Lunges are some of the most functional strength training exercises. Lower body strength is crucial for fall prevention and longevity, and for simply being able to do the things we want to do in everyday life.
In this article, you’ll learn how to make your lunges even more functional by practicing them in all three planes of motion.
We move in all three planes of motion during the day – forward and backward, side to side, and rotating, without even thinking about it. Therefore, it just makes sense to move in these three different planes of motion when we are exercising. However, traditional “old school” exercises are often done in only one plane of motion – forward/back, or sometimes going side to side, while neglecting the all important rotational plane. If you are practicing rotating in a safe environment when you are exercising, your body will be accustomed to these twisting movements that you will inevitably do without realizing it during the day.
(Note – if you have severe osteoporosis or your doctor has told you to never rotate or twist, then you obviously need to follow your doctor’s instructions.)
To increase the challenge with these lunges in any plane of motion, step farther, or bend your knees more. If your knees are tender, don’t step as far, and don’t bend your knees as much.
If your balance is a little wobbly, you can stand next to a wall, table, or sturdy chair. That additional point of contact will help you focus on the exercise without having to worry about your balance. When doing the front/back lunges, it will be easier to balance if you imagine that you are on wide railroad tracks, instead of trying to do the lunges on a tightrope.
Forward/back (sagittal plane)
Imagine you are standing in the middle of a clock face (an old fashioned clock – not digital!). Starting with feet about hip width apart, step your right foot to 12 o’clock, and return. Next, step your right foot to 6 o’clock and return. (Repeat everything on the other side with all these lunges.)
Side/side (frontal plane)
Step your right foot to 3 o’clock, with your foot pointing forward, and return.
Rotating (transverse plane)
Step your right foot to 3 o’clock, but turn your foot so it’s pointing towards the side wall on your right, and return.
To make these 3D lunges even more beneficial, try leaning forward as your foot steps out, putting your hands on either side of your knee. This will activate your glute muscles, which are crucial for function and fall prevention. Your glutes are your knee’s best friend – the stronger the muscles are around your knees, the healthier your knees will be.
To turn on the glutes even more in the front lunge, try reaching with your left hand as your right foot goes forward, so your left hand is reaching to the right of your right knee. This will internally rotate your right hip, which really turns on your right glute. This internal hip rotation is essential for function in gait.
Another great variation are “pivot” or “floating” lunges:
(I recommend that you stand next to a solid chair or counter for these lunges, so you don’t have to worry about your balance.)
Step your right foot to 12:00, hold for two seconds, and then immediately step your right foot back to 6:00 o’clock, holding the rear lunge for two seconds. If you repeat these pivot lunges with your right leg lunging forward and back, you’ll really strengthen your left leg.
If you feel steady, you can try reaching your front hand to the outside of the front knee each time to turn on the glutes even more.
To increase the challenge even more with these pivot lunges, you can hold weights in your hands (but only if you feel totally balanced) and swing your bent arms like they move in gait. (Right arm forward when the left leg is forward, and vice versa.)
I encourage you to practice these 3D lunges two or three times a week – you’ll LOVE how much stronger your lower body muscles will get!