There's plenty of love given to the squat to build lower body strength, and a big appeal of growing glutes, but not enough credit is given to the lunge. With seemingly endless lunge variations to choose from, it's an exercise that'll challenge not only your lower body but your core stability and balance.
The stationary lunge is the basis for the reverse lunge, forward lunge, and walking lunge. Mastering the stationary lunge can help improve the other lunge variations and provide benefits that translate to other lifts and everyday life.
The stationary lunge is a compound exercise meaning it works multiple joints and muscle groups. Studies suggest that performing compound exercises produce more benefits than isolation exercises, including gains in strength and aerobic capacity. Below are the multiple muscles worked by the stationary lunge.
Anytime you bend your knees or hinge at your hips, which is probably every day, you're using your hamstrings, the big muscles in the back of your legs. It's important to keep these muscles strong because they can improve your overall athletic performance, help maintain posture, and may help prevent injuries. Exercising your hamstrings can help improve your quality of life as well as contribute to other lifts like the deadlift.
Strong glutes not only look good, but they also help keep your hips in line, which can reduce your risk of injury to your back and lower body, and studies suggest they can contribute to improved athletic performance. Even if you're not an athlete, the glutes help us walk and run and even walk up the stairs.
The quads are some of the biggest muscles in the body and are important for stabilizing your knees and simply keeping you standing. These muscles are worked when you flex your leg and can help improve your performance in exercises like the squat. Strong quads are also essential for runners because they can help generate the force needed for speed.
Lunges are great for strengthening your legs and butt, but you may not realize that they also help strengthen and stretch the hip flexors. These muscles help to stabilize the hips and spine, which can help prevent injury to the back. Stretching your hip flexors are just as important as strengthening them because they can affect posture and cause back pain if they are too tight. The lunge can be incorporated into your workout routine for hip flexor strength or into your warm-up for mobility.
Among working multiple muscle groups at the same time, the benefits of lunges don't just stop at building strong legs. They have the ability to help improve your other lifts, overall health, and your quality of life.
Since the stationary lunge exercises one side of your body at a time, it is a unilateral exercise. Exercises like the squat do a better job at hiding strength or muscle imbalances because one side could compensate for the other, however, when performing a lunge, you rely solely on one leg to do the work. Muscle imbalances could result in improper form and an increased risk of injury, so by only performing bilateral exercises, you may not be getting the safest, most efficient workout.
The stationary lunge has the ability to equally work the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors to help build a stronger, more symmetrical lower body. Having equal strength on both sides can improve your bilateral performance and may help to prevent potential injury.
As you step back into a lunge, your core and spine work to stabilize the rest of your body, so you don't fall over. The stationary lunge requires core stabilization of the entire rep count since your body weight is working to stay upright and balanced. This unilateral exercise causes your body to be less stable, therefore, challenging your balance.
Performing lunges not only works the lower body, but also activates the core muscles, which are responsible for maintaining balance, posture, and spine stability. Without a strong core, you may find you struggle more with lunges, but performing enough of them with proper form can help improve it.
The primary muscles worked by the stationary lunge are some of the same recruited by bigger lifts, the squat and the deadlift. Bigger, stronger muscles build—you guessed it—bigger, stronger legs. Not only do you build muscle, but you're building an equal amount of muscle on both sides, which can help lift heavier in these bilateral exercises.
The squat and deadlift also both require core strength and stability for a safer, stronger lift, which can be improved by performing lunges.
We probably all love hearing that phrase and find ourselves Googling for the next big trick to achieve fat loss. Lunges are a great way to build lean muscle mass, which can help increase your metabolism. Research suggests the importance of muscle mass in helping weight loss and reduction not only in obesity but also heart disease and diabetes.
Performing a stationary lunge with weights can give more advanced lifters a better chance at building muscles and losing fat, but bodyweight lunges can also do the trick if performed properly and the lifter is challenged enough.
Now that you know the benefits, you're probably ready to lunge right in, but let's talk proper form first. If done improperly, the lunge can be dangerous for your knees and lower back, but if done correctly, the lunges can provide the benefits above.
