The art of the lunge

Ready to take a leading role in trimming your thighs, shaping your glutes and forming hips that fit perfectly in even your tightest pair of jeans? Listen up. ladies: The lunge does it all. Whether you’ve seen others at the gym performing this exercise or you’ve dabbled with it yourself, you might have reservations. After all, it an be a challenging movement to learn, especially if you’re a beginner certainly takes a bit of balance, flexibility and leg strength to perform without feeling uncoordinated — like all eyes are on you, wondering

when you rolled off the turnip truck and into the health club. If you’re not doing the lunge, it’s time to learn it, whether you’re just a beginner or you’ve been working with weights for years. With this x-step, scene-by-scene progression, we’ll take you from a simple, noweight wall lunge to a nifty step-up lunge that’ll help you create the legs and glutes you’ve longed for rear essentials

The lunge, in all of its forms, primarily targets the quadriceps and gluteus maximus, the muscle that gives your backside its shape and definition. But its benefits don’t stop there — all of the leg muscles, from the hamstrings to the inner and outer thighs, are improved by this versatile move.

Rear Essentials

Compared to the squat, the lunge goes a bit further in training people for the real world — it’s functional. In other words, the biomechanics of the exercise are similar to the way we walk and run. During the lunge, one leg is flexed forward, the other extended backward. This emphasizes quadriceps and gluteal strength on the front leg while requiring dynamic flexibility of the back leg, specifically the hip flexors and calf muscles. Since one leg is moving in front of the other, the lunge incorporates flexion of the torso toward the front leg, which is also necessary for normal walking and running.

In addition to the leg muscles, muscles of the spine (erector spinae) and abdomen (obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis) are also recruited to stabilize the torso.

Reasons enough to tackle the lunge? Here we help you take it slow, to learn the intricacies of doing this movement properly. Master each of these moves, in order, and you’ll be able to perform any variation of this superstar exercise.

Scene 1: Wall Lunge

The wall lunge will help you find your center of gravity and help you learn how to maintain balance and proper body mechanics. Once you learn the wall lunge, the other lunge variations will come much easier to you.

Props: Wall and mirror. Use the mirror to check body alignment from a side view.

Action! Start by standing arm’s length from a wall (or mirror), your body perpendicular to it. Take a giant step backward, then straighten your front knee and make sure both feet are flat on the floor and pointing the same direction as your hips and shoulders. Reach out and lightly touch the wall with your fingertips for balance. Next, plant the ball of your trailing leg’s foot into the floor, as if you were a figure skater sticking her toe-pick into there. Your front knee should be extended about a foot or so ahead f your hips, with that foot planted firmly on the floor.

Begin by lowering your knees and hips toward the floor as if you were kneeling with your back leg. The knee of your trailing leg can come as low as 4-6 inches from the floor Return to the starting position by pushing up through the mid-part and heel of your lead foot. You’ll notice how your fingertips slide evenly up and down the wall when performance is perfect! Repeat this sequence 8-10 times and switch to the other side.

Once you can do 10 reps rather easily, you’re ready to move up and away from the wall to the next scene, which incorporates resistance.

Cue card:

* Throughout the exercise, keep your abdominals tight and torso upright to help maintain your center of gravity for balance.

* The heel of your trailing leg should be up and angled approximately 45 degrees from the ceiling, yet not quite directly pointing at the ceiling. The knee of this leg should be pointed down to the floor, not angled in or out. If you feel discomfort in your knee, lengthen your lunge stride.

* Keep the knee of your leading leg aligned with that foot and don’t let it extend beyond your toes. This will prevent excessive stress on the knee.

* Breathe in as you lower yourself; hold your breath as you push back up to the top position, and exhale after passing the most difficult point.

* Rest about 60 seconds between each set.

* Intensify this exercise by pausing for a moment in the downward phase. Hold the down position for four seconds before rising slowly to the starting position.

Scene 2: Alternating Dumbbell Reverse Lunge

A reverse lunge places Jess impact on the Front knee, making it a good option For those with minor knee problems. You can also add a 4-inch step platform to help increase the depth and range of motion to recruit more muscle.

Props: 5-15-plus-pound dumbbells; 4-inch step is optional.

Action! Stand upright, holding a dumbbell in each hand, feet together. Drop your left leg behind your body. Keep your weight on the heel of your Front leg, your back straight and your head directed Forward as you descend until your front knee is bent 90 degrees. Don’t allow your front knee to pass beyond the end of your toes. Hold the bottom position momentarily before pushing up through your front leg to return to the start position. Your back leg is used mainly for balance; most of the muscle action should take place in the front leg. On the next rep, move your right leg behind your body while descending on your left leg, and continue to alternate until you complete 8-10 reps per leg.

