Squats are all the rage these days with people on the quest for the perfect rear-end! For most athletes, the way to progress in this exercise is to continually add increasingly heavier weights.
But for a bodyweight ninja like myself, I prefer to do progressive variations on a squat like The Lunge! When was the last time you took a lunge walk?!? Why am I sweatin’ this "simple" movement, you ask? Because it is deceptively difficult to practice with proper form and it is a seriously effective exercise when done right!
5 Reasons Why I Dig Lunges!
#1 It is great for toning the legs, booty, and surprisingly enough, the abdominals because they are used to stabilize the spine at the eccentric (lowering phase) of the exercise. And what human doesn't want to tone all the above areas?
#2 They can help you correct your posture! If you suffer from any type of low back issues like sciatica and the like, due to a slight anterior (forward) pelvic tilt, you can practice aligning the spine and the pelvic bowl simply with this cue:
Place your hands on the hips and with your fingers locate those protruding pelvic bones, known as the ASIS, Anterior Superior Iliac Spine.
If you do have an anterior tilt, you will notice that at the bottom of the lunge the ASIS tend to point downward rather than forward. Manually adjust them so they face straight-forward instead.
If you lose your balance, just lower the back knee to the ground, make your pelvic adjustment, and keeping the integrity of the spine slowly raise the back knee off the ground again, and then switch legs!
#3 You can practice them anywhere! Been in the office all day? On your next lunch break, take a lunge walk all the way to your favorite restaurant and back!
It will be especially beneficial for stretching your hip flexors (the muscles at the top, front of your thighs) which will most likely be tight if you sit at a desk all day!
The hip flexor stretch happens in the back leg at the bottom of the lunge. You can also practice for long holds instead of reps as a daily stretch!
#4 We often limit our "leg day" training to strengthening quads and hammies, at the expense of the integral adductor muscles group (inner thighs, Ladies!). These 5 muscles are the Pectineus, Gracillis, and Adductors Longus, Brevis, and Magnus!
The Adductor group has many functions like pulling the leg toward the midline of the body, rotating the knee inward, dipping the pelvis downward and forward, and flexing the leg at the hip joint, as well as stabilizing while walking to keep the leg from buckling outward when your weight is on that leg.
Practicing your lunges regularly with the sensation of "scissoring" the legs together at the bottom phase can help strengthen this important group of muscles, even in some cases rehabilitating previous knee issues due in part to atrophy of the adductors.
In Yoga we call this "squeeze" the Inner Spiral. Physically, this manifests as an increased healthy curve in the lower lumbar spine and the sitting bones press out.
#5 They can be explosive!! Once you nail the foundation of the movement with good form, than you can start having fun with Plyometric Lunges! Just adding a few jumping lunges into the mix can gas you pretty quickly so they serve as a great warm-up or workout finisher!! You can practice them with same leg jumps or for an added challenge, switch the legs mid-air!!
When you train for skill, like I do, even what seems like a remedial exercise like the lunge, can turn into a super effective postural re-education lesson!
If you are new to this type of training, it helps to think of this newfound "awareness" as a way to shift your focus from trying to just bang out mad reps as a means to an end to an art form instead.
There is a reason that Calisthenics is considered a "beautiful strength" form, because it is a graceful expression of synergy between the body and the mind. Lose the iPOD and the mentality of tuning out your workout, instead bask in the present moment of the power and limitless potential of your own primal intensity!! Now you try, Ninjas!