I fully believe that lunges are amongst the top exercises of all time – and Ifully believe that they are one of the most poorly coached and poorly executed exercises.
The primary focus of the lunge is your glutes. Yes, butt for all you non-anatomically inclined out there. Properly executed lunges target the glutes and because they are a compound exercise you can load up the weight to make sure there is enough resistance to actually develop some jean filling proportions.
Additionally, your balance and core get an extra workout. Because lunges are done in a split stance you can focus on each leg independently giving a little extra attention to bilateral imbalances and enabling you to protect any type of knee or ankle issues. When you load some weight on your back and hit a split stance your core is working hard to keep you balanced and upright. Sorry, all you bodyweight lungers out there – not doing much for your muscles and core – maybe a little conditioning work but you are missing the majority of the benefits from this exercise.
Now let’s take a look at my primary point – most people do lunges poorly and most coaches coach them that way. I think it is a basic lack of understanding or anatomy and biomechanics that permeates the fitness business that causes this. Most ‘coaches’ and ‘trainers’ don’t really know what they are talking about, they are simply showing you what they saw in a book or from other people at the gym.
What are the most common lunge problems?
• Stance too long
o I call them runners lunges because I find those who run love to see how far they can get their feet apart during lunges. The problem? Well, a couple of the problems? 1) Limited range of motion at the hip so not fully using glutes, 2)poor hip mechanics, 3)leads to improper posture, 4) too easy because of lack of range
• Stance too narrow
o For some reason people love to practice tightrope walking when they should be lunging. You don’t stand or walk with your feet in line with each other and you shouldn’t be lunging that way. There is a movement assessment we do called an in-line lunge (Gray Cook’s FMS) but this is an assessment and not an exercise
• Weight loaded on back leg
o Lunge focus is on the front leg and glute. With the posture in the right place and weight on the front leg you should really feel that front leg side glute fire up. This is the primary goal of the exercise!
• Not deep enough
o Are you doing lunges or knee bends? If you are not lunging full range – which means your front leg thigh should be parallel to the ground, you are not putting your muscles through full ranges of motion, thus, are not maximizing benefit from the exercise. Don’t do knee bends, you look silly and your ass won’t be looking any better anytime soon.
• Poor upper body posture
o Probably one of my biggest pet peeves, no, it is worse than a pet peeve. I think this is a hallmark of quality strength coaches and trainers vs. ones who are simply copycats.
o You should not be completely upright with a vertical posture during a lunge. You should be leaning forward in what most would know as an athletic stance. If you take your torso completely vertical you are doing a few bad things:
1. Overloading your lumbar spine – yep – hurting your back
2. Not allowing your glutes to work to their max potential (little anatomy joke there for some of you)
3. Not being able to use the core musculature as much as it should, which again, can lead to overload on your spine and joints
o So, if all this is true, why are there so many so called fitness professionals out there still coaching upright posture? I don’t know. They watch too much Tony Little and still think Gillian Michaels is a personal trainer? That is about the only excuse I can come up with.
What should your lunges look like?
• Front thigh parallel to the ground
o Self explanatory I think.
• Shoulder width stance
o Stand in your regular squat stance, feet typically shoulder width apart. Step straight back with one foot – there it is. Lunge stance!
• Back knee just behind front heel
o Without weight take your back leg knee and touch it to the ground. It should be 2-4 inches behind your front heel. No runners lunges please!
• Normal spine
o 3 curves to your spine – cervical, thoracic, and lumbar. Keep them all curved the way they were intended, and voila!
• Leaned forward – athletic stance
o This is the proper lunge position to fully work your glutes, core, and legs. No, this will not hurt your lower back if you retain proper spinal posture as demonstrated here. If you let your posture collapse then yes, you could overtax the lower back muscles.
o This is the athletic stance we teach to every athlete from the time they attend their first practice. This is also the posture for squats, deadlifts, step-ups, and any other leg exercise out there. Why do we change this on lunges? Simply bad, old school, circa 1980, training theory and ideology.