Of all the fundamental movements, such as squat, press, and hinge, the lunge is among the more challenging exercises for people to master, especially for people newly introduced to training. Have no fear - we are going to cover how to master your lunge, from what a lunge should look like, to different progressions to help advance your lunge, and even different compensations with fixes.
First, let's go over what a lunge should look like. As a coach, the first thing to look for is the front knee being at 90 degrees, followed by the shoulders directly stacked over the hips. The next thing we look for is the big toe of the back foot to be firmly planted into the ground. Lastly, we make the core is locked down and not moving at all.
With that set-up in mind, next let's get into the progressions. We always want to start easy and master the basics like the 90 degree angles, making sure everything is stacked from knee to hip to shoulder, making sure the foot is active and the core is active. In order to see if we have those, we do a TRX reverse lunge. The TRX gives us a sense of stability and balance. Once the athlete drops into the reverse lungelook at the different checkpoints of the movement. To do an isometric hold at the bottom of the the athlete builds up, their muscles are going to get stronger at those stretched out positions at the end range of motions.
Now, let's take away the TRX handle and do a bodyweight reverse lunge. Removing the TRX forces the athlete to balance more and engage their core. The athlete can progress this movement by again adding an isometric hold at the bottom of the lunge for 10 seconds, 20 seconds, etc.
Leveling up, add a dynamic component to the lunge and do alternating reverse lunges with the TRX. Once the athlete masters the alternating reverse lunge with the TRX, take the TRX away and have them do bodyweight reverse lunges. With continued improvement, go ahead and add in those isometric holds at the bottom of the lunge. The athlete can even add a tempo into the movement with three seconds on the way down, two second hold at the bottom of the lunge, and one second on the way back up.
Before thinking of adding weight to the movement, an even greater challenge than the reverse lunge is the forward lunge; the difference with forward lunge from the reverse lunge is that as the athlete drops back into the reverse lunge, it is easier time get into the hip and lengthen the quadricep muscle of the leg that is forward. When the athlete goes into a forward lunge, they may have a tougher time holding the lunge position and getting into the hip of the leg that is forward instead of that knee. If they have trouble with that, they will feel more pressure in their knee rather than their hip. Some common signs of this trouble is the athletes falling into the front knee a little more, and that front heel may come up. If this happens, switch back to a reverse lunge.
From here we can raise the center of mass - have the athlete put the dumbbells into the front rack position. This means taking the dumbbells from a low position to a high position now. As a result, the center of mass went from the lower part of the trunk to the upper part of the trunk. This position of the load really requires trunk stability to be a key factor. From this positioning, have the athlete switch to alternating reverse lunges and to see if they can maintain a proper lunge in that racked position. For an additional weight progression, the athlete can put the load overhead, as that raised center of mass is the highest challenge of trunk stability.
The lunge progressions don't stop there. The athlete can add a rotational component to it, such as with a sandbag. This form of lunge is beneficial for working three planes of motion at once. The athlete will drop back into a reverse lunge and rotate the upper body with the sandbags towards their front leg, then add a rotation to this. The athlete should still be able to maintain a stacked position, have those 90 degree angles that were mentioned earlier, and keep the feet engaged. One common fault we see with this movement is that athletes may tend to roll on their front foot to maintain balance. In order to solve this, cue the athlete to keep the front heel down and use the big toe to grab the ground. Once you find where the athlete breaks down, that is where the progression stops and the opportunity to grow starts.
Common Lunge Faults
Now that we've covered what a lunge should look like, let's talk about some of the common faults we see with the lunge and the fixes. The first common fault in lunging is a forward lean in the upper body. This can be due to the athlete now having the trunk stability or hip mobility to get into the position and access the glutes. If that happens, one way to fix it is a feed-forward mechanism with an FMT band. By trying to pull the athlete forward with the band, they will be forced to turn the core on and resist that pull to try to remain in the proper stacked position. If they don't compensate appropriately, they risk falling on their face.
The second fault might be knee pain. This happens when the athlete loads into the knee instead of the hip. One quick way to fix that is to change a forward lunge into a reverse lunge. In the reverse position, the knee does not have to track so far forward, so the athlete should be able to load into the hip a bit more, and find the angles in the knees and hips at the bottom.
The third fault we see is still stemming off of knee pain but instead of the knee position, it is because of the ankle. If the ankle is limited and does not have the mobility it needs, then the knee will stop tracking. The athlete will have to compensate for the lack of ankle mobility and find it somewhere else, so they might fall forward or the ankle comes off the ground. To fix this issue, have the athlete do a reverse lunge but with the ankle popped up (this is meant to be a quick fix to still get the athlete to lunge properly and not meant to be the proper fix for challenge ankle mobility). Then the athlete will be allowed to sit back into a reverse lunge.
While the lunge is one of the more challenging movements by nature, it is not meant to be reserved for the elite. By finding the angles holding the trunk stability together, the athlete can lunge. From there, it is about loading it properly, adding volume over time, and then adding pieces that make it a bit more challenging. If the athlete is getting knee pain or falling forward, try going through the progressions and it should help clear things right up for an easy breezy lunge!