Safer Alternatives To The Standard Forward Lunge:
Before we go any further I want to clarify that the forward lunge can be a great exercise for athletic performance and increasing lower extremity muscular development, for individuals with adequate flexibility, and when intelligently programmed into a training protocol.
However, when those parameters are not met, serious sheer forces on the knees will occur increasing the risk for pain and injury that is only compounded over time.
Therefore, if you are experiencing any pain in your knees when lunging, I highly recommend that you try the exercises below as alternatives, and seek out the assistance of a qualified fitness professional to assess your situation.
With this movement you can train the same movement pattern as a forward lunge, while actually getting a 10-15 degree higher front side hip flexion angle, adding a slight bit of slack to the rectus femoris muscle (quad muscle that crosses your hip joint). This allows your patella to respond more favorably to the movement and prevent the patellar fascia and ligamentus structures from strain.
- Take as wide of a step back as possible to allow for the proper angle of descend (~90 degrees).
- Make sure your knees track over your middle toes, keeping close to a 90 degree angle, maintaining a vertical shin.
- Keep your torso as vertical as possible without over extending your lumbar spine.
- Engage your core by drawing your belly in.
- Firmly press front foot into the ground for added stability.
- Hold onto a stable surface for balance if necessary, until proper stability can be achieved.
Front Elevated Split Squat
This is a another great way to encourage a vertical shin, again protecting your non-contractile tissues of your knee from excess strain. You can also preform the same movement with your rear foot elevated on a bench or chair as a progression.
- Apply all the same principles as stated above for the reverse lunge.
- Only use an elevated height that allows you to maintain a 90 degree angle of knee flexion or close to (don’t use a surface that’s too high).
These can be done with many variations, and here I demonstrate a frontal and lateral step up. The lateral step up allows more activation of the vastus lateralis quadriceps muscle, so it can be used as another alternative to increase variety.
For even more knee support, you can do this with a slower step down variation using support from a stick or broom by your side.
- Most importantly make sure that you are using the working leg and glute to drive you up, and not the leg on the ground. You should only have a slight push off from the standing leg.
- Select a height that is doable for you, and allows you to maintain control as you descend. It’s better to start with a lower height and work your way up.
- Keep your knee tracking over your middle toes.
- Use a stick or wall for support if necessary.
These are just a few variations you can try to help maintain the integrity of your knees, while still incorporating a lunge pattern, activating your lower body muscle groups, and introducing uni-lateral training simultaneously.
Being able to safely execute the lunge movement pattern is very important for overall functional strength and mobility, and a great tool for those looking to increase muscle gains and get some sexy legs. 🙂
So don’t steer away from lunges all together if you experience knee pain, try substituting with reverse lunges first and foremost, and adding the elevated split squat and steps ups in for additional variety, and re-evaluate your pain.
Most importantly, DO NOT continue to push through any movements that illicit pain.
Try to pinpoint what movements are causing you pain, be sure to stay away from them, and seek out alternative methods/modifications, until you can address and solve the cause of your pain.
In most cases, you can use walking on an incline as a safe alternative to burn some calories while building strength, as you seek out more specialized treatment.