact muscles that you will be using for the upcoming lunge. Here you can also notice if your hip tends to dip on the side that is balancing. If so, make an extra effort to stop the drop by standing tall, lengthening your spine, and using your abdominal muscles to keep you there. Keeping your hips strong is another huge factor for healthy knees. PS. Don’t forget to do the other side…
2. Start with a stationary lunge, with some support, to check out your form (see graphic).
Hang on to a chair, set your legs with one far in front of the other. Guide yourself down so that your back knee approaches the floor. Check to see if your front knee wobbles. If your knee is jutting out ahead of your foot, take a larger step back. If you cannot get very far down before your knee starts to wobble, stop before that happens. You can also go very slowly down as you check this out, and you may be able to get further without the wobble. Good! Push yourself up by pressing through the heel of the forward foot. Repeat 8-10 times and then do the other leg. Use this as your lunge exercise for now, and keep working on it.
3. For an additional challenge while keeping the lunge stationary, place both of your hands on your shins (see graphic).
Take care not to round forward in order to so this, but hinge forward slightly from your hips so that you can reach. Having your hands on your shins adds a dimension that requires more stability and balance. The good news here is that having your hands on your leg will also guide your leg to help you with that stability and balance. Slide your hands up and down your lower leg as you come up and down in the lunge. Again, press with the heel of your forward leg as you come up. Repeat 8-10 times and then do the other leg.
If you feel like you are not ready for either of these lunges, you may need to strengthen these muscles in other ways first. For example, focus on squats, use the leg press machine, or do some bridging. For some additional suggestions, check out my other blogs, especially, “Got Joints? Here’s How to Keep Them Healthy”, or “Getting a Big Bang Out of Donkey Kicks.”
Feel free to email me with any questions!
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