Lunges are one of the fundamental movement patterns that many coaches and trainers utilize in various strength programs. There are many benefits to performing lunges as they can help build strength, size, and they have good carryover to athletics and daily functional tasks. There aren’t many people who haven’t performed a lunge at some point in their lifetime, especially if you’ve worked with a personal trainer before.
Are Lunges Bad For You?
Unfortunately, lunges have a tendency to get a bad reputation for putting too much stress on the legs, particularly the knees. Because of this, many people in the fitness and healthcare industries say that lunges are dangerous and shouldn’t be performed. We hear all the time from those who are dealing with knee pain that they were told not to do any lunges or activities that potentially could cause pain.
But let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly. Whether or not you have knee discomfort, the lunge shouldn’t be feared and actually can be part of the solution for addressing any issues you might be having with your legs. We’re going to cover some common issues we see with those who perform lunges and what you can do to find something that works specifically for you.
When we assess the lunge, we typically look at torso and leg positioning to ensure that we are maximizing the stress on the places we want it. With regards to leg positioning, we like to see 90 degree angles at the hip, knee, and ankle when someone is moving into the lunge position. There will be some variability depending on the client, but ultimately we need to ensure that the mechanics are sound so the intent is conducive to the person.
Common Faults With The Traditional Lunge
We’re going to mainly discuss the common faults we see when clients are performing the forward lunge. As mentioned above, the lunge gets a bad reputation because some clients have trouble performing it properly. Here are some of the common faults we see when it comes to performing this movement.
Knee too far forward over toes
This is by far the most common mistake we see when it comes to lunging. The knee will travel way past the toes (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but more on this later), which can possibly put excess stress on the knee and make it difficult to return back to the starting position.
Knee tracking too far inside of the foot
There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to the lunge. Yes, you need the ability to bend and straighten the knee as you move in and out of the position. However, you also need the ability to control the rotation around the knee. We often see people have their knee tracking too far along the inside of the foot (again, not a bad thing in isolation, but can be dangerous in an uncontrolled scenario). This can create more stress around the knee and potentially even cause pain if the joint isn’t prepared for this kind of movement.
Too long of a stride
A long stride can also be a culprit as to why some people struggle with lunges. The long stride makes it very difficult to push off the lead leg to return to the starting position. If the client doesn’t have the requisite strength in a long stride position, it can potentially make it more challenging to perform the lunge, or even worse, cause pain or injury.
Are Lunges Right For Me?
There are a ton of ways to modify movements that fit the need of the person and any potential issues they’ve had in the past or are currently having. Completely getting rid of a certain task that is normally done on a day-to-day basis is not ideal; instead, the task needs to be further assessed to determine the best course of action in order to make it doable for the client. Here are some variations that we’ll utilize if people struggle with the forward lunge.
Sometimes taking out components of the movement can go a long way in getting things sorted out. The split squat is a great variation to try as it sets you up into a lunge-type position, but the forward leg is not moving. You can alter depth if people struggle at the bottom position, but it relieves you from worrying too much about some of the common issues we see when attempting to perform your traditional lunge.
Bench Assisted Reverse Lunge
We like to use reverse lunges as opposed to the traditional forward lunge because we feel there is less to coach and people have a better grasp of this particular movement. Set up a bench so that it’s right in front of your knees. Step backwards with one leg away from the bench and as you do so, try to prevent the front knee from touching the bench. This will help reduce the likelihood that your knee drifts too far forward over your toes as you go into a lunge position.
Band Resisted Reverse Lunge
Place a band around your knee so that the resistance of the band is attempting to pull your knee inward. As you go into a reverse lunge, try and keep the knee from buckling inward and keep your knee over the middle of your foot. This is a great way to help resist the knee from tracking too far inside the foot and to maintain good mechanics!
Wall Guided Forward Lunge
For those who are grasping the movement better and feel they want to attempt a forward lunge again, this can be a happy medium for them. Have them stand a few feet away from the wall and attempt to lunge toward the wall without the knee touching it. This will help reduce the knees from traveling too far over the foot, but it also could help reduce over-striding as well. It’s a simple set up and something that can be replicated pretty easily!
Lunges are not bad for you, plain and simple. They are only problematic if they’re not instructed correctly and given the proper attention. The common faults we see with the lunge aren’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that too much of anything can have a negative effect on performance if the mechanics aren’t cleaned up. Lunging doesn’t have to be scary or avoided if you have had knee discomfort in the past or are currently dealing with it now. There are so many variations and ways to not only reduce knee stress but also maximize the movement to have it work to your advantage. The key is to understand the technique and make sure that you have a coach or trainer who isn’t making you do a variation that isn’t being tailored specifically to you. Do you have any further questions? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss!