How To Properly Do A Lunge
Knowing how to properly do a lunge starts with an understanding of the exercise and muscles involved. Then, you can get the perfect lunge technique and add variations. Here, we’ll explore:
- Phases of the lunge
- Joint motions in a lunge
- Targeted muscles
- Lunge form and execution
- Common mistakes during a lunge
- Variations of a lunge exercise
Phases Of The Lunge
When learning any exercise, it’s important to know the different phases of the motion. This helps you know what muscle is working and when. From a standing position, there are three distinct phases during the lunge:
- The descent into the lunge. In personal training terms, this is called the eccentric phase of the motion. It’s when the body lowers to the ground. In the instance of the lunge, you’ll have to be standing with one foot back or, in a reverse lunge, the eccentric phase of the motion will start as you are stepping back and hinging at the hip.
- Pause at the bottom of the lunge. Not everyone will pause at the bottom of the exercise, but it’s good practice. This is the isometric phase of the movement. Developing isometric strength is just as important as developing eccentric and concentric strength.
- Upward movement of the lunge. As you’re ascending to the top of the exercise, you’ll be using both legs. This part of the motion is called the concentric phase and you’ll learn which muscle is concentrically firing to get you to a standing position.
Joint Motions During A Lunge
Since you use both legs during a squat, these are the joint motions for each leg. In these examples, imagine you are starting in a standing position, then stepping BACK with your left foot. So, your front right foot remains stationary.
Right Leg Joint Motions
The front leg, or stationary leg, will require motion at the ankle, knee, and hip. The motion at the right ankle is simply to allow the shin, or tibia, to track forward slightly. Greater motion occurs at the right knee and right hip. The right knee will move into flexion during the eccentric part of the lunge (descent). At the same time, the right hip will also move into hip flexion. During this movement, the torso or spine should remain straight, even though there is a forward hinge in the hip.
Left Leg Joint Motions
In this stepping backward lunge example, the back leg (left) is moving as the right remains stationary. The left foot will go into plantarflexion at the ankle. Ankle plantarflexion is where the ankle extends and pushes downward. Then the left knee will first extend back, as will the left hip. As you lower to the ground, the left knee will go into flexion. However, the left hip will remain slightly extended.
Muscle Anatomy Of A Lunge
We’ll stay consistent in the example of the right foot staying forward as the left foot step back. The following will occur in the eccentric phase of the motion:
- Right glute muscles will lengthen
- Right hamstrings will lengthen
- Left quads will extend
During the concentric phase of the motion, the reverse will happen to each muscle.
- Right glutes will shorten and contract
- Right hamstrings will help shorten and contract
- Left quadriceps will shorten and contract
These contractions are in order of which muscle contraction does the most work. This means, the right glute should be doing the most amount of work and the right hamstrings are helping out. In trainer terms, the muscle that does the most work is a prime mover (agonist is the technical term) and the hamstrings are the assistant mover (synergist is the technical term). Likewise, in the opposite leg, the quadriceps are the prime muscle mover.
Lunge Form And Technique
How to properly do a lunge is different than what most people think. From a standing position, with both feet together, the execution goes like this:
- Slowly accept the weight onto one leg (right foot)
- Step back with the opposite leg
- As the left foot steps back and plants, allow the upper body to tip forward slightly, creating hip flexion in the front leg
- When both feet are planted, lower the body toward the ground with the most amount of weight in the front heel
- The knee can track forward so long as there is no knee pain and the line of the tibia stays in line with the trunk or spine
- Initiate the upward movement from the right hip, using the glute to drive up
- Engage the hamstrings on the right leg to move into hip extension
- Engage the quadriceps on the right leg to help with knee extension
- Return to a standing position with little support or help from the back leg
Common Mistakes During A Lunge
The most common mistake during a lunge is assuming both legs assume an equal amount of weight. This is wrong. If you imagine stepping forward to pick something off the ground, you’ll notice you naturally keep most of the weight on the forward leg. Since a workout should help people move more functionally, it makes sense that the exercise should mimic real movement as well.
Another common mistake is keeping the trunk upright and erect during the descent (eccentric) phase of the lunge. Again, imagine picking something off the floor. Your upper body would have to reach forward to the ground. So, it’s natural for the upper body to tip forward. This engages the glutes. The glute complex is incredibly strong, so it makes sense to use this over the leg muscle to produce the force.
A third mistake is not allowing the front knee to track forward during the descent of the lunge. Assuming you have good ankle mobility and flexibility through the calf complex, this is perfectly fine so long as your front heel remains on the ground. In the same example of picking something off the ground, you’ll notice the knee migrates forward. This is a natural movement.
The final mistake most people make is allowing their front heel to come off the floor. Usually, this happens when the calf complex is too tight or lacks flexibility. Or, it happens with beginners who just don’t understand proper lunge form.
Adding Lunge Variation
Just like most exercises, there are so many ways to vary the regular bodyweight lunge in your workout. Here is a list of common ways to change the everyday lunge. Most people consider a static lunge (split squat) as the basis.
- Lateral lunge. This is lunging to the side and places different stress on the muscle.
- Jumping lunge. Either all on the same leg or alternating legs, this adds power and you explode off the ground.
- Curtsy lunge. Here your backward stepping leg steps behind you and the back knee come closer to the front foot. It looks like a curtsy, thus the name “curtsy lunge”.
- Walking lunge. Here you step forward, lunge down, and as you step up, alternate legs to move forward.
- Forward lunge. Using the same leg or alternating, you step forward and lunge, then return to the standing position.
- Backward lunge. We used this example here and it’s one of the best ways to get the glute muscles firing.
- Turning lunge. Here you pivot the front foot as the back leg turns and you lunge about120 degrees behind you.
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
Technology advancements create a modern society that sits. This means 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 all use the same or similar motions as a lunge.
Summary Of Functional Lunge Technique
1- Shorter stride length
Take a comfortable step ahead, don’t overstride. A big step can limit the 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 a lunge as a one-legged squat with a kickstand. Your back leg absorbs a small amount of weight and is just there for support and balance.
3- Lunge depth
Lower yourself to about the height of a chair. You can go as low as your body will let you. 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.
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 a 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
5- Return to start position
When you return to the starting position, think about using the glutes of 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.
Shareable Lunge Technique Infographic
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