Put the side lunge (also known as the lateral lunge) at the top of your to-do list for your subsequent leg day. Although it may seem like a little adjustment to lean out to the side rather than in front of you, doing so can have a significant positive impact on your joints, muscles, and daily activities. What experts want you to know is as follows.
DIRECTIONS FOR SIDE LUNGES Step one foot out to the side, sag your hips back, and bend one knee to lower your butt to the floor to complete a side lunge. Keep your opposing leg straight as you lower to the floor, as Rachel Mariotti , an NCSF-certified personal trainer in New York City, exemplifies below. You may improve the stability of your ankles, knees, and hips while working out by using this movement pattern, advises Bianca Vesco , a NASM-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor in Nashville.
A. Stand with your feet together and your hands across your chest.
B. Immediately after taking a big step to the left, drop yourself into a lunge by bending your left knee and sinking your hips back. Maintain a straight but not locked right leg with both feet pointed front.
C. Retract to the beginning position by pushing through the left foot to straighten the left leg.
THE KEY BENEFITS OF SIDE LUNGING You can challenge your body in an underutilized plane of motion, correct any muscle imbalances, and increase the strength in your lower body and ankle joints by incorporating the lateral lunge into your exercise regimen. Below, experts break down these advantages.
YOUR BODY IS IMPACTED IN THE FRONTAL PLANE OF MOTION You may not be aware of it, but the majority of the actions you perform on a daily basis—walking up stairs, biking, and running—involve moving your body in the sagittal plane of motion. According to Mariotti, though, it’s equally crucial for your body to move in other planes of motion, such as the frontal plane (which involves side-to-side movements). Vesco continues, “Generally speaking, human beings are really, really good at moving ahead and backward. However, moving to the side makes things a little difficult because greater stability and mobility are needed, particularly in the knees, ankles, and hips.
But including side lunges in your regimen can help you get more comfortable with that lateral movement style. And doing so can significantly improve your daily life. Any lateral movement will support your balance, rotation, and ability to fend off outside forces, according to Vesco. Imagine yourself standing on a subway: While the train is moving, if you are facing the doors, your body will rock back and forth. According to Vesco, if the train suddenly stops or leans forward, you may fall over if your muscles and joints aren’t accustomed to moving in the frontal plane.
Simply said, the lateral lunge teaches you how to move from side to side while remaining upright and injury-free. According to Mariotti, it helps the hips distinguish various planes of motion. “Any time you move your body in a way that is unfamiliar to you, you are training your body and arousing new muscle groups.”
HELPS FIX MUSCLE IMPERFECTION The fact that one side of your body is more powerful than the other is quite typical. However, if you routinely neglect unilateral training (doing exercises that target only one side of the body at once), you risk developing major muscular imbalances, which can result in compensatory movement patterns and, ultimately, a higher risk of injury, according to the American Council on Exercise . The same danger exists if you just train in the sagittal plane of motion, which favors quadriceps, calves, and hamstrings while neglecting smaller muscles. The founder of the TL Method and NASM-certified personal trainer Tara Laferrara previously spoke with Shape.
The good news is that side lunges satisfy both requirements. The exercise only works the frontal plane of one side of your body at a time, making sure that smaller muscles, including those in your inner and outer thighs, aren’t ignored and preventing muscle imbalances.
IMPROVES ANKLE JOINTS According to Vesco, the lateral lunge also aids in strengthening the ankles because of its side-to-side movement pattern. Building up this strength will help keep your joints secure during exercises and daily activities, according to Vesco, as the majority of ankle sprains happen on the lateral side of the ankle. She continues, “If you kick a ball and your ankle is strong, you won’t have any pain or injury.” Other joint pains may also be avoided with the use of this strength. Vesco asserts that “we are all interconnected; your ankle goes up to the knee, which goes up to the hips.” So your knees and hips won’t feel fantastic if you have a sprained ankle.
