During a course early in my training career I heard the phrase “Lunges are for sissies.” 21 year old Max was like, “Hell yeah! Let’s go do squats and deadlifts!” The rest of the people in attendance repeated the mantra, and the damage to the poor lunge was done.
Time for this misinformation to die.
Why would the lunge be targeted for ridicule in the first place?
The lunge seems to have an association with a girl performing standard walking lunges for upwards of 1 million steps, maybe with a couple of 5 pound weights. The key to this myth is that she doesn’t know what she’s doing. Lazy coaches prescribe walking lunges to the death so their clients can destroy their legs while coach plays with their phone.
More weight does NOT equal more benefit
Yes, you can move more weight when you perform exercises on two legs, but the whole “more weight=better” idea is a myth. The goal of exercise is to facilitate an adaptation to a stimulus. The stimulus has to do with not only the amount of load, but also the leverage, and the repetitions. Not only that but lifting weights at absolute maximum effort and load just isn’t the brightest idea…unless you’re a powerlifter where lifting the most weight is how you win.
1. Bilateral Deficit
We also have to consider something called the bilateral deficit. This is the idea that your brain can only send a certain amount of neural drive to the muscles. So if you send that neural drive to only one muscle, it can fire harder independently than if you fired 2 muscles. For example, test your 1-arm curl against to your 2-arm curl. You will be able to lift more than 50% of your 2-arm curl with one arm.
Here’s an example of that in action with some single leg deadlifts: (Note: I can NOT deadlift 630 for 5 reps, but I can single leg deadlift 315 for 5 reps)
One other advantage here is that the legs are the limiting factor, rather than the core and back, so you can train the legs more effectively.
2. We are Bipedal (2 legs)
Walking and running are arguably the most important physical qualities for athleticism and survival. When you lunge, one hip is in extension, with the other in flexion (like walking, running, leaping, bounding, most athletic movements).
The lunge can emphasize flexibility. If you lunge barefoot, you can mobilize the toes, feet, and ankles–which is becoming more important as a vast percentage of the population spend most of their time wearing restrictive shoes.
4. Back Issues
When it comes to preventing back issues, tight hip flexors are a common culprit. The thing is though, they are usually tight AND weak–so don’t JUST stretch them! In a standard split squat (lunge position but the feet don’t return to start position) the front leg is taking on the majority of the job, but the back leg is working too. The rear leg is loaded up and now you have a chance to both stretch and strengthen the front side of the hip and knee–which can prevent low back and knee issues.
5. Acceleration and Deceleration
During sports, you’ll find yourself changing direction through a wide range of angles and foot positions. The lunge is the safest and most effective way to build up the strength to do this.
3 basic lunges and their primary targets:
Forward lunge (Forward deceleration and reverse acceleration–quad emphasis)
Reverse lunge (Reverse deceleration and forward acceleration–glute emphasis)
Lateral lunge (lateral acceleration and deceleration–abductor/adductor emphasis)
Owning these different angles in a safe and controlled environment is the best way to prepare you to do them safely during the chaos of sport and real life.
So many fantastic reasons to lunge, and so little time…
Get your Daily Dose of Lunges
You can load lunges plenty heavy using a barbell or a couple of dumbbells. Especially for reps in the 6-10 range.
Lunges can also train your core in a unique way by using asymmetrical loading.
In the UA challenge here, I’m working on simultaneously stabilizing a weight overhead, and using my lateral chain to hold rigid while I alternate lunges. This is a big winner for enhancing your overall movement and athleticism.
So seriously, if you want to continue being an effective biped and a good athlete, lunge every damn day. Sometimes lunge for mobility, and sometimes lunge for strength, and do medium reps to build muscles in your legs, but for the love of god lunge.
Lunges are for people looking to improve their flexibility, reduce pain, and be athletic badasses with a sweet set of glutes.
Better every day,