Cue card:

* Rehearse the exercise in your mind before physically doing it. Imagine yourself doing the perfect rep, using proper body alignment and keeping your abs right as described in the wall lunge, before each set.

* If you have difficulty with this move, start off without the dumbbells and don’t alternate — complete your reps for one side, then the other.

* Like the wall lunge, the same body mechanics apply, except this time you’ll balance without the help of the wall.

* You can also try this exercise off a 4-inch step: Your front leg will stay on the step, while your back leg moves back and goes to the floor.

Scene 3: Alternating Barbell Front Lunge

This is similar to the reverse lunge, except you alternate your legs in front of you instead of behind your body.

Props: Pre-set barbell. Start with a light bar and work up to using the squat bar and rack as you learn the proper mechanics of the exercise.

Action! Place the barbell so it rests just above your shoulder blades on your traps. Take a full grip on it, wide enough to balance the bar. Lift your chest and relax your shoulders. Step forward with your right leg and descend until your front knee is at 90 degrees. Your back knee should come down about 3-4 inches from the floor. To return to a standing position, press through the heel and mid-foot of your leading leg, then pull your body back to the starting position with your left leg. Alternate for reps.

Cue card:

* If you lose your balance, shorten your return step and then take an extra step back into the starting position. Once you master this move, you’ll be able to return to the start in one fluid step.

Scene 4: Walking Lunge

This exercise will keep you moving: Instead of stepping back into a standing position between each rep, you can continually step forward, with each leg taking a turn as the lead.

Props: Dumbbells and plenty of floor space, such as a hallway or the perimeter of a weight room.

Action! You can perform walking lunges in one of two ways: Either bring your feet together as a momentary rest stop, or walk continuously without bringing them together. The latter is more intense because you take no rest between steps. Hold the dumbbells at your sides and, from a standing position, take a long step forward with your right leg and descend to the bent-front-knee position. Once your front knee reaches 90 degrees, press upward through your heel and mid-foot and bring your back leg forward. Either stop in a standing position and step forward with your left leg, or move your left leg straight through so that it becomes the lead leg. Take a total of 10 steps, then turn around and return to the start.

Cue card:

* Perform the walking lunge in a slow, controlled manner and avoid bouncing — undesired momentum can lead to knee problems. You may, however, hold the down position isometrically, like you did during the stationary wall lunge, for increased intensity before returning to the starting position.

* For added benefits, try a rotating walking lunge holding a 5-10-pound medicine ball with both hands. As you descend, rotate your torso slightly so the ball passes over your lead leg.

Scene 5: Side Lunge

As the name implies, this exercise is performed by lunging from side to side, It works the inner thighs more than front or reverse lunges, and it’s great for mimicking certain sports-related movements.

Props: Barbell or dumbbells.

Action! You can do this exercise either with a barbell across your upper back (as shown), or holding a pair of dumbbells with the flat end balanced on each shoulder. Begin with your feet together and step sideways with your right leg, descending into a lunge position. Your left leg will be left “trailing” out to the side; keep that leg relatively straight and the inner edge of that foot in contact with the floor. Push through your right leg back to the start and repeat on the left side.

Cue Card:

* Keep your shoulders and hips aligned, knees always pointing in the same forward-facing direction. Also keep your feet pointing straight ahead and torso upright.

* If the side lunge is too advanced, start with a diagonal lunge at 2 o’clock and 10 o’clock positions.

* Take a long side step. The biggest mistake people make is not taking a big enough step. A bigger step loads the large muscles of the hip and takes stress off the knees.

Scene 6: Step-Up Lunge

This is tough, but it may end up being your favorite lunge because of the benefits your legs and glutes will get from it!

Props: Barbell and 4-inch step platform.

Action! Rest the bar on your traps just above your shoulder blades. Place your leading leg in the center of the step platform, keeping your trailing leg behind you, toes on the floor, knee straight but not locked. Descend into the lunge position, your front knee bent, back leg bent slightly, From here, press forcefully through your front leg and heel, bringing your trailing leg up off the floor, then bend that knee and raise it in front of you. Return your trailing leg to the floor. Repeat 8-10 times, then switch legs.

Cue Card:

* Safety should always be a factor in the weight room, so only use a step that is solidly constructed and won’t slip on the floor surface.

* Your weight-bearing or lead leg stays in contact with the step at all times. Your trailing leg lifts upward — the knee begins to bend when it leaves the floor.

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