Exercises, Injury Prevention, Self Care
Lunges are great cross-training exercises for almost any discipline. Forward, reverse, side, or diagonal lunge positions work to sculpt, define, and strengthen large lower body muscle groups including the gluteus maximus (glutes), hips, hamstrings, adductors, hip flexors, and quadriceps (upper) thighs.
If you are a beginner or are adding lunges back into your workout routine, you can start with your body's weight and resistance to strengthen your core and gain balance. Since lunges work large muscles, you may need to complete many repetitions to achieve the desired results. Start with two sets of ten lunges on each leg. You may lunge on one leg at a time or alternate your legs for each set.
Proper form is critical for success. As you begin your lunge routine, place your hands on your hips, keep your chest up, shoulders back and abdominal muscles and core tight. This will help you to develop balance and use proper form.
When performing a lunge, you will keep one leg straight while making a large step with the other. It is important to point your foot straight. Keep the knee of your bent leg at a 90-degree angle, which is aligned with your foot, but behind the toes. This position will help you prevent knee injury.
Forward lunges are performed by taking a large forward step and dropping the opposite knee toward the floor to lower the body. To return to the starting position, push off with the extended heel. It is important that your leading knee stay behind to the leading toe.
A backward or reverse lunge is performed by rotating the hips under, dropping the forward leg into a 90-degree angle with the thigh parallel to the floor and the knee behind the leading toe. The rear leg will take a large step behind the body. The weight of your back leg should balance on the ball of the foot. Rear lunges strengthen the quadriceps and glutes, and tone the lower body while keeping pressure off the knees. After your form is perfected, you can create more resistance by adding weights.
Side lunges work the gluteus maximus, quadriceps, adductors and hip flexors (the muscles that run down in the inside and outside of your thigh). One leg remains straight with the heel planted on the floor as the other leg makes a large step to the side. Transfer your weight to the bent leg, lowering until your shin is vertical to the floor. To return to the starting position, push off on the heel and return to center.
Diagonal lunges follow the same form as the other lunges:
Make a large step forward and to the side on a diagonal line. Push off with your heel to return to center and repeat. Diagonal lunges sculpt your hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and your inner thighs.
Once you have mastered the lunge technique and can execute it with nearly perfect form, you may choose to add weights for more resistance or do plyometrics for a more intense cardio workout. Plyo-lunges are performed by jumping from one lunge position to the next, which can add more intensity to your lunge routine.
A word of caution: If you have not developed your muscles or perfected your form, plyo-lunges may cause serious injury that may take time to heal.
Stretching can help you add elasticity and flexibility to your legs. Whether your ultimate goal is to do a straddle split or you just want to gain more flexibility in your inner thighs, this four-part straddle stretch helps your leg muscles become supple and flexible.
After warming up your muscles for 5 to 10 minutes, sit on the floor, facing front, with your legs extended out to the sides. You should feel a comfortable stretch.
Part #1. Lean forward in the center until you face the floor. Walk your hands forward as far as possible and hold for 30 seconds. Do not bounce. After holding the stretch, walk your hands back to center.
Part #2. Maintain your straddle position and stretch to the side as you slide your hand down your leg. Reach toward the back of your knee or your ankle as you stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the opposite side.
Part #3. Turn to face your leg. Try to touch your knee with your nose, you may not be able to get far, that's okay, it's the idea that counts. Bend as far over your leg as you can and hold for 30 seconds. For an added stretch, extend your arms and walk your hands on the floor, one on each side of your leg, as far as you can. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the opposite leg.
Part #4. Come to center again and walk your hands forward in the center. Try to get closer to the floor this time. Hold for another 30 seconds. Walk your hands back to your sitting position, lift your arms over your head and take a deep breath. Shake out your legs as you move them together.
This exercise will stretch your inner and outer thighs, your hamstrings, and your quads. Remember to stretch to your comfort level; hold, don't bounce. You will find yourself getting a bit more flexible with each session.
Some muscle aches and stiffness is normal after exercise. If you pain lasts longer than 72 hours, you should contact your primary care or orthopaedic provider.
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