Lunging is a functional, compound leg exercise that you need to include in your workout routine. It is a great way to build your leg strength and even your core strength, especially if you front-load the exercise.
However, all too often we not only perform the movement incorrectly, but we also limit ourselves to really only lunging forward and backward when there are so many other directions we can lunge in!
So how do you lunge correctly?
Have you ever heard the coaching cue, “Your knee needs to stay behind your toe?” or “Your knee needs to be directly over your ankle?”
Well, while these coaching cues aren’t exactly correct, they are often used to give you a visual to help you produce the desired results.
Too often when we lunge, we don’t load the correct muscles. We lunge forward and get all of our weight going forward so that instead of using our glute as we should, we overload our quads and knees.
So while we will each have slightly different exact mechanics when we lunge, and the exact positioning of our knee over our foot and ankle may vary,(differing lower leg lengths can even change this as well as ankle mobility), the important part is that we use our glute correctly.
If you’re a coach or even a client using the cues of knee over ankle or behind toe just remember the truly important part is that you load and use your glute when you lunge NOT the exact positioning of your knee. If you find this coaching cue helps you to load your glute, by all means use it. But if you are a coach not getting the desired result from a client, you may want to rethink the cues you are using.
Because your goal is really to get them to use the correct muscles as they perform the proper movement.
Which is why I actually personally sometimes prefer the coaching cue that gets them to focus on their heel.
Because if your front heel comes up, you generally aren’t loading your glute. Your weight is shifting forward and you are most likely off balance and loading the incorrect muscles. So reminding yourself, or your clients, to drive through your heel can help you focus on engaging the correct muscles and performing the movement correctly.
And while you do all of this, THINK about the muscles working. Ask yourself, or your client, “What do you feel working?” This will help you establish the mind-body connection and make sure you are engaging the correct muscles.
AND the other great part about lunges is they are basically a UNILATERAL EXERCISE!
What this means is you get to isolate and work each side individually. It can help you correct imbalances and even determine if you feel one side engaging and working properly while the other side doesn’t. If this is the case, you may then be able to correct the imbalance by building your mind-body connection through focusing more on working the right muscles and even including more activation on that side in your routine!
Really it is all about not only performing the movement correctly but actually engaging the correct muscles! You’d be surprised at how often people perform a movement that “looks” pretty good while not actually recruiting the correct muscles!
And don’t think you should only be watching beginners for this.
It is actually a huge problem among even your top athletes! Sometimes they are best at hiding imbalances and compensations, which can lead to huge problems and injuries!
So when you coach, yourself or your clients, it is important to cue the movement in a way that also makes them focus on the correct muscles working! Constant assess what you feel working and know what muscles should actually be engaging!
Ok so, let’s say you know how to lunge correctly and you feel your glutes and quads and even hamstrings working correctly. You don’t round forward or load your knees. You have a nice tall posture and your core is engaged.
But all you are doing is lunging forward and backward. Maybe you add in some weight for some variety or even occasionally a slider. Maybe every so often you even add in some side lunges. But those are really the only directions you move in.
Well then you are really missing out!
Lunges are a great functional, compound movement…But you get the most benefit when you use them to move in every direction!
In everyday life we move and twist and turn and pivot in every direction. So if you can strengthen your legs and hips through a full, functional range of motion, you are not only going to move better in everyday life, but you are going to lessen your risk for injury!
That is why one of my favorite Lunging exercises is the Lunge Matrix. Whether you do the total 7 Lunge Matrix at once or you combine 2 or 3 into a series, you need to move in more directions to strengthen your hips and legs through a full range of motion!
Below are the 7 Lunges in the Lunge Matrix:
One of the best ways to think about the 7 Lunges in the matrix is to think about lunging around a clock. Start facing “12″ on the clock. Then lunging with the left foot, you will complete all 7 Lunges below.
- Front Lunge: With both feet pointing straight ahead toward “12,” step the left foot forward and sink down into a front lunge, dropping the back knee down toward the ground as if moving to a half-kneeling position as you bend your front knee to about 90 degrees. Keep your chest up nice and tall as you lower into the lunge and try to keep your front heel down. Think about sinking down as you lunge and not going forward. You want to keep your front foot flat on the ground so that you can drive through your heel and use your glute instead of simply loading your knees. Make sure you do not lean or round forward as you lunge forward or go forward onto your front toe. Then drive off your front heel to push back to standing. Move back to standing in one move. If you have to stutter step, you lunged out too far or went too low. Beginners will not step out as far or lunge as low.
