Press-Republican

October 23, 2012

Lunge into better balance, fitness

TED SANTANIELLO, Fit Bits
Press-Republican

---- — Lunges are a great way to elevate the heart rate, as well as increase strength, coordination, balance and mobility.

The motion can be a safe and effective exercise if done correctly and you have no physical limitations. Lunges develop both strength and balance while also increasing mobility. There are also many types that can be done, including stationary lunges, walking lunges, reverse lunges and side lunges. If you are looking to better your lunge form or you are thinking about using lunges in your exercise program, it is important to know the basics.

ONE SHIN LENGTH

A lunge is essentially an exaggerated step either forward, sideways, backwards or diagonally. To start a forward lunge, you must take a large step. The amount you step forward really depends on your leg length and mobility. The minimum you’ll want to lunge forward or backward is equal to one shin length. Usually, you will be stepping farther than that, but this is a great drill to begin with. 

Measure from the ground to your knee cap, then make two marks representing that distance on the floor. Stand with the toes of both feet at the back mark and take a large step just past the front mark. Your heel should be beyond the front one. This is the proper step for a lunge. As you become more comfortable, you can lunge farther out.

The next rule of the lunge is to never let your front knee travel further than your front toe. To avoid this, you must think about dropping your hips straight down after the large step. You must bend the back knee to do this. You want to avoid having your hips travel forward when you lower yourself into the lunge.

UPPER BODY TALL

Keep your front heel on the floor. This is a very hard move if you are starting out. When taking the first step, you should land on your heel and keep it pressed into the floor. To do this, pull your front toe up while lunging. The back heel should be off the ground, as you will be on the balls of your foot, toes facing forward.

During the entire lunge, you want to keep your upper body tall. You can have a slight lean forward, but your back should be completely straight and your shoulders squeezed back. This is why the lunge is also a core exercise. It requires you to really stabilize your upper body while you work your lower body.

A perfect lunge requires maintaining perfect alignment in all your joints. To visualize this, imagine looking straight at someone doing a lunge. Their hip joint, knee, ankle and toes should all be in line. If the knee is traveling inward, or the toes are facing outward, it is not idea at all and can be detrimental. It’s best to have someone else watch you to point this out, preferably an exercise professional. 

NOT FOR EVERYONE

To finish the lunge, you must come back to the starting position, either by stepping forward onto the front leg, which is a walking lunge, or pushing back to the rear leg, which would be a stationary lunge. Either way, you will be standing with both feet together when completed.

Lunges are a great way to get your heart rate up and work on balance, strength and mobility all at the same time. They aren’t for everybody though. Those with back pain — or any lower body pain — should avoid lunges unless approved by a medical professional. Those who can do lunges, make sure you are practicing safe execution of the exercise. If you have trouble balancing, feel free to hold on to something stable while you do them. A sturdy table is best, as you can slide your hands forward as you lunge. 

Lunges are tough, but a challenge is what you want.

Ted Santaniello, CSCS, is a certified personal trainer and the fitness manager at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.