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Lunges give you a leg up on getting fit

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

Every week I train each body part. My favorite training day? Legs! My favorite exercise for training legs? Walking lunges! I love them. Just ask anyone who has ever taken one of my Butts n Guts classes.

There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t have my class do one, two or 50 walking lunges. Fifty? I’m joking, right? Not at all. My favorite (mine, not my students’) workout is when I tell them to head outside and we do walking lunges around the building. Yep, there we are ... in the PT Gym parking lot ... a bunch of idiots doing walking lunges around the building. I know that some of the customers at the Merry Acres Inn think that we are crazy as we look like a gaggle of ducks following their Mama Duck around because they don’t know any better.

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Michele Moulton demonstrates the correct form of the walking lunge exercise.

Over the years, I have experimented with lots of different leg exercises in the gym. I’ve done squats, leg presses, leg curls, leg extensions, dead lifts, the list goes on and on. But, nothing works as well for me as good ol’ walking lunges. Before I go further, please know that I am not a doctor or medical professional. I am simply a fitness enthusiast who has been in the gym for over 20 years sharing my favorite leg exercise with you. I have seen hundreds of people attempting to do walking lunges incorrectly, and I cringe every time I do because I know that their backs and knees are going to suffer.

Why do them? The walking lunge is one of the most beneficial exercises for athletes as it stresses joint mobility, strength, flexibility, core and challenges the cardiovascular system. Mobility of the ankle, hip and knee joints are required to maintain perfect alignment as well as to maintain stability. Flexibility is involved as the walking lunge creates a strong hip flexor stretch while working the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves.

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Michele Moulton demonstrates the incorrect form of the lunge exercise.

Did you hear that? Walking lunges work the quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. What happens when you work those muscles? You increase muscle growth and burn fat in your butt and legs. Now you see where I’m going with this! And, unlike traditional stable resistance training movements, walking lunges challenge your balance while engaging all of your major lower body muscles. So, we’ve got the possibility of having a tight butt, toned legs, flexibility and balance. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The million dollar question — How do you perform a walking lunge correctly? Listen closely.

Begin by standing up straight, and take a large step forward with your right leg striking with your heel first. Bend both knees so that your front knee is aligned over your ankle (90 degree angle!) and the back knee comes close to the floor. Your back heel will lift come off the floor. As your back knee is heading down to and almost touches the floor, push yourself up with your back left leg, forcing the weight of your body through your right heel, simultaneously bringing your left foot together with your right foot. Continue alternating legs without pausing.

I prefer to do my lunges with a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand. The added weight helps me with balance and also adds some extra resistance, which makes the exercise a little tougher. Beginners should begin with no weights and use their bodyweight as their resistance.

As you become more comfortable with the movement, then add the weight. How much? Women in my class use the 5-pound, 10-pound and 15-pound kettlebells. I prefer the 20-pound kettlebells.

The men in my classes use the 20-pound, 25-pound and 30-pound kettlebells, but it is truly a matter of personal preference and ability. Don’t overdo it. Leave your ego at the door. Give me five good lunges over 20 crappy ones any day. You want positive results, not achy knees.

So, did you try it? Did you feel like you were off balance and your form was less than perfect? Don’t feel bad if your balance was off. As with anything new, it takes time and practice to perfect this exercise. Try doing them in front of a mirror so you can see what your form really looks like.

I see poor form all the time in my classes. Here are the most common mistakes that I see and why you don’t want to make them:

(1) Allowing your knee to extend over your toes will cause pressure and pain in your forward knee;

(2) Leaning too far forward will cause you to lose your balance and put unnecessary strain on your back;

(3) Bringing the back foot too close to the center of the line of your body can put pressure on the knee and joints in the toes;

(4) Keeping your weight on the ball of your foot can cause unnecessary pain as you should push through your heels.

I have included a couple of pictures for you to use with my article. I hope between the explanations in this article and the pictures provided that you get an idea of what a really good walking lunge should be. Lunges are a great exercise and deserve to be done correctly! The key is to learn how to do them properly and then reap the benefits of this awesome exercise.

Now, get started! Lunge around the house as you hide Easter eggs. Who cares what the neighbors think? You’ll get the last laugh when you slip into that bikini in a couple of months. But, do them right! If you aren’t going to do them properly then why waste your time?

Michele Moulton has been a fitness instructor for over 21 years and is a certified Spinning instructor. She teaches at PT Gym and is an avid cyclist. She is an accountant and a mother of two boys, Austin and Harrison.