[This is a guest blog by Lindsey St. Hilaire. Lindsey is an Exercise Science major and psychology minor at Auburn University, and is currently an Athletic Development Intern at Athletic Lab.]
When it comes to leg day, the exercise that reigns king has been the back squat; however, the back squat is the most stimulating to the quadriceps muscle, adding lunges into programming can bring many other benefits. Lunges have been used many times in the past as a rehab tool for those coming back from an injury. They have now transitioned to becoming an exercise for the gym.
The simplest benefit to lunging would be its ability to point out imbalances. When squatting with a barbell, the movement can mask whether one joint or leg is weaker than the other, but when lunging each side’s muscles must work independently to return to the original position. The knee, hip, and ankle joint are tested through their ranges of motion and an imbalance, such as one side being able to complete the lunge while the other side struggles to return to origin can show whether or not one side is supporting more weight during a squat than the other. This translates to being able to eliminate the “weaker side.”
A common cue when squatting is to “keep the core tight” but more often than not, as the weight gets heavy, people will begin to drop their chest forward and down, releasing the muscle tension in their abdomen. This leads to bad form which will then lead to lower back injuries. In lunging, when the core becomes released, your center of gravity changes, causing the lunge to be of much higher difficulty if not impossible, promoting correct technique and posture. If the core is released, there is no benefit as you won’t be able to move more weight, it can cause a negative reaction to incorrect movement by causing the athlete to become severely off balance, which allows them to give feedback on themselves.
In a publication by the Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, when comparing a two legged squat to a single-legged modified squat in females, the single-legged proved to have more EMG activity in the gluteus medius and the hamstring. In terms of weight on the bar, the traditional back squat will give the highest number, but as proven in a study in the International Journal of Exercise Science, the single-legged squat can give the same lower body activity with half the load of a back squat while also providing activation in more muscles.
I believe adding lunges to your programming is analogous to adding a screwdriver to your tool belt. While a drill is more powerful, a screwdriver can be useful in a variety of tasks. It gives many functional benefits as well as being able to be used as a tool for an increase in hamstring strength.
- Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 2010, 19, 57-70 © 2010 Human Kinetics, Inc. Comparison of Lower Extremity EMG Between the 2-Leg Squat and Modified Single-Leg Squat in Female Athletes Kevin McCurdy, Erin O’Kelley, Matt Kutz, George Langford, James Ernest, and Marcos Torres
- Muscle Activity in Single- vs. Double-Leg Squats BRADLEY A. DeFOREST† 1,2, GREGORY S. CANTRELL† 1,3, and BRIAN K. SCHILLINGǂ1