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Lunge for strong legs.

Although the lunge is a terrific training exercise for the entire leg region, it is often overlooked when crafting the typical leg training routine. Most people focus on squats, leg curls, leg press and leg extensions but fail to incorporate one of the top ways to strengthen legs--the weighted lunge.

The lunge is unique in its ability to work both the quadriceps and hamstrings. For instance, if you perform the leg press, you strongly stimulate the thighs but not the hamstrings. Likewise, if you perform the leg cuff, you work the hamstrings but not the quads. However, the lunge is a superb exercise for stimulating a solid slab of muscle growth throughout your lower limbs--even the glutes benefit from this terrific movement. Enhancing the body's ability to jump, run and lift, the muscle gains are functional as well as aesthetic. In addition to stimulating muscle growth, the lunge develops balance and agility.

The Basics

The lunge motion is fairly simple. From a standing position, step forward with one foot, keeping the other foot planted. Your body weight will shift to the ball of the front foot. Flex at the knee and hip of the front leg and bend the rear leg until the knee almost touches the floor. Then, return to the original standing position by extending the hip and knee of the lead (i.e., forward) leg. Sounds simple, right? However, this exercise is often more difficult than it sounds and some practice is necessary before performing it with weights.

The following tips will enable you to successfully perform the lunge.

(1) Maintaining neutral spinal alignment throughout the range of motion is important. During movement, the plane of the shoulders should remain parallel to the floor and the back should be straight. Keeping the chest up ensures the back remains straight.

(2) Tilting to either side in the descent or ascent can lead to injury.

(3) Keep your lead knee at a 90-degree angle or higher. The knee should be in line with the toes from start to finish. Do not go too far forward or downward, stop at these specific points (i.e., knee over lead toes, 90-degree angle).

(4) Personal trainer Jean-Paul Francoeur warns against the cheat pocket, which can occur if you turn the lead knee in a little and "sort of bounce out of the lunge." He recommends pointing your knee out at a slight angle and coming to a short stop at the bottom.

Add Weight

Once you learn to perform the lunge with a solid technique you can add weight with a barbell or dumbbell. Which is better? Juan Carlos Santana, MEd, CSCS, notes that both dumbbell and barbell versions have unique benefits. "Lunges with a barbell are harder on the body core because the weight is on your shoulders and traps, while lunges with dumbbells offer more flexibility so you can create more variations," he says. "Either can be used for ham strength and flexibility. Use both for full development."

Be careful with your initial foray into weighted lunges. Remember, you are putting all of the pressure on a single leg--both body weight and the barbell or dumbbells you carry. Start with a light weight (i.e., 15 to 20 pounds) and gradually increase the load. Another control mechanism is your pace. If you deliberately ascend slower than you descend, you increase the amount of work on the upward phase by working against gravity. Taking three to four seconds to come up and just a second to go down is a great rhythm for challenging the thighs.

The lunge can be the centerpiece of your leg routine or a complementary movement. Since it employs of lower body muscles and lets you perform an all-in-one exercise when training time is scarce, it is also a great option for abbreviated workouts. If you have not tried the lunge before, consider making it your main leg exercise for a training cycle or two. You will learn to appreciate this great leg-training tool.

Full Front Lunge with Barbell

Standing with your feet hip-width apart, place a moderate weight barbell (i.e., 20 to 25 pounds or lighter if you are new to performing lunges) across your shoulder/upper back region. Take a larger than normal stride forward in a straight line, while keeping the ball of the other foot in the original position. Keep your trunk in an upright and supported position (i.e., don't lean forward) and lunge in a downward/upward motion (similar in a carousel horse), making sure the lead knee is above the toes and the back knee stays underneath the hip. Push back up to the original position, emphasizing the use of the quadricep muscles. Do three sets of 10 repetitions on each leg. This exercise can also be done with dumbbells.


Partial Front Lunge with Barbell

Assume the same starting position as the front lunge. Step forward with the lead foot, but only lower your body halfway instead of the full range of motion used in the previous exercise. Then, push back to the starting position. Perform two to three sets of 12 repetitions for each leg.

This shorter range of motion may allow some people to use heavier weights. After you become accustomed to executing the lunge, you may increase resistance by gradually adding a heavier load. Make sure the increased weight does not compromise your form and execution of the exercise. This exercise can also be done with dumbbells.

Walking Lunge with Dumbbells

Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides and stand with your feet hip-width apart. Step forward with the right foot. While maintaining a stable front leg, bend the back knee under the hip, moving the body in a downward (not forward) motion. Be sure the front knee does not pass the toes. Push yourself upward while moving the left foot forward to a parallel position with the right foot. Then, repeat the same process with the left leg.

Perform eight to 10 alternating walking lunges and complete two to three walking cycles with a one- to two-minute rest between each cycle. If necessary, modify the number of repetitions to maintain form and alignment. Remember, this is a progressive action and, thus, should be done only after the front lunge has been mastered. This exercise can also be done with a barbell.

Dwayne Hines II, CPFT, NSCA, owner of Iron Mountain Enterprises, has been active in the fitness arena as an athlete, model and writer. He is the author of 12 books, including Six Pack Abs in 60 Days.
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Title Annotation:Workouts
Author:Hines, Dwayne, II
Publication:American Fitness
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2003
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