In this article you and I are going to cover what exactly proper lunge form looks like.
Maybe you can’t get your balance right, you have knee pain, or you just plain don’t know how to do it correctly!
I am going to cover all of that and then some here in this article.
All of the most common mistakes will be talked about as well as how to correct them so you can not only stay injury free, but ensure you see the best progress possible.
You will be glad you read all the way through.
*Hint, make sure you read all the way through!*.
Your knees will thank you as well.
Enough jibber jabber, let’s dive into things, or should I say, lunge into things!
Am I right!?
Proper Lunge Form
Why Are Lunges Beneficial?
Before we dive into what proper lunge form looks like, let’s first educate ourselves on why lunges are so incredibly beneficial.
I think of lunges as one of the staples of training and should be treated as such.
Safe For Lower Back Pain
Generally speaking lunges are a phenomenal exercise variation to work in for those who are suffering with lower back pain.
I dealt with lower back pain for the better part of 9 years. It was terrible.
Squats with a barbell on my back were out of the question.
But you know what was always there for me? Lunges and their variations alike.
Unilateral ( single leg ) work for the lower body tends to be lower back friendly for a few reasons.
Let’s take a barbell back squat for example.
Number one if you have a barbell on your back you are automatically compressing your spine. That load sitting on your shoulders is going to be pressing down on your spine, causing discomfort.
Number two let’s say you are doing a bi lateral ( double leg ) squat. If your right side is stronger than your left side, or your right side is tighter and less mobile than your left side, then you are going to end up compensating for that movement.
This can lead to a compromised movement pattern for that bi lateral squat, which can leave you susceptible to lower back pain.
When you take the weight off of your spine and put it down by your sides instead, this automatically takes pressure off your lower back.
As well as when you do unilateral movements, your body is forced to work both sides as opposed to one compensating for the other.
Which, leads me to my next point.
Helps With Muscle Imbalances
One of the main benefits of having proper lunge form is that you can work on helping muscle imbalances.
We just talked briefly above how when you incorporate unilateral work into your training, your body has no room to compensate.
You must work both sides of your body evenly. There is no room for your body to hide so to speak.
If you are weaker on your left side compared to your right, it is going to get directly addressed through having unilateral work thrown in.
This will mean both sides of your body will get strengthened evenly, leading to a well rounded and less injury prone body for you!
One of the secrets most people don’t talk about when it comes to getting stronger is doing unilateral work.
Think about it. If you are strengthening each side of your body by itself, don’t you think when you head back to doing bilateral movements, you will be even stronger?
If you are able to lunge with 20lbs in each hand on each leg, then you increase to 30lbs in each hand, don’t you think when you go to barbell back squat, you will be substantially stronger?
You’d think right my friend.
Your body will be able to produce more force now that both sides of your body are getting trained evenly.
If you always do bilateral movements, you are missing out on serious untapped potential.
The term “functional exercise” gets thrown around a lot.
Personally speaking, I think it is a bit over used.
Any movement can be “functional” for what you are trying to use it for.
Yet, with that being said, I do with when it comes to a proper lunge form, that is a very “functional” movement.
Being able to step forward and bend down to pick something up is a kind of a necessary function in everyday life.
Therefore knowing how to do it safely and effectively can be incredibly beneficial to you and your life.
Proper Lunge Form : Biggest Mistakes
Before we talk what to do when it comes to a proper lunge form, let’s cover what NOT to do.
These are the 5 most common mistakes when it comes to lunges.
Let’s talk about what these are and how to correct them.
Foot Too Far Back, Too Close Together
Foot placement on a lunge can be a tricky one because there is no exact guideline on where your foot should be placed.
“ 3 inches back with a 4 cm slight adjustment to the right!”.
Yea, no. But, there are ways to tell if you might not be set up on the right path.
If your back foot is too far back, you are going to arch your lower back and really get a strain in your back leg hip.
You can see this in the picture above.
If your back foot is too far forward, you are more than likely going to have your heel come off the ground for your front leg (will talk about this more momentarily!) and cause knee pain.
So, How To Fix It?
Well, this is where something called trial and error is going to come into play.
I know people don’t like to hear that now a days, but it is true because everyone’s individual limb lengths, joint angles, ankle mobility, just to name a few, are different!
Therefore being able to find out what foot placement feels most comfortable for you is going to come from trial and error!
I will say this. Generally speaking, just from coaching thousands of clients by this point, the majority of people don’t step back far enough.
Not everyone, and you may be one of those people who have too far of a stance, but for the majority you probably aren’t stepping back far enough with your back foot.
Try it out, take videos of yourself, have that trial and error, and find that sweet spot for YOU!
Feet Too Narrow
I often hear people talk about they just feel off balance when doing lunges.
Well, here is why.
Your feet are too narrow.
Your back foot should not be directly behind your front foot. This is going to cause instability.
Your base is too narrow to be able to balance.
So, How Do You Fix It?
Simple, you move your back foot out a bit to the side.
This will create a wider base giving you more balance and stability.
Chest Too High, Arching Lower Back
Whether it is with proper lunge form, or proper form of any kind really, you probably have heard the cue,
“ CHEST UP!”
Whether it be in classes throughout gyms, your high school football coach, wherever.
The issue is, with a lunge in particular, this cue can actually backfire and turn into some serious pain.
When you try to keep your chest so high while performing a lunge, you are inevitably going to arch your lower back.
This is not only going to lead to lower back pain, but it is also going to decrease your ability to lift heavier weights.
So, How To Fix It?
The simple fix is going to be by having a bit of a lean forward in your torso.
*Spoiler alert, we talk about this a bit later in this article, so stay tuned for that! *
Don’t go so extreme to when you are now rounding your back in the other direction. Simply have a slight forward lean in your torso.
