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  • Writer's pictureCoach Matt Pippin

The Best Lunge Alternative for Bad Knees



Does the thought of doing a lunge send chills straight down to your knees? You’re not alone my friend. Lunges are one of the best exercises on leg day and should definitely be a staple in a well-rounded strength routine, however, if you have bad knees that are a little cranky or just plain hurt all the time, you might be avoiding them like the plague. Not for long though. 


It’s time to tap into a great alternative exercise that will allow you to reap all of the benefits of lunges without irritating your knees. In today's coaching, we'll dive into the reasons behind knee pain from lunges, explore a knee friendly alternative, and I'll share all of the tips you’ll need to get your knees on the right track.  


WHAT ARE LUNGES?

Lunges are a popular lower body strength exercise where you stand in a split stance position with one leg in front of the other, lowering yourself towards the floor and back up.


Lunges can be performed using only body weight or with added resistance such as dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells to increase the intensity of the exercise.


BENEFITS OF LUNGES

Wether you’re someone who’s a high level athlete, all the way down to someone who just loves to walk, lunges are full of benefits for you. They’re great for: 


  • Improving lower body strength unilaterally (one leg at a time)

  • Enhancing proprioception (balance and stability)

  • They allow you to train the positions of many daily activities like running, scooping down to pick things up, and even getting out of chair


WHAT MUSCLES ARE WORKING DURING A LUNGE?

During a lunge, multiple muscle groups come into play. The quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, calves, inner/outer thighs, and even the core muscles used for stabilizing the body are all engaged to varying degrees. Very few exercises in the strength training catalog give you so much bang for your buck.  


Other Lunge Variations that Work the Same Muscles

If you’re always looking to change things up in your routine, there are plenty of lunge variations that hit all the same muscles. 


  • Isometric Lunge: Think of this exercise as "Lunge 101." This is the first exercise I do with clients because the difficulty is quite low. Once you're in the split stance position, you simply drop down toward the floor and hold for a set period of time. Since you're not moving at all once you drop down into that lunge, it's a great way for the user to know what it feels like to be in the proper position.

  • Walking Lunge: These are exactly as they sound where you walk in a lunge pattern and can be done walking forward or backward, with or without weight.

  • Reverse Lunge: Instead of stepping forward, step backward with one leg, lowering your body towards the floor. This version allows you to place more load on the glutes since the torso will lean slightly more forward than usual.

  • Stationary Lunge: Instead of stepping forward or backward, which requires more control and balance, maintain a stationary lunge position with one foot in front of the other. Imagine your body going up and down only, kind of like an elevator. 

  • Bulgarian Split Squat: In bulgarian split squats you place your back foot/shin on a bench or box. This variation increases the range of motion of hip flexion and hip extension, and is great way to increase the intensity of the standard lunge. 

  • Step-Ups: Although it doesn’t necessarily count as a “lunge” step-ups when looked at more closely, look exactly like a lunge with the front foot elevated. These are a great exercise to introduce for beginners once they’ve mastered the conventional lunge, since it’s load can be adjusted easily. 


WHERE SHOULD YOU FEEL A LUNGE?

Ideally, you should feel a lunge primarily in the muscles of the front leg, including the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings. Other muscles that you may feel are inner/outer thighs and your core. Proper form ensures that these muscles are effectively targeted while minimizing strain on the knees.


where should you feel a lunge

WHAT ARE COMMON INJURIES FROM LUNGES?

Though lunges are traditionally a safe exercise, if poor form, overtraining, or mobility issues are present, injuries may arise.  Here are list of common injuries associated with lunges:


  • Patellar tendinitis

  • IT band syndrome

  • Constant aches/pain emanating from inside the joint

  • Searing/stabbing pain throughout the knee


ARE LUNGES BAD FOR YOUR KNEES?

Lunges themselves are not inherently bad for your knees. However, improper technique, overuse, or pre-existing knee issues can lead to discomfort or injury. It's crucial to prioritize proper form and listen to your body's signals to prevent knee pain. 



DO LUNGES HURT THE MENISCUS?

