Lunges are an excellent exercise to strengthen the hamstrings and prevent lower body injury. Research shows that lunges also help develop sprint speed by providing the ideal ratio of muscle activation between two commonly unbalanced quad muscles.
What Are Lunges?
The most basic version of a lunge is the forward lunge. It involves stepping forward and lowering your hips until your trailing knee is only a few inches from the floor. Return to upright be pushing through the ball of your front foot. Repeat with the other leg lunging forward.
There are many variations that allow for progressions and regressions. For example, novices who are new to lunging may benefit from starting with a stationary split squat or a front-foot elevated on a step or bench. More advanced trainees can use walking lunges or other variations such as reverse, lateral, or diagonal lunges. Jumping lunges and rear-foot elevated lunges are more challenging variations.
Strengthen The Hamstrings With Lunges
With so many lunge options it's critical that you train a variation that will help you reach your goals. A study using junior soccer players compared training adaptations in a group that did walking lunges, a second group that did jumping lunges, and a control group. The walking lunge group improved hamstring strength by 35 percent after six weeks.
This surprisingly large strength development was likely due to the young age of the participants. In comparison, the commonly used Nordic eccentric hamstring exercise has yielded strength increases of 11 percent in a previous study of older participants.
The jumping lunge group also increased hamstring strength but the increase was not statistically significant. Both groups improved 30-meter sprint speed: The jumping lunge group had the greatest increase in speed, getting 2 percent faster.
Overcome Muscle Imbalances With Lunges
Muscle imbalances in the hamstrings or quads put you at risk of injury. Lunge training can develop structural balance throughout the muscles of the thigh and reduce pain. A study from the University of Plymouth, England, found that static lunges (also called split squats) require the optimal ratio of muscle activation between two muscles in the quadriceps of the thigh, the vastus medialis oblique and the vastus lateralis. Results showed that lunge training improved structural balance between these two principle quad muscles that stabilize the patella during knee extension.
Get Better Results With Lunges
Be aware of two things when considering which lunges to add to your training:
First, imbalances among the quad muscles can lead to the patella tracking incorrectly. This creates pain and degeneration of irreplaceable cartilage. Static lunges can be used for beginning trainees, to protect the knees, or as a warm up exercise for the more advanced walking and jumping lunges.
Second, the eccentric nature of dynamic lunges, especially jump lunges, will probably result in considerable delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after training. DOMS and strength loss typically indicate muscle damage and structural adaptations that require a longer time to heal than less stressful training modes.
Lunges are a versatile exercise that optimally train the hamstrings and quadriceps of the lower body. With many variations they are appropriate for all populations. Use lunges to promote structural balance and reduce knee joint pain.