The stationary lunge can be done bodyweight, but you can also perform with dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell for extra resistance. If you're a lunge beginner, it's a good idea to start bodyweight at first and build up to weights.
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1. Stand up straight with your feet hip-width apart. People often make the mistake of starting with their feet too close together, which can result in wobbling and a less stable base. A good cue is to imagine you're standing on railroad tracks.
2. Keep your eyes straight ahead, chest tall, and core tight. This will help keep your posture up and keep your spine neutral, which is important in helping to prevent injury.
3. Shift your weight into your left foot as you step your right foot forward. Your weight should land in your right heel and your left toes should be planted into the ground.
4. Maintaining your posture and tight core, lower your body straight down by bending both knees to about 90 degrees, or whatever your range of motion allows. Your back knee should not touch the floor. A form tip is to make sure your front knee is not passing over your front foot. If your weight is in your front toes, shift your weight back so it is in your heels.
5. Since it is stationary, you won't head back to your original starting position, rather you will straighten your legs but keep them staggered. Repeat determined repetitions on one leg, then switch legs and repeat on the other side.
The lunge is extremely versatile, meaning the stationary lunge is just one of many variations. Whichever one you choose, you can still reap the benefits, but you can choose the best one depending on your goals and fitness level.
The forward lunge is similar to the stationary lunge but with movement through the sagittal plane. Your feet are hip-width apart, you step forward to lunge, but instead of staying in that position, you reset your feet back together.
This lunge variation works all the same major muscle groups as a stationary lunge, but it does put more emphasis on the quads. You may also find that forward lunges tend to test your balance more.
Almost identical to the forward lunge, the reverse lunge has you stepping backward instead of forward. The starting and ending position is the same, but this variation puts more emphasis on the glutes and hamstrings.
The reverse lunge is more of a beginner-friendly variation because you have more control stepping backward versus forward.
If you're looking for cardio, strength, and coordination, the jumping lunge is a great choice. Just a few reps are bound to get your heart rate up and your legs burning. Starting off in a stationary lunge position, you'll use the power from your legs, glutes, and hips to jump straight up. While in the air, you'll switch legs and land in the opposite position.
Just jumping is enough to test your cardio, let alone the added bonus of strength you get from the lunges. The quick movement of switching the legs can help improve your coordination over time.
The lateral lunge is not as popular as the standard lunge, but it can provide different benefits. Since you're stepping through the frontal plane, the adductors are more active, and you can target the outer area of your quads and glutes.
You may find these are difficult to master because of the required strength and flexibility, so it's important to understand the proper form to help prevent injury.
One of the less popular variations due to its complexity is the curtsy lunge. It may not seem difficult at first, but the required stability and balance make it a challenge. It also puts your knee in a more vulnerable position, so if you're a beginner, this is a good variation to do with a personal trainer.
Instead of stepping straight back, you'll step one leg behind the other and out to the side. Bend both knees at 90 degrees like you would a regular lunge and press through your front heel to reset.
Ah, the most dreaded variation. Although it is called a split squat,it is closely related to the stationary lunge due to the staggered stance and the static position. This variation is great for recruiting the glutes and the quads and requires more stability and balance.
You'll need an elevated surface for this one, like a bench or step. Place one foot on the surface behind you and the other foot out in front, just like you would a stationary lunge. Stay in this position as you dip down and back up.
In this exercise, the movement is in the name. You're lunging as you're walking. This requires balance and stability, and you should master the forward lunge before trying these ones. Walking lunges can help increase your flexibility and lower body strength.
You'll want to make sure you have ample room to walk around to avoid too many twists and turns. Make sure to set your feet hip-width apart each time to help with balance. Lunge forward with your right leg, reset in the middle, and lunge forward with your left, and repeat.
The stationary lunge is a great choice if you're looking to build strength, balance, and core stability. It's important to perform them properly to get the most out of your workout and to protect your back and knees.
If your leg day needs more variety than just the same old squat and deadlift regimen, look no further than these lunges. Whether you decide to do them bodyweight or add extra resistance, they can still contribute to your overall performance and wellness.
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