Lunges make me lose my lunch
February 23, 2012 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Why do I find lunges so unbearable, when I don't mind squats at all?

Factors that may be helpful to know:

I'm female
I have very flexible hip flexors
But very unflexible/tight hamstrings and ankles
Not a terribly strong core, or butt
But strong quads
I am duck-footed, ie my feet naturally turn out
No knee problems to speak of.

Do any of the above explain why weighted squats are fun, but why similarly-weighted lunges with dumbbells (or even UNweighted lunges) make my heart pound, get me out of breath much faster, sometimes make me dizzy from exertion, and make me exceedingly sore to the point where it hurts to walk for 3 days afterward? (The muscles on either side of my knees become especially sore, but only with lunges-- never with squats.)

I work with a trainer twice a week and she just thinks I need to do more of them BECAUSE they make me so miserable. But I've been doing lunges for years and they always, always suck. What's the deal? And what exercises can I do (in non-lunge form) to make my lunging less debilitating?
posted by np312 to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Well, as long as they only cause soreness afterwards, and not pain during, they're probably good for you. I can't do lunges because they actually hurt my knees at the time.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 3:38 PM on February 23, 2012

Me too. I assume it's because the added challenge of balancing in a lunge position means they are working a lot of small stabiliser muscles that aren't used so much in squats. That means that doing a similar weight to squats is probably a much greater challenge.
posted by lollusc at 3:42 PM on February 23, 2012

Best answer: Lunges force you to activate your glutes more than squats do. It's possible to have a glute-dominant or a quad-dominant squatting pattern: my suspicion is that you might be activating primarily your quads and not so much your not-terribly-strong butt when squatting, and then your glutes get killed during lunging time. This might also explain the woozy feeling -- that's the feeling I always get when I hit a major muscle group that hasn't been worked hard in a while. I can't explain sore knees after lunging, but quad dominance can also lead to knee problems -- I know my knee problems vanished when I worked on strengthening my posterior chain muscles (glutes, hamstrings, low back, calves).

I'd look into doing some exercises that strengthen your posterior chain in addition to lunges. I have noticed a big difference in my glute activation and recruitment during squatting time (and my squatting form is WAY better) after I did glute activation exercises as a warmup (mostly glute bridges) and incorporated a few different hamstring-and-glute focused exercises (supine hip extension leg curls on swiss ball, Romanian deadlift, and single-legged versions of each) into my strength training routine. I'd also work on your tight hamstrings by stretching and getting a foam roller to break up some of the adhesions.

Also, getting an opinion from a physical therapist, sports chiropractor, or other professional who can really analyze you for muscle imbalances might be a good idea. I'm just stabbing in the dark and I'm not a fitness professional :)
posted by kataclysm at 3:45 PM on February 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I can't speak to fun, i.e. your personal preference, but I find that squats are just as difficult as lunges if I bend my knees enough. For awhile I wasn't squatting far enough and I didn't find them too difficult.
posted by michaelh at 3:47 PM on February 23, 2012

I have three ideas to help make lunges easier for you:

1. Use a smaller rage of motion. Don't step so far forward and don't go down as far.

2. Step onto a platform. This will prevent you from going down as far and will reduce the amount of effort you need to use to get back to a standing position.

3. Hang onto something. Use a wall, a chair or a rope to help stabilize your body and offer a bit of assistance when returning to the standing position.

Try out these techniques to make lunges bearable and enjoyable. Once you've got your form perfected then try reducing the amount of assistance you get from these techniques: step further forward, descend further, make the platform shorter, assist yourself a little less. Hopefully this will at least get you to the point where you can do an unweighted lunge without causing undue suffering.
posted by talkingmuffin at 3:58 PM on February 23, 2012

Best answer: Sounds like your squat is quad dominant, whereas lunges are more effective at forcing you to use your glutes. My squat used to be very quad dominant so I had to use a variety of exercises (lunges included) to learn how to activate my glutes.

You might want to look into glute activation drills and cues so that you can start using your glutes when you squat, too.
posted by telegraph at 4:03 PM on February 23, 2012

Best answer: I have this problem with lunges as well, as well as the 'duck feet'. Sounds like (as others have mentioned) you need to do some glute work. The position of your feet suggests that you may have overactive external rotators (ie- IT band, TFL, piriformis,

Here is a collection of things I have found helpful over the past couple of years:

1) Foam rolling down the outside of my legs, AND the insides as well.

2) N-thing glute activation and hip mobility drills before working out. My favourites are side-lying clams, x-band walks, single leg hip bridges, bird-dogs.

3) Training with backward lunges and step ups for a while before doing forward lunges or lunge-jumps.

4) Sometimes for a warm-up I do backward lunges while holding on to cable machine or resistance band. This helps me train the correct movement pattern but without load.

5) Other things that improve the quality of my lunges are Bulgarian split squats and single leg deadlifts.

I keep my workouts short so I don't do them all at once. I generally do foam rolling before everything else, and add two glute drills to my warmup. If my lunges feel really uncoordinated I'll regress the movement (3), or do the cable warmup (4) and try again.

Cressey Performance and Tony Gentilcore have a lot of great YouTube videos on foam rolling and mobility/activation drills, it is well worth having a quick Google.

Good luck!
posted by Elcee at 6:10 PM on February 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When you squat, you can force your glutes to activate by pressing upwards from your heels. Lift your toes off the floor as you push up. This will make you use your heels, and hence posterior chain, more.

I strongly recommend doing bodyweight squats for a week or two to get used to the movement and balance necessary. Try 2 sets of 20 initially. Don't do any lunges for a while.

Once you start lunging again, if the knee pain continues, see a physical therapist, as there may be movements you're making that still require correction.
posted by flutable at 12:37 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm just back to say that I now enthusiastically second what people said about glute activation. I did some glute activation exercises before squatting yesterday, and my form was the best it's ever been. I actually had a random dude come up to me and say, "Hey, I just had to mention, your squats are AWESOME."
posted by lollusc at 6:42 PM on February 24, 2012

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