Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lunge Better

Good hip flexor stretch

One of the most popular leg exercises in the gym is the lunge. It's straightforward enough that anyone and everyone can usually do it. Place one foot out, lower yourself, then return to a stand.

The problem that tends to plague it is that it gets butchered when a person isn't aware of how to execute it. Not only that but the most common variant is the forward lunge with dumbbells.

Also as of recent I've noticed more use of Bulgarian split squats as the go to single-leg exercise. Each exercise has their place and Bulgarian split squats are great. What I specifically like about lunges is the moving component, especially in the walking version.

Lunges aren't too hard and are a great single-leg exercise as well. After adjusting to the change in balance and a few tweaks here and there, a person can move better within minutes.

Try these cues and see how they affect your performance.
Visualize a Hurdle
- Sometimes stride lengths are unintentionally cut short. For each rep lift your knee straight up and then shoot your foot downwards at angle in front of you. Imagine you're going over a small box.

Lift your knee straight up,
then aim your foot down at an angle.

Land Close to Parallel
- This is a very subtle detail. The foot should be close to parallel when making contact with the ground. It has a slight down tilt, plantarflexion, to it. Look at this diagram,

Click to enlarge
(Trust me, you should)

The blue line is the angle of the foot and the orange line is the ground. Starting from the left, let's discuss each image.
  1. A heel strike is the most common action you'll see. This isn't necessarily bad but I haven't seen it contribute to a better lunge.
  2. Here is an exaggeration of the down tilt. You end up landing on the very front end.
  3. In the far right illustration the foot is almost parallel to the floor. It's similar to an airplane landing on a runway. The nose of the plane is pointed down enough that it's able to make a light impact on the ground.

    Here the foot is angled down a little bit. It can better absorb the shock of impact and get a firm holding underneath it.
Plant the Foot SOFTLY
- Lower the foot while attempting to make almost no noise. Plant it as gently and softly as possible. Let your body sink down on your heel. It will ensure your torso remains upright while you keep your balance.
Reverse Directions
- After you've lunged down, push through your heel to come straight UP. Then you can bring your foot back. Only return to a start after you've stood up. It becomes much more difficult to do if you're still in a knee flexed position.
Now what if you're having trouble despite using these cues? Practice with your bodyweight and hold each position for a few seconds. Work on stepping out and getting accustomed to the split stance. From there lower yourself a few inches, pause, stand, and repeat. Go lower each week then start with low reps. When you get the hang of it, add dumbbells.

As for programming them into a workout there aren't any rules to follow. I find they place nicely after a heavy compound movement like squats. A light set or two of 5-8 reps is enough to elicit a positive training effect. Ultimately the training parameters - and variation - are up to you.

One thing is certain: Don't neglect your legs by avoiding lunges. They're a very important exercise.
Further reading,

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