Updated: Jul 25
Lunges are a great functional exercise that oftentimes are left in the shadows of squats and deadlifts. Mainly because, well, it’s nice to lift a heavy bar and it's easier to gain kg on the barbell back squat and the conventional deadlift than this unilateral exercise.
Bilateral vs. Unilateral Movements
Don't let the heading put you off. Bilateral means using both arms or legs to complete the exercise. Alternatively, unilateral exercises are performed with one arm or leg, at a time. It is a popular programming method used amongst athletes and strength & conditioning coaches and for good reasons. Every program should include some unilateral movements, especially for those that have postural issues as unilateral exercise help by:
- Stopping you overusing your dominant side
- Isolating and correcting muscle imbalances
- Engaging the core more than bilateral movements
- Improving balance
- Aiding in preventing injury
- Facilitating rehabilitation
Lunges and their variations are a fantastic way to incorporate more dynamic movements that can work all three planes of motion. Planes of motion refer to simply moving your body in different directions.
- Forward and Back [Sagittal plane]
- Left and Right [Frontal plane]
- Top and Bottom [Transverse plane]
It is essential that your training program incorporates movements that work all three planes, since we don't live our life walking forward. These elements form the basis of great programming that will increase performance, reduce risk of injury to overworked [overuse] muscles and prevent posture and movement dysfunction.
Wait, before you go lunging for 100 reps at a time [yes, I know I read your mind], make sure you aren’t making these 4 common mistakes. Also, lunging forward can be a bit dull [not to mention you are still only working one plane of motion] so I’ve included a video showing 15 lunge variations to spice up your routine.
Are you making these 4 common lunging mistakes?
1. Knee over toes / front heel raise
Leaning too far forward causes the front knee to go over the line of the foot. This creates extra pressure on the knee joint. It is usually followed by the front heel raising off of the ground, shifting the bodyweight onto the toes. This creates more pressure on the knee joint and it is why some people complain about lunges hurting their knees.
FIX IT: Plant the foot forward, hips square [in-line] and move directly downwards. Imagine someone pressing the top of your head and applying force downwards only. Your knee should always remain behind the toes. In the bottom position, push up using the heel, ensuring it stays in contact with the ground at all times.
2. Feet too close together
This is essentially trying to walk on a tightrope which affects our ability to balance and create stability under out feet. The glutes do not fire because the hips are tucked under, as the glutes are related to hip extension [and there is no extension of the hip happening here] giving the appearance of a flat lower back and bum. Additionally, we don’t hit the hamstrings and moreover, the quads dominate [which is a common imbalance found in many people] whilst adding extra stress to both the hips and knees.
FIX IT: Start every lunge with stepping the foot forward/backward in line with that hip and not in-line with the other foot. This way you will maintain the right distance
3. Front Knee Valgus [knee comes in]
Letting the front knee collapse inwards leads to muscle imbalances and possible knee pain. If you notice knee valgus in this position then it is certainly present in any lower-body movement you do including squats, deadlifts, single-leg variations, jumping etc. Knee collapse to midline indicates the following:
- Overworked and tight adductors [inner thigh muscle]
- Greater quad recruitment to hamstring [strength imbalance leading to posture issues]
- Weak Glutes [especially glute medius]
- Collapsed arch of the same foot
FIX IT: Push the knee out on every lunge. Additionally, roll the foot arch with a tennis ball to release the plantar fasciitis. Whenever I am doing a lower body exercise I tell myself mentally "knees out" this helps to remind me that the knees should track the big toe.
4. Forward Head Posture & Not going low enough
Ok these are two separate mistakes but I thought I’d lump them together for efficiency. I have seen this a lot with clients. When there is a forward motion of the body they tend to stick their neck out. This is a bad habit that also contributes to further forward head posture. For every inch forward the head is results in 10lbs [4.5kg) of added weight directly impacting the spine. Is it any wonder many people suffer from headaches, chronic migraines, tight neck and stiffness.
In addition to the forward head posture, you should be aiming for full range of motion meaning that the back leg should almost touch the ground. If you are stopping a few inches shy of the ground you're really missing out on some of the main benefits of a properly executed lunge.
FIX IT: Retract your neck by making a ‘double chin’, without moving to look up or down. Take a big step forward / backward, this will make it easier to get a larger range of motion in the movement. Take the back knee slowly to the ground and stop 1-3 inches above the ground
Want to spice up your lunge routine? Here are 15 lunge variations to add to your program.
Got any lunge variations that you liked? I'd love to hear from you.
Gemma, Genneration Strength