If you’ve ever followed a fitness program that included leg exercises, you’ve almost certainly performed a lunge. It’s a “leg day” staple and admirably adaptable. I’ve found it to be a very effective movement for building leg strength, but when my editor challenged me to do 50 walks every day for a week, my first thought was, “But my house isn’t that big.” Of course I could have simply left the house and moved to the park, but the weather has been terrible and nobody likes to be laughed at. that a lot. The beach would have been ideal, but I live many, many kilometers from the coast – and no one likes to be laughed at that a lot. So I did the pacing at home, back and forth, like a security guard trying to brighten up his day.
What is a walking lunge?
The lunge in all its variations exercises almost all the major muscles of the lower body, and the walking version also adds cardio. In the basic movement, you take a step forward with one leg, bend both knees and create 90-degree angles with your legs, return to the starting position and repeat or switch legs. It primarily targets the quadriceps and glutes, but also the hamstrings, hip flexors and calves. To do it correctly, you also need to use your core muscles to stay upright. With the walking version, you rush and move forward, which is harder than it sounds and more efficient than it looks.
How to do a walking lunge
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart. You can place your hands on your hips or let them hang by your sides. There’s a good chance you’ll need them for balance at some point, swinging them frantically or touching a nearby wall.
- Brace your glutes and step forward and slightly out (as in, not directly over the knee) your right foot, landing heel first (this helps protect your knee).
- Keep your body upright as you bend your knees to create right angles with both legs. Don’t let the front knee slide out past the toes and make sure the back knee doesn’t hit the ground.
- Drive off with your right heel and bring your left foot forward. Repeat the movement with the left leg to continue. Look, you’re walking! And plunge! Aim for 20 to start and see how you feel. If you suffer from knee pain, check with your doctor before trying this move, as it really puts those hard-working joints through their paces.
I did 50 (or more!) walks every day for a week, and here’s what I learned
Any exercise that involves movement, even up and down the hall, is fine for me, so I enjoy this immensely. I learned that my hallway is 10 strides long—actually the front door to the kitchen sink—or eight if I take a longer stride to stretch my hip flexors. I also learned that my knees don’t hesitate to let me know when I’m asking too much of them, and that I’ve developed the wisdom to listen to what they have to say.
Restrictions are there for a reason
I was worried that the length of my hallway would be a problem; I thought I would have to turn around after 10 lunges and go back the same way to interrupt my fluid movement. Fortunately, my lunge wasn’t as effortless as I’d imagined – I was grateful for the narrowness of the room, which meant I could reach out to steady myself during the occasional wobble – and the limited space allowed me to count the same number of lunges each time, ensuring they were the same length. Actually, I think this limitation is a good thing. If you’re outdoors, fatigue may trick you into varying the length of your lunges or penetrating a tree. Or the sea.
On the first day, the first 30 were fine, and for the first time I wasn’t lulled into a false sense of competence. By the fiftieth, however, my quads were screaming and I had slowed considerably. To my surprise, I was also out of breath. There are a lot of muscles working in the movement, but in my opinion, those quads take a lot of the strain; they felt stronger at the end of the challenge. The other main benefit I noticed after a week was the flexibility of my hips. It is also an excellent warm-up before a run.
If your body starts talking to you, listen to it
On the fourth day, I was up to 60 lunges, but as I neared the end of my hallway for the last time, my right knee started to complain. I shortened the lunge, which helped a bit, but decided the next step was to take the day off. As the years go by, I pay more attention to what my body is telling me. It’s not an alarmist, but tends to scare away pain just for the hell of it, so I always pay attention if something feels off.
A few of my friends have had to give up running because of knee problems, and I wasn’t about to join them, so I had no conscience about taking a break. And it worked. After a day of rest, I hit 70, although I was careful to make sure that each lunge took the knee slightly out rather than staying in the midline. This movement can be hard work if you do enough reps, so watch for form breakdowns when you start to tire. Your knees will thank you by staying quiet and strong. Never forget – a lot depends on them.
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