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The Magic Lunge
1998 seems to be the “Year of Baozi”. Every time I turn on the TV, I see some other commercial advertising the latest contraption that can (in less than three minutes) firm and tone your butt.
When talking to most trainers (especially female trainers), lunges seem to be the sport of choice.
So let’s check out the lunge.
There are walking lunges, stationary lunges, side lunges, dynamic lunges, barbell lunges, dumbbell lunges, back lunges, Smith machine lunges, front lunges, and stepping lunges.
Which is the best?
If you think about it, a lunge is nothing more than a single-leg squat. Your other leg just helps with balance. So why do so many people “feel” it in the other leg? Well, we know that the rectus femoris is a two-joint muscle. It goes across not only the knees but also the hips. Most of the activities we do as humans are seated: driving, sitting at a desk, or watching TV. So when we have clients do this extreme hip extension, the rectus femoris begins to “talk” to them. But we all know that the real “work” is done by the front legs.
Since we are standing on one leg, it will be more challenging to stabilize the pelvis. Now, most of the weight is supported by a single strut with a very narrow base of support, rather than two struts (your legs) split apart with a wide base.
The same goes for the foot and ankle. Are your clients able to stabilize their feet and ankles, or are they wobbling here and there?
In order to strengthen the glutes, is it better to destroy their hips and ankles?
Here are some things to consider:
Before you add weight to your workout and have your clients walk around the gym, make sure they’re able to:
– Stabilize their pelvis for each rep. When they lower or raise themselves, their pelvis should not tilt to either side.
– Make sure your knee is over your proper toe for each repetition.
– Excessive ROM in the knee?
– Watch your feet and ankles. Can they control the movement?
Remember anytime you walk you have some forward momentum. Every time the knee flexes, a certain amount of shear is created as the femur rolls forward on the tibia. These are the natural mechanics of the knee. However, as you increase the load, the shear force also increases. Not to mention the extra stress on the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL).
Why are you walking with weight? for what purpose
If you must walk, focus on all movements up and down or vertically rather than forward.
The same concerns apply to barbell lunges.
If you sprint forward with a barbell on your shoulders, the only thing stopping the barbell from severing your neck is your cervical spine!
I was in a physical therapy clinic at Veterans Memorial Hospital, and the doctor told me that most spinal cord injuries occur at the neck of the spine. But hey, at least they’ll have tight buns.
If you’re going to have a client perform any type of weighted lunge with any type of forward motion, you better have a specific reason for doing it; Otherwise use your own body weight. If you must use a barbell, make sure the movement is vertical.
Remember, the power is not through the heel but through the ankle. Your shins aren’t on your heels, they’re on your ankles, so cue the ankles! If you need weights, try dumbbells.
The mechanics of the lunge are the same, but now there is no load on the spine. The limiting factor will be the weight the customer can carry in their hands. A belt might be a solution. Sometimes placing the dumbbell on the client’s side is fine if the dumbbell is not too large. Be careful though, it’s not very comfortable for many people.
All trainers seem to know the 90′ rule when squatting: You should never allow your knees to move in front of your toes, or let your knees drop more than 90 degrees.
But then I saw the same trainers have their clients lunge on steps so they could walk farther than 90 feet to increase their range of motion (ROM).
Any time you carry weight below 90 degrees, you increase the likelihood of wear and tear on the cartilage, bone, or joint itself. Using the floor prevents you from hyperflexing, which helps protect your knees. But hey, they might need knee surgery, but at least they’ll have a tight rear end!
I can see many reasons for doing this practice, all of which are sport-specific: soccer, tennis, baseball, squash, basketball, volleyball, and so on.
All mechanics are the same. The knee is a hinge joint, it can only bend one way. You have to be extra careful with momentum to the side. Sprinting hard sideways puts enormous shear forces on the joints and puts enormous stress on the medial and lateral ligaments of the knee, not to mention all the stress on the ankle.
When you sprint to one side during sports (except football or wrestling), your back is rarely taxed. Be careful with this lunge when loading.
You may want to build a small platform at an angle of 30-45′. Hold it up against a wall and let your customers rush up to this little platform. This will reduce the amount of shear and stress on the ligament.
You definitely have type II fibers in your hips and legs. Therefore, explosive training may be beneficial, especially for sports. This is where the 30 – 45′ platform really comes in handy. All the same rules apply for ROM that stabilizes the pelvis, feet, ankles, and knees. Also pay attention to the weight. Have your client lunge forward or to the side. Unhesitatingly uses stored elastic energy from the muscle’s SEC (series elastic components; what happens when you pull on a rubber band) and springs back to the starting position. Balancing will be a real challenge here.
You better have a really good reason to load up on this type of lunge.
Backward lunges are sometimes more effective than forward moves when alternating from one leg to the other. Most people are skeptical about the backward “leg flick”. They can’t see where they’re stepping, so they move more slowly and put their feet on the ground instead of jumping. This works great, but why alternate? Which brings me to the last but not least point.
If the goal is to work the glutes, the stationary lunge is my go-to. Each time you alternate legs, one leg is resting. Well, as Tom Purvis taught me, “If your set takes 2 minutes, rest one leg for half that time (or a minute)”. Convert that to 2 days a week, 8 times a month, 12 months a year, and you end up with half a year off. Why not just focus on one leg? You also have slow-twitch fibers in your glutes. Remember, every time your heels hit the ground in your gait, your glutes “fire.” Work hard on one side, then let it rest.
Compare this to alternating dumbbell curls. The only time I alternate dumbbell curls is when I’m warming up, or when I’m trying to do isolation exercises with heavy weights and need to rest the biceps between each rep.
If you must add weight, consider a Smith machine.
Smith Machine Lunge:
This is also a stationary lunge. Works best when you don’t alternate legs. Remember, your spine is still burdened. Control is the key here. Balancing weight is no longer an issue, and the weights used are not limited by grip strength. The machine will also prevent unnecessary forward momentum.
The Smith machine is a perfect solution for anyone who has trouble stabilizing the pelvis while using dumbbells.
Don’t forget to show your customers the safety collar.
All in all, lunges are an amazing exercise. It works just as well for the quadriceps as it does for the glutes. However, this can be an advanced exercise. As you just read, there are many variables, many things to consider and many things to monitor.
What are the goals, what can your client control and what limitations does your client have?
Lunges are not magic. They are what they are.
Respect your body and it will respect you.
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