Walking lunges are fundamental to any well-rounded fitness program. If you have basically healthy joints and no contraindications, there’s no reason to exclude this move from your repertoire.
Massive Lunge Workouts
I’ve written workouts up on the wall for my clients titled “Lungefest” and “Lunge-a-thon” with plenty of variations. Sometimes you want to give someone a big workout. You can just do lunges or you can pair this move up with some form of cardiovascular exercise like rowing.
The combinations are limitless.
We have easy workouts and we have hard workouts. What makes any Lungefest a “hard” workout is the fact that lunges work a major percentage of the total muscle in your body.
Before You Get Started
You, of course, want to make sure that you’ve got good form. This is common knowledge and can be found in books, videos or with your local fitness trainer.
It is good to get coaching from a professional who may see things that you don’t when you’re training yourself. I have my form critiqued all the time by other trainers – there is always something to learn.
All sorts of goofy situations can come up. For example, one woman I trained had bad pain in her feet when she did lunges. It was always on the back foot when she was stepping forward. Any time that she stretched that area it was super painful. I didn’t have an obvious cause for it so I just decided to avoid the exercise until we could find out what was up.
The next day I saw her walk in with extremely high heels. She was new to working out and 70% of her day was in high heels and she’d been doing this for over a decade. The problem was that her calf, achilles tendon and all of the muscles and connective tissue along the bottom of her foot had shortened. Just asking her to do a lunge was stretching it to the point of serious pain.
So we worked on gradiently getting her calves to loosen up. I pleaded with her to go with shorter and shorter heels so as to reverse some of this damage. And we made it fun and made progress. She was a very successful woman, but short and stubborn, and she didn’t want to give up that extra 6”.
It is a silly example, but a good one where a fitness trainer can pull out his arsenal of solutions for loosening up that locked up area and ultimately get the girl lunging without risk of injury.
The Benefits of Lunging
As I said, lunges work out a lot of muscle. Most of your muscle is from your hips down. This makes them very efficient for creating major changes in your body.
When you work out so much muscle at once, you’re making the body work that much harder to repair the muscle and build more muscle. The more muscle that you’ve got, the more calories you burn at rest – which brings me to my next point.
Great for weight loss. I’ve trained a lot of women that want to lose weight. Most women don’t want to put a lot of muscle on their upper body (as if it were that easy) so we build up their legs. If you want to lose weight, muscle is a wonderful asset.
You could just starve yourself and lose weight, but we’re usually looking for a body that has muscle and less fat, not just a body that has bones and skin.
If you are a guy and trying to boost your testosterone, you can’t neglect the legs. I once read a study involving several men who had their testosterone tested before and after doing a single exercise over a short period of time. One guy just trained biceps, the other his pectorals, another his quadriceps and I believe that the last was his deltoids. The guy who had the biggest jump in testosterone was the quadriceps guy.
The quadriceps in that study were, by far, the biggest muscle group in that study. One can conclude that the more muscle mass worked, the bigger the response in testosterone. Don’t neglect your legs.
But back to the benefits of lunges. Your hip flexors are very much benefited from doing this exercise. Most of us do a fair amount of sitting. Whether at school, work, home, socially or all of the above. This shortens your hip flexors so that when you stand up, they start to pull on your back.
Doing lunges forces your hip flexors into a stretched position that they would not usually see in an average day’s movement. It also strengthens them. With the average person that walks into the gym, I know I’ll have to do some work on their hip flexors because they are usually short and weak.
I could honestly talk all day about the benefits of lunges, but I think you get the point. I mean, they improve balance and coordination. Adding weight over your head or on your shoulders engages your core muscles…
There are tons of ways to spice this up – such as with jumping lunges. They aren’t for the newbie or the faint of heart, but they definitely produce a response.
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Tips To Prevent and Handle Soreness From Lunges
You’ve all seen the “after leg day” memes. It can be rather debilitating to have to do something even as simple as go to the bathroom or pick up your keys.
I don’t like to see people suffer needlessly, so I’ll give you my trade secrets on how to keep from getting sore. The first is to stretch thoroughly right after your leg workout.
I don’t know why this works and there is a lot of funny conflicting data on soreness. It used to be one thing and now its another, but they can’t really prove it… so whatever. For years I’ve been doing this to myself and others and I can say that a good stretch right after will do wonders.
Drink water. If you think you’re going to go work out, get dehydrated and then not feel some bad things, you’re wrong. You have to remain hydrated if you’re doing intense exercise.
Think of it this way: Chemical reactions happen in an aqueous environment (water). If you don’t drink enough, things are still going to react with each other, but the by-products and waste will just remain in that environment and not get flushed out as they should.
You begin to get really toxic. Dehydration is a whole subject worthy of study in and of itself. I’ve taken people who drink one or two glasses of water a day, put them on 3 liters per day and seen their energy levels skyrocket. Their success stories are unbelievable.
So don’t try to do intense exercise without being hydrated.
The day after: Continue stretching. This is a quick way to get out of pain. It’s not the ultimate fix to the point where you’re painless after an intense workout, but it helps.
If you’ve got some time and a foam roller, go to town! This is like taking all of the pain you will experience the rest of the day and putting it into one foam rolling session. BUT – when you’re done rolling, you will be able to pick up your keys and sit down semi-normally.
The “hair of the dog” approach. Do some more lunges. Yes. I said it.
I have always found that doing more of the movement that destroyed me will help un-destroy me. This is also for the semi-sadist or for those stronger individuals of society (moms) that can take immense amounts of pain.
How To Use Lunges in Your Regular Workouts
I like to use deep lunges in warm ups for the sake of opening up the hip flexors.
It also gets my clients (and myself) open to the idea of lunging more. The first few are rough. If it becomes a regular part of your warm up, I have found that I have much less push back from my clients (and myself) when doing more.
As far as variations go:
- Walking lunges
- Single arm overhead dumbbell lunges
- Reverse lunges
- Barbell locked out overhead lunges
- Jumping lunges
- Lunges with a weighted vest
- Lunges with dumbbells held at your sides
- Lunges with dumbbells held at shoulder height
- Prisoner Lunges (hands behind your head)
- Lunge, squat, lunge, squat…
- Fireman’s carry lunges (with a person on your shoulders)
The list goes on and on and the combinations are endless when you start pairing them with other exercises.
The best thing about lunges is that they don’t require machines or weights. You can get enough resistance just using your body weight.
This makes them easy, cheap and accessible for everyone. They are also pretty natural. It mimics the more usual way we bend over to pick something up (meaning one leg is usually forward).
So use them generously and see the change it makes in your body.
This is definitely one of the bigger guns in your workout arsenal. If calf raises have a difficulty of 2, then lunges would have a difficulty rating of about 8. But that is exactly why you benefit so much from doing them.
I’ll leave you with this video which shows how creative you can get. Some of these I’ve never had my clients do, but this is just food for thought and will help open you up to the variety of ways you can train your legs.