Lunges are an important addition to anyone’s routine. Lunges help strengthen your legs, establish balance, and improve coordination. They may seem simple when you break it down: step one leg in front of your body and the other behind you and lower your torso and repeat. Doing them properly though does take some practice.
5 Ways to Perfect a Lunge
There are of course several variations of a lunge, many of which you’ll see in Tempo home gym classes like the curtsy lunge and the weighted lunge. Here, we’re trying to nail the basics of the core bodyweight reverse and forward lunges. One of the most common things that people find difficult with lunges is that they can be hard on sensitive knees or aggravate pre-existing knee injuries, causing many people to avoid wanting to do them altogether. Following these best practices from Tempo’s Head of Exercise Science, Dr. Joel French, and you can protect your knees and get the most from each rep — safely.
1. Keep your weight through the heel/mid-foot
Focusing your weight on the ball of your foot can dramatically increase the stress on your knees, so it’s imperative to ensure weight is distributed on your heel and/or mid-foot. Doing this will also ensure you more equally work the muscles of your hips and knees.
2. Keep your knee aligned with your foot
Do your best to ensure that your knee stays in constant alignment with your foot — if your knee bows or collapses, it will add extra stress to your knee.
3. Keep your weight on your front leg
Try to keep as much weight on your front leg as possible and avoid putting more weight than needed on your back leg — that is, use your back leg for support and balance, but the star of each rep should be the front leg. Putting too much load on your back leg places a lot of stress on your knee, particularly between your femur (the only bone in the thigh) and your knee cap.
Emphasize placing the weight in your front through your heel. This reduces stress on the front knee and will activate your glutes and hamstrings more
4. Avoid leaning forward and back
Although you should have a slight forward hinge/bend at the hips, do your best your best to go straight up and and down when performing the lunge. If you lean too far forward (see point number one) or too far back, you will again place unneeded weight on your knees.
5. Keep proper distance between your legs
Aim to have your feet hip distance apart — think the rails of train tracks and not walking a tightrope). The front leg’s quads should end up as close to parallel to the ground with no pinching or pain in the hip and without any back bending or knee buckling.
In terms of vertical distance, generally, you should have your legs as far apart as needed to maintain the best practices above, though there are nuances. The closer your feet are together, the more quad-dominant the lunge becomes, the further, it becomes more glute specific.
Four Ways to Modify a Lunge
Lunges can be challenging as they test your balance and coordination. Below are variations on the standard stepping forward and reverse lunge that may be helpful stepping (or lunging) stones to the more traditional method and other more advanced variations.
1. Take out the Step
The stepping and pushing backward motion and transfer of weight is usually where you may end up placing uneven weight on your knees. By removing the step, this becomes a lot safer for your knees until you get used to the movement. What you can do instead is keep one leg forward and perform your lunges (the lowering and rising of the torso, see point three above) and then switch legs.
2. Widen Your Stance
Losing your balance is a common occurrence when it comes to lunges. Place your feet more horizontally apart to create a wider, sturdier base for yourself.
3. Try Squats Instead
If the lunge isn’t something you feel comfortable with, that’s no biggie. You’ll still find a lot of value from a squat, which are more stable and a great thing to work on while you develop more strength and balance. For sensitive knees, you can also do a quarter squat (bending your knees into about a 45 degree angle to avoid full range of motion) or a squat onto a chair or bench behind you (the higher the chair the easier the movement).
Three Ways Lunges Make Everyday Life Better
Our coaches don’t just program lunges for fun; lunges don’t only grow muscle and improve strength — the hard work you put into every rep will carry over into making every day movements that much easier.
1. Walking and Running Become Easier
Lunges target the larger muscles in your legs including the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. Strengthening these muscles are key in becoming a better runner
and also make walking up hills and picking up your pets and children easier.
2. Improved Balance
Because lunges focus so much on working one side of your body at a time, your body is also learning how to balance your weight properly. Throughout our daily lives, there will also be moments that test our balance: walking up and down stairs, ice skating or roller skating, and climbing a ladder. A confident sense of balance means you can tackle these everyday activities with ease.
3. Better spine and back health
Dumbbell lunges, don’t compress the spine like other load-bearing exercises like squats, giving your spine a chance to relax and decompress from other daily activities and help prevent injury. While spinal compression can be beneficial (for strengthening the back muscles and increasing bone density of the spine), providing your spine a break is useful. Lunges also recruit the core for some work, and a stronger core also means a more supported back, which can result in much less pain for those who suffer with back pain.
The great thing about lunges, outside of everything mentioned above, is that they can be performed just about anywhere and can take advantage of your own bodyweight as resistance. If you’ve been avoid lunges, think about how to use the modifications mentioned here to slowly incorporate them into your regimen — the results will make it worthwhile.