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Variations on a Lunge

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Three different lunge options.

Lunges and squats are two very similar exercises, but they each have distinct advantages. Here's how to choose one versus the other.

Squats are one of the best ways to increase your maximum lift. The way you position your body, with feet shoulder-width apart and flat on the floor, gives you great stability. For pure muscle-building power, squats are amazing.

Lunges are more challenging. Most require you to lift a foot off the floor, significantly reducing your stability and the amount of weight you can move. But that doesn't mean they're a bad choice.

Very few movements require you to keep both feet side-by-side like you do when you squat. In the real world, it's far more likely you'll be lunging than squatting. Think about how you shift your weight from the back leg to the front when you're jogging, running, dancing or playing sports like tennis. For the greatest FUNCTIONAL benefit, lunges win. Here are three variations.

Static Lunge

A static lunge is for beginners. Because you don't really move your feet, you can concentrate on proper form without worrying much about balance.

Start with one leg in front of the other and feet flat on the floor. Drop your body down, with your front knee making a 90-degree bend and your back knee coming to within two or three inches of the floor. You will be moving from flat feet, onto your toes on your back foot.

You return to the starting position once your front thigh has become parallel to the ground. Press down through your front heel. Keep the trunk of your body upright. The majority of your weight should be on the heel of your front foot as you move back up. Your rear foot should be used primarily for balance.

Reverse Lunge

A more challenging variation is the reverse lunge.

Start with both legs together, stand straight up, inhale and step backward. The leg that goes back should land on the ball of the foot. Drop your body down, with your front knee making a 90-degree bend and your back knee coming to within two or three inches of the floor.

Once your front thigh is parallel to the ground, exhale and start pressing down through your front heel. Use your front leg to pull you forward and up, until your legs are together again. Keep the trunk of your body upright throughout the exercise.

Forward Lunge - Leaning Forward

The forward lunge is the most advanced version, and you should only attempt it once you've learned the other two. Most of the time you'll see people perform it while keeping the trunk or core of their body upright. It's an acceptable way to do the exercise, but for women, there may be a better option.

Consider lunging with the trunk of your body leaning forward. That position works the glutes and hamstrings more. A traditional lunge with an upright trunk engages the quadriceps more.

Here's why that matters. Hamstrings on women tend to be weaker than men. The muscle imbalances between weaker hamstrings and strong quadriceps is considered the primary reason why women suffer ACL tears at a rate of two to eight times higher than men.

The simple act of leaning forward can help women better engage and strengthen their hamstrings. When the hamstrings are stronger, it can reduce the risk of an ACL injury. Here's how to do it.

Start with both legs together. Step forward and bend the forward knee, while keeping the back leg straight. You should maintain a straight line from your head to the heel of the back leg.

Keep bending the front knee until it's at a 90-degree angle. To return, press down through the ball of your front foot and push yourself back into the starting position.

Keeping your form is important. Have someone watch when you're first learning these exercises to make sure you're not twisting or bending inappropriately.

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