The lunge is up there amongst the kings of the strength exercises sitting alongside the squat, deadlift, power clean and more. However, amongst the lifting population the lunge is not given anywhere near the attention it deserves considering the massive benefits to health and performance it can bring.
Requirements to do the lunge
To be able to do the lunge requires less of a demand on your flexibility than the squat or dead lift. The main flexibility areas will concern the thighs and hip flexors. This will affect the depth you can go to and will create knee pain in the back leg through the twisting effect it will have as the thigh as it is stretched towards the end of the movement.
Closely linked to the thigh stiffness creating pain through twisting the knee of the rear leg is also the correct muscle activation in both the core and the glutes – VMO outer thigh axis. Core activation involves a diaphragmatic breath, followed by immediate pelvic floor contraction and lower stomach hollowing. Hold this while breathing in on the way down and then breathe out on the way up (just after the hardest part of the lift).
Glute – Vmo – thigh activation refers to how the glute muscles and inside thigh tear drop muscle should be active throughout the motion to stabilize the knee and hip joints. When these muscles do not work you will find your knee is pulled laterally which creates pain.
To complete the lunge you will also need to have an adequate level of balance within the ankle, knee and hip joints.
Techniques and variations
The key to the lunge is a concentrated breathing pattern and a consistent depth of the back leg. The standard lunge works the thighs, glutes, lower back, core stability and taxes your balances. The number of muscles involved means it is a great challenge to the nervous system and also makes a large impact on the hormonal and cardiovascular systems.
Diagonal lunges – diagonal lunges means you place the lead leg at a 45 degree angle to the way you are facing. Ensure your hips do not turn with the leg (therefore making it a straight lunge but in a different direction in the room).
Side lunge – Stepping directly to the side, plant the foot and then perform what is effectively a wide stance squat. Return to the starting position and repeat to the other side. This targets the glutes more and is effective for VMO – glute activation as well
Reverse lunge - Stepping directly backwards this exercise poses a greater neurological challenge.
360 degree lunge – Combining all the multidirectional elements of the forward, forward diagonal, side, backward diagonal and backward lunging this develops your all round multidirectional movements.
Lunge jumps – jumping into the air from the lunge position adds a even greater power element to this speed strength exercise.
The most common lunge errors are continuing despite experiencing pain in the knee from tight thighs / hip flexors and poor muscle activation in the glute – Vmo –outer thigh axis. For multi directional lunges many people allow their knees to be twisted in the movements. Any pain in any joint during the exercise is reason to stop immediately. It is also important in multidirectional movements to always keep the hips and shoulders facing the same direction forwards regardless of which way the actual lunge is going.