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Massage Today
June, 2011, Vol. 11, Issue 06

Let's Talk about...Lunging

By Ben Benjamin, PhD

Lunging was an essential movement for the survival of our ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago — and it's still a very important movement for people to master today. It should be a staple in every client's strength, conditioning or rehabilitation program.

The lunge is an exaggerated form of walking that involves longer, higher and multi-directional use of the gait pattern. Instead of taking a normal step (like when walking), the lunge involves a longer stride, higher knee drive and can be done in any direction (forward, backward, laterally and at an angle).

From an evolutionary perspective, lunging was probably most important when carrying large building materials (trees, stones, etc.) or game meats through the woods back to the village. The terrain 100,000 years ago was much different than today's nicely paved sidewalks, floors and roadways. It was unpredictable and at any moment could change from dry to wet, high to low, or even become impassable. When a person was carrying a heavy load on this kind of topography, the ability to stabilize the trunk, hips, knees and ankles over the base of support was critical — otherwise, a person could injure one or more of those body parts and be immobilized, and therefore, a prime target for a bear or other predator.

Today, the lunge is a primary movement for many everyday activities and sports, though probably not carrying rocks or meat. Going up and down stairs, hiking, throwing a ball and sprinting all involve components of the lunge pattern. Identifying dysfunctions in movements of the lunge can be helpful for understanding why individuals hurt themselves doing specific activities involving that movement. For instance, the inability to execute a lunge properly gives the trainer or therapist valuable information about an individual's overall flexibility, neural function and mechanical viability and should always be assessed before prescribing a rehabilitation or performance program.

Let me explain what we mean by mechanical viability. For example, if a client has difficulty maintaining an upright torso while lunging, two or more things could potentially be happening. First, the psoas, rectus femoris or rectus abdominis might not have the length, with the back leg extended, to allow the trunk to remain tall. Therefore, the trunk flexes to avoid excessive stretch or discomfort. Second, the extension-ability of the spine (i.e. the mechanical ability of each vertebral segment to extend) might be limited because of misuse, poor training habits or postural abnormalities, thereby prohibiting the client from maintaining an upright position. This condition is only noticeable with the back leg in extension or while transitioning from one leg to the next during a lunge. The first condition requires very specific stretches, the second very specific mobilization techniques. In some cases, both might be necessary.

When lunging, the front foot should be flat and as parallel as possible with the knee aligned over the second and third metatarsal. The back knee should gently touch the floor; the spine should be erect and in a neutral position with the trunk stacked nicely in the vertical plane. A standard lunge, along with variations and common faults, can be viewed in the video below, compliments of can see the video at

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