Something to also think about is bringing your ribcage down towards your belly button ever so slightly.
Again, you don’t have to over exaggerate it, but right now if you put one finger in the top of your ribcage and one finger on your belly button.
Then try to slightly bring those things closer together, this will ensure you are NOT over arching your lower back.
Front Foot Coming Off The Ground
The third most common mistake when it comes to having proper lunge form is your front foot is coming off of the ground.
Your front foot should be flat the entire time.
You should be thinking about gripping the ground like monkeys feet do.
Your big toe, your pinky toe, and your heel should all be touching the ground creating a tripod effect.
If your heel is coming off of the ground for a lunge, and you are going up onto your toes, this is a big no no.
This can lead to some gnarly knee pain.
So, How To Fix It?
I think the first thing is to simply be aware that those 3 points of contact should be touching the ground at all times.
Big toe, pinky toe, and heel.
Second, this is where what we talked about earlier comes into play. Most of the time if your heel is coming off the ground on your front foot, your back foot is not far back enough.
Simply move your back foot farther back and you will be forced to keep that heel flat on the ground.
Slamming Back Knee Into Ground
When it comes to proper lunge form, all of your form could “technically” look right, but if you are not controlling the movement, you are going to end up in pain.
One of the most common mistakes is to slamming your back knee into the ground while performing the lunge.
This could be because you are using too heavy of weights, this could be because you are rushing the movement, or this could be because lunges are hard af and you just want to get the set over with already.
That last one I may or may not be speaking from experience…
Yet this sub optimal for so many reasons, the two biggest ones being risk of injury and decreasing results.
If you are having no control over your movement and just slamming your knee into the ground on the way down, have fun staying injury free!
Also if you are not controlling the way down then momentum is going to do the work, not your muscles.
Therefore if you are doing lunges to strengthen your legs and get more defined legs, glutes, etc, this won’t happen if you are slamming your knee into the ground because your muscles aren’t actually doing the work!
So, How To Fix It?
Simply, slow down my friend.
If you need to drop the weight so you can make this happen, feel free to do so. Remember, form always comes first.
Second, if you are really struggling with this, try to have a 3 second count on the way down.
This will leave you no choice but to slow down and control the way down, forcing your muscles to do the work down and up!
Proper Lunge Form : Knee Caving In
This is a big one. One of the most common things I see people go wrong when it comes to a proper lunge form is their knees caving in during a lunge.
Notice how in the picture above, the head of my kneecap is over my big toe or almost inside of my big toe?
This is a big no no if you are looking to keep your knees safe and sound.
So, How To Fix It?
One of the best things you can do to fix your knee caving in is simply put your hand on the inside of your knee.
When you go down to do a lunge, make sure your knee does not press into your hand.
This will ensure you keep your knee out over your 2nd or 3rd toe.
Also, slow the movement down a bit. Oftentimes people cave their knee in because they are trying to rush the movement and their form suffers.
Once again, take your time, don’t rush, and think quality over quantity.
Proper Lunge Form : Two Options
Now that we have covered the most common mistakes and how to fix them, let’s talk about the actual proper lunge form.
First and foremost there are two “variations” of a lunge. I say variations because really these are two separate movements, most people just typically group them together.
A lunge is when you are moving. So when you either a reverse lunge, a side lunge, or a forward lunge.
You are moving your feet each time you do the movement.
A split squat is when you do NOT move. So if you get into a lunge position but you stay there, and don’t move your feet, then that is a split squat.
No real point in me telling you that other than I want you to be educated on the difference so when you or someone else mentions it, you know what it is!
Second, there are two ways to do a proper lunge form.
One is more to bias your glute muscles, the other is to bias your quad muscles.
Let’s cover both right now.
Glute Bias Lunge
Earlier we touched on how you could potentially have a lean forward in your torso to prevent your lower back from arching, remember?
Well, this is going to help make the lunge or split squat more glute bias as well.
What happens is when you have a forward lean, as you can see above, your front shin becomes more vertical to the ground.
The more vertical to the ground your front shin is, the more you are going to recruit your glute muscles.
The less forward knee travel you have means the less knee pressure as well as less front of your thigh working.
Therefore a “proper lunge” for glutes would be to
- Slightly lean forward
- Keep your shin vertical the ground
- Do NOT slam your back knee on the ground
Quad Bias Lunge
For a quad bias lunge (front of your thigh), you want a more upright torso.
Now, you don’t want too much of an upright torso, because that would cause you to arch your lower back.
Yet you do still want a more upright torso compared to a glute bias lunge because you want that forward knee travel.
Notice how in this picture above compared to the glute bias lunge, we have a more angled shin angle?
There is more forward knee travel.
This makes the lunge more quad dominant.
This is not inherently a bad thing, especially if you are looking to work your quads (Duh!).
Your knee is allowed to travel forward so as long as it doesn’t cause any pain or as long as your heel stays on the ground.
So, for a more quad bias lunge,
- keep a more upright torso
- Allow for a more angled shin angle
- Allow for more forward knee travel
Proper Lunge Form : Knee Pain
Knee pain is a super common issues when it comes to lunges.
We touched on a lot of what could be causing that and how to fix it in this article already, but I wanted to link here below an entire video I did on how to do lunges without knee pain.
I know sometimes visually learning can help as well, so I would take a few minutes to watch this video if you are struggling with knee pain.
Proper Lunge Form : It’s A Wrap
Well, there you have it. Hopefully everything you need to know about exactly what proper lunge form looks like.
I hope you got something out of the article and can use it in your workouts moving forward.
If you have any questions feel free to drop below, or if you are interested in having me design a workout program for you can head HERE to see if we may be a good fit for coaching.
Thank you for reading and look to chat soon!