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The lunge may look like a relatively straightforward exercise.
You stand with your foot together, knees and toes facing forward. Step one leg out in front, bend both knees until the back one nearly touches the floor and the front one is at around a 90 degree angle, then push back forcefully to the start. Not much to it really.
You could be forgiven, therefore, for thinking that lunges don’t really matter. After all, you can lift more weight on a barbell squat than you can on a lunge, and your quads don’t get the same burn from lunges as they do from a high rep set of leg extensions, so why include lunges in your routine?
When you do a bilateral exercise, where both legs work at the same time, such as the leg press, one leg will almost always do more work than the other. This is due to muscular imbalances that have built up over the years you’ve been training, and potentially stemmed from a previous injury, or the way you stand and move in every day life. The discrepancy on strength between your two legs may be minimal, but the more reps you do, the worse it can become, and the strength deficit increases.
By adding lunges into your routine, you work each leg independently. This can not only help you to identify possible weaknesses and imbalances between sides, but also correct them.
Where both legs perform different movements when lunging, this tests the ligaments around the knee – predominantly the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the medial collateral ligament (MCL.) Strengthening these ligaments, and the other supporting structures around the knee joint is important for anyone, but particularly for two groups of people – athletes and females.
Athletes often have to make quick turning movements, change direction and accelerate or come to a dead stop, which places a high degree of stress on these ligaments. Likewise, women are more prone to knee ligament injury, due to their natural bone structure of wide hips and slightly narrower knees. Get strong ligaments with lunges, and you’re injury-proofing your lower body.
If you’re used to only ever performing bilateral movements, or basing your leg workouts around machines, rather than free-weights, then lunges are a surefire way to kick-start muscle growth. Not only do they hit your quadriceps, they also work your hamstrings, glutes, calves, and even give your core a bit of a going over. Different lunge variations target muscle groups differently too, meaning there’s a lunge variation for every occasion.
Those with tight and immobile hip flexors, adductors, quads, hamstrings and calves can seriously struggle to perform even a basic body-weight lunge. By training yourself through a shorter range of motion first, then gradually building up until your technique’s perfect, before adding weight, not only do you strengthen these muscles, but you increase their mobility too.