WORKED SIDE LUNGE MUSCLES According to Vesco, even though the side lunge works almost all of the muscles in your legs, it primarily targets the muscles on the inner and outer sides of the limbs. She explains that those muscles are what will cause you to go to the side and hold you steady as you step into the lunging leg.
You will specifically work the hip adductors, inner thigh muscles that support stability and movement in the lower body, according to Vesco. You’ll also focus on the hip abductors, which are crucial for hip mobility and function and include the glute medius (the glute muscle that is close to the exterior of your pelvis), research shows . According to Vesco, you’ll also work your quads, hamstrings, and core, just like with other lower-body exercises.
SIDE LUNGE CHANGES Thankfully, there are more lateral movement options outside the traditional side lunge. Add these lateral lunge variants to your rotation if you want to intensify the workout or scale it back.
CHAIR SIT SIDE LUNGE MODIFIED Concerned about the results of a standard lateral lunge? Vesco advises doing a cossack squat in its place. Starting with your feet in a wide stance, you’ll shift your weight into one foot and lunge while keeping the other leg straight without taking a side step. She says that the cossack squat is one of her go-to hip mobility exercises since it opens, fortifies, and stabilizes the entire joint, but it’s much less risky when it comes to impact than the lateral lunge.
Consider performing the side lunge like a cossack squat and with a chair behind you if you’re not entirely comfortable dropping into and rising out of a lunge. If you temporarily sit down at the bottom of the movement, you’ll find it simpler to press back up to stand up again, advises Mariotti. This tool will assist you know when to stop descending to the floor.
SIDE LUNGE WITH EXPLOSIVE PUSH AS PROGRESSION According to Mariotti, if you want to increase the challenge of the standard side lunge, try pressing up quickly to stand back up. She continues, “To get back up, you’ll have to deliberately push into the ground, which trains more muscles. “The body has to work more if you are recruiting more muscle, thus the heart has to work harder too.” This round of lateral lunges will also provide a brief aerobic workout.
Vesco advises adding a single-leg balancing at the end of each rep to further challenge your stability. You’ll lift your knee to your chest right after standing up again, which will provide a significant balance issue, she explains, as opposed to putting your foot back in its original starting position on the floor.
ERRORS OF COMMON SIDE LUNGES Dropping your chest as you descend into the lunge is one of the most common lateral lunge form errors you may make. People frequently prefer to slump so far forward and have their chest so close to their thigh, adds Vesco, adding, “I don’t know why.” When in fact you should stand tall, maintain good posture, and have a neutral, flat back. The side lunge won’t have any core-strengthening effects if you don’t keep that upright stance, continues Mariotti.
According to the specialists, you should also make sure your knee isn’t buckling and your working leg’s heel isn’t lifting off the ground, all of which can lead to knee pain. According to Vesco, if you find the former happening, you may have weak hip abductors and would benefit from giving those workouts top priority.
The most crucial thing, according to Vesco, is to move deliberately, especially if you’ve never done a side lunge before. Making an unexpected lateral movement with a strong impact could result in an ankle injury or pain in your knees or hips, she advises, so be sure you’re stepping carefully.
Adding side lunges to your routine: How to do it Although the side lunge can be a useful supplement to anyone’s exercise program, Vesco claims that athletes who frequently move laterally (such as tennis, basketball, and soccer players) benefit most from the exercise. On the other hand, if you have a history of ankle or knee injuries (such as ACL or MCL tears), you should normally speak with your doctor or physical therapist before engaging in lateral lunges to make sure the exercise won’t worsen your condition.
Depending on how often you exercise, Vesco advises including the side lunge along with other lateral motions into your fitness regimen one to three times per week if you’re ready to take on the challenge. To get your body adjusted to moving in a different plane of motion, try performing lateral lunges on one of the days you usually perform forward lunges, suggests Mariotti. You’ll soon find that you’re using the subway less frequently and that you have powerful thighs.
Artist and photographer Jenna Brillhart
Rachel Mariotti is a fitness model and expert.
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