Why DO we Lunge? Why do they hurt so much? Are they really worth the pain and suffering?
Many people are not big fans of the lunge; they’re difficult to do and they have been known to cause intense muscle fatigue/soreness, sometimes lasting for days. Some have even been told that lunges are “bad” for the knees. Well, any exercise done without good form can be potentially harmful. But let’s assume that you’ve heard “prevent your knees from tracking over your toes” enough times to know the basics, and are able to perform a lunge safely.
If we had to choose only one lower body exercise that packed the most fitness equity it would be the lunge. That’s a bold statement, but think about it… the strength gains from just a few sets of lunges are incredible, but the benefits to your entire body are far greater than just strong, toned legs and glutes. The ability to stabilize our body in a split stance (lunge pattern) and safely lower and raise requires stability, balance, muscle coordination, strength, and mobility. Lunges help athletes run faster, change directions quickly, and decelerate with control. They help us get up off the floor, can help prevent injuries and improve posture. In fact, lunges were named as one of the six most important exercises for older adults to help prevent falls. Yes, lunges can help save you from a fall!
Main causes of “bad lunge form” include shortened (tight) hip flexors, hamstrings, and/or calves… and lengthened (weak) glutes and core stabilizers. These factors play a significant role in leading to poor posture in general and are mostly due to lack of exercise and extended periods of sitting. Performing lunges allows the back leg’s hip flexors to actively lengthen as the back leg descends into a lunge and the hip is extended. Hip extension activates the glutes. Planting the front foot and not allowing the heel to raise requires ankle mobility, which encourages calf lengthening. As we push off both legs and propel our bodies upwards we recruit the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Not to mention all the core stabilization and balance required to maintain the hips and shoulders in alignment. Talk about maximum bang for your buck!
If you’re not confident with your lunge technique, refer to this week’s Technique Tuesday Post for guidance on proper lunge form.