Lunges – they’re likely part of your routine, and for good reason. Lunges are one of the best exercises for targeting the lower body and it does it in a way that also improves functionality. When you do lunges regularly using good form, you work your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes while improving core stability and balance. Yes, lunges even offer a bit of a balance challenge. Unlike some strength-training exercises, lunges are also easy on your spine. If you’re doing them correctly, your back is straight and there is little risk of back strain. Of course, to get the full benefits of lunges and avoid injury, it’s important to get your form right. It’s easy to get sloppy when you lunge and not get the full benefits this exercise offers. Let’s look at some of the most common lunge mistakes people make when they work out.
When you train, you want to focus on exercises that offer the most “bang for the buck” from a time perspective. Lunges and squats are both compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. So, which is the better exercise for working your lower body?
Lunges versus Squats
Surprisingly, lunges may be superior to squats for activating muscles in the lower body. To show this, researchers attached electrodes to the muscles of 8 healthy, female athletes when they were performing squats and lunges. They then measured muscle activation when doing three depths of squats as well as lunges. What they found was muscle activation of the quads, hamstrings, and glutes was greater with lunges than with all three depths of squats. Plus, lunges activate more stabilizing muscles due to the fact that you’re in a more unstable position when you lunge than when you squat.
So, lunges may be an underrated exercise for hitting the muscles in the lower body. Could it be that lunges, not squats, are the king of exercises?
Lunge Mistakes: Leaning Too Far Forward
This is one of THE most common lunge errors. One indication that you’re leaning too far forward is your front knee extends past your front toe when you lunge. When you lean too far forward, it places most of the emphasis onto the quadriceps on the front leg. You want your glutes in on the action as well. You also don’t want to lean too far back as it robs you of some of the potential benefits this exercise offers.
Lunge Mistakes: Leaning Too Far Back
Some people have the opposite problem when they lunge – they lean too far back. As mentioned, when you tilt too far back, you lose some of the benefits of the exercise because the leg you’re lunging forward with is doing less work. In some cases, an unstable core is to blame for the tendency to lean back during lunges. If this is a problem for you, work on building strength in your core. When you lean too far forward or too far back, it implies that you may have issues with stability. One way to deal with difficulty stabilizing is to work on the strength of your core.
Lunge Mistakes: Not Going Deep Enough
A shallow lunge won’t yield the same benefits as the one you take to full depth. How do you know if you’re using the right depth? Have someone critique your lunge and see how far you’re dropping down when you lunge. Your knee should come as close to the mat as possible without the knee of your other leg coming over your toes. If you’re having trouble going deeper, tight hip flexors may be the problem. Add more hip flexor stretches to your routine to help maximize lunge depth. Make sure you’re not cheating yourself out of benefits by doing a squat that’s too shallow.
Lunge Mistakes: Not Doing Enough Lunge Variations
Most people stick to forward and, sometimes, backward lunges, never venturing too far into the world of lunge variations – but it’s these variations that challenge your body, target different muscles, and help you avoid reaching a plateau.
To get your glutes in more of the action, try curtsy lunges. The movements you do with this lunge variation target all three muscles in the glutes – the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus, making them a glute burner. Backward lunges also target the glutes more effectively than forward ones. It’s also easier on the knees.
How about side lunges? By varying how far you step to the side, you can place more emphasis on your glutes or your quadriceps. Take a long step to the side targets your glutes more while a shorter step emphasizes the quadriceps muscles in the front of your thighs. Side lunges also train your body to move better laterally.
Walking lunges get your heart rate up a bit and add a dynamic component to lunging. Lunging while walking also creates more of a balance challenge and recruits more stabilizing muscles.
These are only a few of the many ways you can vary a lunge. The key is to change things up so you’re hitting your muscles from different angles. Don’t get stuck in a forward and backward lunge rut.
Lunge Mistakes: Other Lunge Issues
Other common issues that plague people who lunge is stepping out too far or not stepping out far enough. When you step, step out a distance between your feet that’s roughly equal to the length of your leg. As you lower your body, your knees should bend to around 90 degrees and your front knee shouldn’t extend beyond your ankle. Your front knee shouldn’t feel shaky or like it’s going to collapse. Another issue is not lunging in a smooth, fluid matter. The movement should never be jerky. The best way to tell if you’re doing it right is to have someone critique your form. If your form isn’t up to par, work on the move without weights first.
The Bottom Line
Squats and lunges are two of the most important exercises in your arsenal for lower body development. Make sure you’re getting the full benefits by using good form and varying the types of lunges that you do. Get back to basics by doing lunges without any weight until you master proper form. It’s worth it. Whatever you do – keep lunging and squatting!
Dwelly, Priscilla & Oliver, Gretchen & Adams-Blair, Heather & Keeley, David & Hoffman, Hiedi. (2017) Improve Muscle Activation in Performing a Body Weight Lunge Compared to the Traditional Back Squat”
“Comparative Analysis of Lunge Techniques: Forward, Reverse, Walking Lunge” Sanghoon Parkq, Chulsoo Chungl, Jaebum Park1. 2, Jonghyun Yang2, Siddhartha Bikram Panda~l*~ Jiseop Lee1, Prabhat Pathak4
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