Whether you’ve been exercising for as long as you can remember or you’ve just gotten off the sofa, some common exercises seem like no-brainers.
But, all too often, it’s on these seemingly obvious exercises that 90% of exercisers (and plenty of certified personal trainers) need a tune-up. Today, for the third in the series of moves that you never knew you were doing wrong, we are covering Forward Lunges.
Whether you’re doing your first Camp Gladiator boot camp, 50th Orangetheory Fitness class, or 5,000th repeat of your fave workout video, you have done forward lunges. Forward Lunges have a lot going for them: they’re metabolic, multi-muscle/multi-joint, bodyweight only (or can be), and they’re fantastic for lifting and toning the butt! But the downside is that many people turn the knee in, putting unnecessary strain on the knee.
A properly performed lunge forward will align the hip, knee and ankle in the sagittal, or longitudinal, plane (think railroad tracks). Without mindfully tracking the knee with the toes when the foot lands forward, the knee may naturally turn inward, throwing off alignment and knocking the train off the tracks. I say “naturally,” because depending on how your femur (thigh bone) fits into your acetabulum (hip socket), you may have what’s called a “natural turnout.”
Here’s a quick test: If you stand up straight, barefooted, and shake your legs out, then plant your feet where they naturally fall, you can look down and you’ll notice if your feet landed forward or turned out. A woman’s pelvis is shaped wider and flatter than a man’s and that differently-shaped bone affects the hip’s ball-and-socket joint; most women have a natural turnout.
We (myself included) can say the problem is congenital, and we’d be right, but that doesn’t mean we go around walking like a duck with our feet turned out. In the same way, when we lunge, we may have to make a conscious effort to turn the toes forward, not out, and knee forward, not in.
If you refuse to self-correct the natural tendency of your body, you probably shouldn’t be doing forward lunges, because with time, the malalignment will come at a price to your knees. (However, it’s totally fine to embrace your natural turnout on squats. If your feet naturally turn out, when you squat, just be sure your knees track out, too!)
Weakness is another reason that the knee may turn in. If your hamstrings (backs of thighs) and gluteus medius (side booty muscles) are weak, it will be difficult to align your joints properly in a lunge. See our exercises below the Forward Lunge for strengthening your hamstrings and glutes.
The Forward Lunge
How To Strengthen Your Hamstrings
How To Strengthen Your Gluteus Medius
Cover photo courtesy Brook Benten Jimenez
Brook Benten Jimenez, M.Ed., is an exercise physiologist in Georgetown, Texas. She is currently in the running for “Ms Health & Fitness 2020” (vote here). Benten Jimenez was named 2012 “Austin’s Fittest Fitness Professional.”