Lunges are a strong, calorie-burning exercise that form an important part of calisthenics, and which come in both a basic type and in many different varieties. There are many sideways lunges such as the clock lunge which can be used to add variety and work different muscle groups, but this article centers on the primary type of lunge – lunging straight forward or straight backwards.
The major muscular targets of the lunge are the thigh muscles (quadriceps) and the buttocks. This exercise is often used to tone, tighten, and lift the buttocks not only for fitness reasons, but to make them firmer and more attractive. However, it is also excellent for developing the muscles of the legs. It ensures that muscle building occurs symmetrically on both legs, and it helps to define and strengthen the lower back and lower abdominal muscles as well. Both of these areas are prone to injury, so tougher, more compact sinews here will help to protect you from a wide range of sprains.
Extreme lunges that take the legs beyond 90º angles, as described below, are best avoided by beginners and even moderately fit people. Though these dramatic lunges can produce good results, they are also highly stressful on the joints, including the ankles, knees, and hips.
If a joint starts hurting, stop immediately – your thigh muscles and buttocks may get sore a few hours after your first few sessions, and this is quite normal and acceptable, but a stab of pain in the joint while lunging is nature’s equivalent of an urgent cease and desist order.
The Motion of the Lunge – 90º Legs
When you make a lunge, you basically take a step forward with one leg, and then kneel, without actually touching your back knee to the floor. Your forward leg should remain at 90º vertically below the knee – the thigh should extend horizontally from your hip, and the calf connect it to the floor vertically. Do not allow your knee to project up or forward beyond these points, as various joints could be injured by such extension beyond 90º.
Similarly, the backwards leg should also see its thigh and calf reach their furthest extension at 90º. The thigh should project straight downwards from the hip, and the calf stay parallel with the floor. Since your toes will be bent and your foot vertical, this means that the knee of the backwards leg should remain several inches above the floor. Do not actually kneel because this represents overextension and the risk of injury. Your muscles will get a better workout if your weight is suspended on them rather than rested on your kneecap, too.
Proper Posing of the Torso During a Lunge
The torso should remain straight and erect during the whole process of the lunge, without swiveling or bending. Your back should be straight and you should keep you arms in whatever position you have chosen for them – straight at your sides, folded, etc. Your head and neck need to remain upright, as well – resist the temptation to look down and watch your lunge directly, instead relying on your peripheral vision while keeping your head firmly erect.
A spotter may improve your lunge performance during the early stages of using this exercise as part of your calisthenics program. It is difficult to assess whether you are keeping your legs at the proper 90º angle while you are also keeping your head properly erect. Having a second person on hand to watch and tell you when you have reached the correct angle will help you develop good exercise habits. You will soon get a “feel” for the proper 90º angle and will no longer need a spotter.
Light Lunges for Beginners
For those who are just beginning their calisthenics explorations, a full lunge may prove to be excessively tiring. In this case, for your first few sessions, carry out half lunges instead, with your rear-facing knee only descending partway to the floor. The thigh should slant back at a 45º angle, rather than projecting straight down, and the calf should slant down towards the foot rather than being parallel to the floor.