Lunges are one of the go-to lower body exercises. They improve strength, burn calories, and help with overall function. Lunge form is a science and the ways you can do them are limitless. To get the most out of your lunges (and look your best) make sure your form is perfect. Comparing the traditional against the functional lunge techniques might teach you something new. Read the well-known version and then learn the 5 technique tips for a better lunge.
The Well-Known Lunge Technique
Traditionally, the well-known technique for lunges is:
· Take a big step forward.
· Keep the back heel lifted.
· Lower to the ground until you have a 90-degree angle in the front knee and hip, and back knee.
· Make sure the toe doesn’t go past the ankle or shoe laces.
· Return to the starting position when your upper leg is parallel with the floor.
This is a common way to do lunges. Although there is nothing totally unsafe about these tips, it doesn’t translate well to everyday living.
A Functional Lunge
If you try to pick something off the floor with one leg forward, you might notice different things happen. Your body moves differently than the traditional lunge. You have to reach for the ground so your upper body is going to also need to tip forward. And, you’re going to rely more on the front leg to do the work. Finally, whatever you’re reaching for probably isn’t directly in front of your front leg. So you might have to reach across your body to grab the object.
This means traditional lunge techniques aren’t functional for everyday living. Furthermore, the traditional lunge requires less work from the glutes. Functional lunges engage more muscles and are more efficient. Here are the 5 techniques to improve your lunges.
1- Shorter stride length
Take a comfortable step ahead, don’t over stride. A big step can limit natural range of motion at the hip, which means less work for the glutes. A shorter stride will also help you put more weight on the front leg. This gets the ideal glute work you’re looking for.
2- Weight distribution
Keep most of the weight on your front leg, evenly distributed throughout your foot. A lunge is an advanced version of a squat. So, think of it as a one-legged squat with a kickstand. Your back leg absorbs a small amount of weight and is just there for light support and balance. This is a big difference from the common way lunges are instructed. If the weight is distributed equally between both legs, then it isn’t much of an advancement from a squat. Make the front leg do the work and get the most out of your lunge.
3- Lunge depth
Lower yourself to about the height of a chair. You can go as low as your body will let you, just watch your posture. This means as soon as your knee moves inward or your back arches, it’s time to come up. It’s common for the knee to move side to side, but that’s not good. Instead, it’s a sign your glutes can’t control the movement. It’s best to reduce the range of motion. Don’t go down as far to make sure you are targeting the right muscles. More isn’t always better and in most cases, can be worse. In order to get more from the exercise, only use the range of motion you can do with perfection.
4- Forward knee movement
Unlike the traditional lunge technique, you can let your knee go past your ankle. Your focus should be if your torso can still be parallel with the front shin. This is proper squatting technique. Again, a lunge is a variation of a squat so it’s okay if your shin (tibia) tracks forward. In contrast to the typical form recommendations, lunges shouldn’t be straight up and down. You should be able to reach for something on the ground with the right range of motion.
5- Return to start position
When you return to the starting position, think about using the glutes on the front leg to start pushing yourself up. You should be standing upright and ready for the next repetition. It will help to think about starting the movement at the hip rather than the knee. Ideally, you won’t be doing a stationary lunge. If your balance and strength are good, you should lunge and return to a normal standing position.
Why Functional Lunges?
The functional lunge approach helps prevent injury and gets more of what you’re looking for. When your upper body tips forward and hinges at the hips, you’re increasing forward flexion and range of motion in the hip. This gives you more length in the muscle for the glute to contract. Most people want to work on their glutes anyways so this is good.
Technology advancements create a modern society that sits. The glutes rarely work and stay silent most of the day. Underactive glutes can cause problems like low back pain, knee pain, sciatic nerve issues, and more. There’s more to know about exercises aimed to prevent these casualties of daily living, and you can learn them when you know about posture. Check out what your posture is doing to you here.
Doing functional lunges the right way will you help you every day. For example, getting out of a car, walking up the stairs, and picking heavy things up. These all use the same or similar motions as a lunge.
Lunge variations are effective and there’s a lot of options. Before you start adding variations, make sure your form is perfect. Pay specific attention to your knee. Is it able to only track forward and not cave in or move out? If so, then you’re probably ready to start adding some creativity. This can also be good if you ‘ve hit a plateau. If you find yourself in a rut, read this article about identifying and overcoming plateaus.
When making changes to your lunge- or any exercise- make sure you know what you’re working for. Your goal should fall into one of these 3 categories.
Stabilization and balance
Our body’s ability to be stable and balance declines with age. As we lose these skills we become more prone to injury in everyday life. Lunges for stabilization and balance are functional for day-to-day living. With this goal in mind, you can change:
· Movement direction (lateral, turning, etc.).
· Finish position (balance on one leg, alternating, etc.).
· Surface stability (front or back leg on a less stable surface).
· Single-leg squat.
A goal of power is common in athletic development and in high intensity workouts. Power just means increasing the speed of the exercise (rate of force production). When seeking to add power to your lunges, try:
· Jump lunges
· Speed skaters
· Power step ups on a platform
Although there is no specific weight loss lunge, you have options. In a weight loss scenario, you want to burn more calories during the exercise and later when the body recovers. Lunges for this goal should target large muscles and as many as possible. Below are some examples for maximizing your calorie burn during lunges.
· Lunge to curl or overhead press
· Lunge with reach
· Cable row to lunge
When your goal is strength alone, your lunges aren’t going to vary much. To increase strength, you add more resistance or weight. However, when you establish stabilization and function first, it helps you create more force. When you can produce more force, you’re able to make strength gains faster. Get your stabilization down first, then start adding more weight to simple or stationary lunges for strength goals.
Functional lunge technique always sparks questions, so let us know what yours are! Or, if you want our feedback on your form, upload a picture for more expert tips. Keep lunging!