- Angled Front Lunge: Standing tall with both feet close together after lunging forward, you will perform another front lunge, but with this one you will step out slightly to the side and forward. Still working with your left side, step your left foot out and forward toward “11″ on the clock. Keep both feet pointing straight ahead and your hips square toward 12. Do not rotate as you step out toward 11 or you will simply perform another Front Lunge. After stepping forward, bend both knees as if moving to half kneel on the ground. Your legs will be wider apart as you sink than with the Front Lunge. Make sure to keep your chest up as you sink down. Also, make sure your front heel stays down. After sinking as low as you can, drive off your left heel to come back to standing. Push straight back to standing and don’t perform any stutter steps or swing your body back to come back up.
- Side Lunge: Again lunging with the left foot, you are going to step out to the left. Step your left foot out toward “9″ on the clock with both feet pointing straight ahead. As you lunge out to the side, you are going to bend your left knee and sit your butt back as you keep your right leg straight. Really push your butt back and slightly hinge forward at the hips, keeping your back flat. Keep your left heel down as you sink into the lunge. Then drive off your left foot to come back up to standing.
- Backward Rotational Lunge: Next you will lunge back with your left foot, stepping it back toward “7″ on the clock while rotating your toe out so that your left foot is perpendicular to your right foot, which is pointing toward “12.” After stepping back and rotating your left toe open, you will bend your left knee and push your butt back to sink into a deep lunge. Keep your right leg straight as you sit your butt back and slightly hinge forward at the hips. Keep your back flat and really sit your butt back. Do not let the left heel come up. Then driving off your left heel/foot, push back to standing. Make sure that your right toe doesn’t rotate toward the left but continues to point toward “12.” Also make sure your right leg does not bend as you push back up to standing.
- Backward Lunge: Again lunging with the left foot, you will perform a basic Backward or Reverse Lunge. Step your left foot straight back and bend both your front and back knees as if sinking to half kneel on the ground. Keep your chest up nice and tall as you drop your back knee down toward the grouhnd. Keep your front knee aligned basically over your ankle as you keep your front heel down (it isn’t so much that your knee can’t go forward, it is just that you want to keep your heel down and really sit back to load your glute). Thinking about this knee and ankle alignment can help you focus on loading your glute and not your knees. Really sit back and keep your front heel down. Then drive back up to standing, driving through your front heel. Bring your back leg (left leg) back forward as you squeeze your butt as you stand up.
- Curtsy Lunge: For the Curtsy Lunge, you really want to cross your foot back behind your front leg so that you load the front glute. To do this, step your left foot back behind and across your right leg. You will reach your left foot back toward about “5″ on the clock. You really want to make sure that left leg crosses behind your right leg toward the right so that you aren’t simply doing a Reverse Lunge. Also, make sure you step far enough back (do not keep your left foot in too close to your right) that you can bend both knees and sink down into a deep lunge. Keeping your chest up, bend your knees and sink into a lunge, making sure that your right heel stays down on the ground. Really feel yourself loading that front glute while keeping your hips square forward toward “12.” You will want to rotate your hips open toward the left, but if you do this, you won’t work your right glute correctly. Then, driving through your right heel, come back to standing. Make sure that you feel this lunge in the outside of your right butt cheek when you lunge back with the left leg. You almost sort of want to feel like you are pushing your right butt cheek out to the side slightly.
- Forward Cross Lunge: The Forward Cross Lunge is a more awkward feeling lunge. To do this Lunge, you will step your left foot forward and across your right toward about “2″ on the clock. As you step, you can pivot your left foot so that your feet are perpendicular, turning your left toe toward the right instead of keeping it pointing straight ahead. However, if you have had problems with your knees, you may not want to pivot your toe. After crossing your left foot in front, sink down into a lunge, bending both knees while making sure to keep your chest up and your left heel down. Then drive off your left heel to come back to standing. Your hips will pivot slightly as you cross in front to lunge, but you don’t want to rotate them way toward the right and feel like you are twisting your right leg. (This lunge, especially if you turn the front foot, is actually a great way to practice a pivot to react and change directions, pushing off the front foot.)
Now that we did a quick review of not only some of my favorite Lunge Variations but also how to properly perform a lunge and engage the correct muscles, I just want to extend this offer to come learn from me in person. Learn how I coach to get the most out of movements. Learn how I come up with and use all of the different variations and workouts I share to my Facebook page, YouTube and Blog.
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