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The Knee-Dominant Move You Never Knew You Were Doing Wrong

Updated: Oct 25, 2020

Many of us have been exercising for as long as we can remember. But sometimes, seemingly obvious exercises need a tune up. Over the next several blog posts, we'll dive into a series of moves that you never knew you were doing wrong. This edition covers Forward Lunges.

Whether you’re doing your first Orangetheory Fitness class, fiftieth CG Bootcamp (wut wut), or five-thousandth repeat of a Brook Benten Fitness workout video, you have done forward lunges. Forward lunges have a lot going for them: they’re metabolic, multi-muscle/multi-joint, bodyweight only (or can be), and they’re fantastic for lifting and toning the butt! But the downside is that many people turn the knee in, putting unnecessary strain on the knee.

A properly performed lunge forward will align the hip, knee, and ankle in the sagittal plane (think railroad tracks). Without mindfully tracking the knee with the toes when the foot lands forward, the knee may naturally turn inward, throwing off alignment and knocking the train right off the tracks! I say “naturally,” because depending on how your femur (thigh bone) fits into your acetabulum (hip socket), you may have what's called a “natural turnout.” Here’s a quick test: if you stand up straight, barefooted, and shake your legs out, then plant your feet where they naturally fall, you can look down and you’ll notice if your feet landed forward or turned out. A woman’s pelvis is shaped wider and broader than a man’s and that differently-shaped bone may affect the hip’s ball-and-socket joint. Most women have a natural turnout.

We (myself included) can say the problem is congenital, and we’d be right, but that doesn’t mean we go around walking like a duck with our feet turned out. In the same way, when we lunge, we may have to make a conscious effort to turn the toes forward, not out, and knee forward, not in. If you refuse to self-correct the natural tendency of your body, you probably shouldn’t be doing forward lunges, because with time, the malalignment may lead to injury. (However, it’s totally fine to embrace your natural turnout on squats. If your feet naturally turn out, when you squat, just be sure your knees track out, too!)

Weakness is another reason that the knee may turn in. If your hamstrings and gluteus medius muscles are weak, it will be difficult to align your joints properly in a lunge.

Try this exercise to strengthen your hamstrings:

Standing Hamstring Curls: place the handle of a resistance band around your foot like a stirrup. Smash the tubing down to the ground with the other foot, leaving a little bit of slack for the exercise. Stand upright. Curl your heel in toward your butt. Pulse three times at the top. Slowly extend your knee and lower your leg to starting position. Perform 10-15 reps before switching to the other side. Aim for 3 sets per leg.

Try this exercise to strengthen your gluteus medius: Clamshells: Lay on one side with legs stacked and knees bent (“fetal position”). Lift the top knee while keeping your big toes touching (form a diamond shape). Pulse the top knee three times at the top, then lower to starting position. Perform 10-15 reps before switching to the other side. Aim for 3 sets per leg. {Tip: You could make it harder by wrapping a mini-band around your thighs}.

The Forward Lunge:

Step 1: Stand tall with plenty of space in front of you.

Step 2: Step one foot forward the length of your femur or a few inches further. Land your front foot on the floor with toes facing forward. Keep your hips sagittal.

Step 3: Bend your knees to hover above the ground. Track your knee forward, in the same direction as the toes.

Step 4: Extend your knees and step back to starting position.

About the Author

Brook Benten, M.Ed., is an ACSM Exercise Physiologist. This Texas girl has been trailblazing fitness for two decades. She champions continuing education and has impacted the field as an executive director of healthy living, CEC provider, fitness magazine writer, campus recreation fitness director, and workout video star. Brook is a presenter for SCW Fitness at SCW MANIA conventions and "Train with the Trainers" livestream weekly workouts. She is a lifestyle columnist for Texas Lifestyle Magazine. Benten is an ambassador for Power Music and Lebert Fitness; she is among an international team of six Master Trainers for Johnny G Spirit Bike.

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