From being in the gym most days of the week, I've seen so many different exercises. One of those are lunges. I've never realized how many variations to a lunge there are, and how they can target a different muscle group entirely. But I never understood why some people are cued to perform a reverse lunge rather than forward. What's the different if it look like the same form and stance? Here's where I'd like to break it down to show you that even if the movement looks similar, there's a reason for why you may want to change it up.
No matter how well you think you may being doing your lunges, this exercise is one that can eventually catch up to you. Ever notice time and time again after doing lunges you develop more pain or discomfort in the knees? Why is that?
There are two fundamental movement patterns that should be trained - the squat and the lunge. The lunge is a very popular movement you see often in many different forms. It's a way to place stress on the quads to increase strength and muscle mass. It also helps in stabilizing the hips by incorporating the posterior chain muscles. However, because of the movement of placing so much stress into one leg, it also causes increased stress into the knee, causing the discomfort. This is where variations take play into an exercise program, to help with longevity of healthy knees but add some size to those thighs!
Forward Lunge Problems
Knee pain after lunges is common for most people due to the increased stress placed on the knee. Pain can be described as sharp across the knee joint, more so on the anterior,medial aspect. But why is there an increase in this stress but not when doing a squat? This is primarily due to the fact that there is increased eccentric loading on the quads on the front leg while trying to keep the trunk in an upright position. This load will cause strain on the patella tendon and ligaments surrounding. Repetitive motion will also cause stress on the distal end of the femur. Swelling may occur from the friction of the movement. There is so much going around the knee including ligaments, tendons, fascia and muscle all around the joint, that you are bound to aggravate something.
The forward lunge is taught in an upright position and straight spine. It involves core and hip stability during the dynamic movement. During the movement, being an this neutral position stimulates all portions of the quads. And because the quads are firing intensely, it causes a stress of pulling at the patella over and over which each repetition. This is why we begin to feel knee pain after doing lunge after lunge, day after day.
The Alternative Approach
Just because lunges can possibly lead to pain doesn't mean you have to go complete cold turkey on the lunge. With any exercise, there's always risk of injury. Therefore, a different approach can help lead to gains while decreasing this stress load. Which is where I bring you to the reverse lunge. But what is so different? Isn't this basically the same movement?
In actuality, it is not the same from a regular forward lunge. Even the smallest of alterations in body mechanics can make a huge difference. Starting position is identical, but instead there is a step backward. The front leg will remain stable in the hip and knee.This will be more of a closed chain exercise since it is already acting in a stable position. Step length and neutral spine is also similar in both exercise, however the hip flexion angle and the position of the hip will be the key difference that may make this the better alternative.
Comparing the two
When performing a reverse lunge, it is more of a hip hinge movement, activating more into the glutes and hamstrings than a forward lunge. It increases in hip flexion slightly allowing the quad to be slightly on slack when the back foot is down during the lunge. This removes the strain placed on the patella and surrounding tissue.
As I've previously stated, there's so many different variations, rep schemes, and use of equipment when performing a lunge. You can go from bodyweight lunges, to lunges in the squat rack, to a Bulgarian split squat with a kettlebell. My advise it so always switch it up, whether it be in stance, high load, or increased weight. Equipment used can by dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, or medicine balls. In regards to body position, you can change it up from weights/arms at side, barbell on the back, goblet position, overhead, or one arm opposite side. When lifting heavier loads, it is best to decrease reps and aim 6-8 reps. At lighter loads, increase the reps for about 10-15 reps. And lastly, lunges should be performed 1-3 days a week, making sure to rest and recovery in between days. Consistency is always key when strength training.