Other than the squat, the lunge should be the second exercise you’re doing on a daily basis to maintain musculoskeletal health.
The beauty of it is, just like the squat, you only need your body weight and can do it anywhere.
The Purpose Of The Lunge
1. Functionally (real life purpose): translates to walking and running.
2. Muscles (which muscles does it train): works on the butt, hamstrings, quadriceps, and adductors. While the squat works the same muscles, the lunge puts more preference on the adductors, deep butt structures, and side core musculature because it takes more muscle activity to balance on one leg compared with two.
3. Stretching: the lunge has the added benefit of stretching the hip flexors, particularly the psoas and iliacus. These two muscles tighten up over time with longer durations of sitting. Incorporating lunges into your sitting micro-breaks can go a long way towards reducing and preventing low back pain.
This is for the reverse lunge version as opposed to the forward lunge. Both lunges are effective as they both serve different purposes. To help train the posterior chain and put LESS load on the quad, I prefer this version.
Brace your core: Bring tension to your entire core, including stomach, sides, and low back. Do this properly by pretending like I am going to punch you in the stomach through the computer screen and you want to protect your organs. DO NOT BRING YOUR BELLY BUTTON IN CLOSER TO THE SPINE as this does not lock all of the core muscles into one unit.
Begin the movement by stepping back with your foot as far as comfortable, making sure not to extend the spine (keep your core and ribs locked down to your belly).
Attempt to bring your body weight as far backward over the back knee as possible. Keep your trailing leg’s gluteal muscles tight to make sure you open up the front of your hip. This is important for stretching those hip flexors, as mentioned above.
Let the trailing knee touch the ground.
To come back up to standing, stab the lead heel into the ground and lift your body by pulling your glutes and hamstrings.
The Big Picture
If you’re already squatting on a daily basis, great! As far as bang for your buck, you can’t find a better health investment than that.
Lunging is the next exercise you’re going to use to diversify your health assets.
If you squat and lunge on a daily basis, you can maintain the health of the musculoskeletal system from the core down well into old age, preventing the grandma slide that characterizes older people who can’t lift their feet and the devastating effects of falls and hip fractures.
If you’re a beginniner, I recommend hitting a quota of 10 lunges per day, spreading them throughout the day in any way you wish. If it’s difficult to step into and out of a lunge, the split squat variation where you start with your feet in a staggered stance and raise your center of gravity straight up and down could be helpful. (More on that later).
If you’re a chronic sitter (perhaps from a desk job), pumping out a few lunges every 30 minutes can help restore precious blood flow to the hip flexors.
Start practicing! Remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it!
Any questions on pain in specific places, discomfort, injuries you’re working around, please feel free to ask.
Dr. Christopher Stepien is a chiropractor, chronic pain specialist, and A.R.T. provider, and clinic director of the Barefoot Rehabilitation Clinic in Morristown, NJ. He practices out of Crossfit Morristown.