Lunges can potentially exacerbate meniscal injuries if performed incorrectly or with too much load for the knee joint to handle. When dealing with a meniscus issue, it’s essential to maintain proper knee alignment and stability by not letting the knee drift too far to the outside or inside, to avoid making the matter worse. 


HOW KNEES WORK IN A LUNGE

During a lunge, the knees undergo flexion and extension motions (bending both directions), with the front knee bearing the majority of the load. The front knee must provide stability in order to prevent the body from falling forward in the movement.  


How to lunge with bad knees

IS KNEE PAIN FROM LUNGING A JOINT OR MUSCLE PROBLEM?

If you're experiencing knee pain during or after lunges, for your own piece of mind, it may be essential to differentiate between joint pain and muscle soreness.


Muscle soreness typically manifests as dull, achy discomfort that may be present during the lunge, but usually calms down once you’ve warmed up the joint or stop the movement all together.  


Joint pain however, will involve sharp or stabbing sensations, swelling, and instability that can be present not only during the movements but can linger for many hours if not indefinitely.  


WHY DO LUNGES HURT MY KNEES?

Several factors can contribute to knee pain during lunges, including: 


  • Improper form

  • Poor hip and/or ankle mobility 

  • Tightness or weakness in surrounding muscles of the glutes, quadriceps and/or hamstrings

  • Underlying joint issues inside the knee



WHAT NOT TO DO IF YOU HAVE KNEE PAIN FROM LUNGES

If you're experiencing knee pain from lunges, avoid pushing through the discomfort or ignoring warning signs. If you feel pain during every rep, or the pain lasts for multiple hours, if not days after lunges, stop doing them. Continuing to perform them will only lead to worse problems and recovery will last even longer. 


HOW TO PROTECT YOUR KNEES WHEN LUNGING

Here are some ways to protect your knees while doing lunges:


  • Utilize a proper warm-up of the lower body

  • Only use a range of motion that you can safely handle

  • Keep your knees in line with toes

  • Regress to using a support structure like a chair or wall to ensure that you don’t lose your balance

  • Deload the movement so you can build strength without putting too much pressure on the surrounding tissues of the knee


THE BEST LUNGE ALTERNATIVE FOR KNEE PAIN

If lunges are causing knee pain, it’s time to modify the exercise with stationary lunges so you can provide the appropriate amount of stimulus to strengthen the muscles of the knee, without making the knee joint more irritated.   


How to Perform a Stationary Lunge

For a stationary lunge variation, we’ll use a balance structure as well as a beginner friendly movement that minimizes strain on the knees. The goal with this exercise is to keep your front knee from drifting too far forward while decreasing the load on your quadriceps:


  • Use a wall, chair, or in this case, a large foam roller, to not only assist in balance but to also de-load the movement. This ensures that you’re only using the amount of weight that you can handle.  

  • Place a pad, pillow, or thick towel under your back knee.

  • Place your front foot so your lead knee is bent to only 90 degrees and sits right over the heel of the foot.  

  • Using the aid of the support structure, drive the heel and mid foot of the lead leg through the floor to raise the whole body off the floor.

  • Stop before the lead knee becomes straight to ensure there’s constant tension on the lead quadriceps muscle.  

  • Slowly lower the back knee back to the pad.  

  • Repeat for desired repetitions and sets.  

  • Progress by using the support structure less and less. 


The best lunge alternative for knee pain

HOW TO GET RID OF KNEE PAIN FROM LUNGING

If you're dealing with knee pain from lunges, follow these steps to alleviate discomfort and promote healing:


  • Get assessed by a licensed practitioner: In order to know what’s actually going on in your knee you must be assessed.

  • Stretching and mobility exercises: Incorporate gentle stretching and mobility exercises to improve flexibility and alleviate muscle tightness in the knees, hips, and ankles.

  • Strength training: Focus on strengthening the muscles surrounding the knee joint, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, to provide better support and stability.

  • Listen to your body: It doesn’t pay to be a meathead. If it hurts you have stop and try other alternatives.


By implementing these strategies and making the necessary adjustments to your workout routine, you can improve the health of your knees. Continue to listen to what your body is saying and you will be able to achieve your fitness goals without those knees being a problem.  


Other Knee Related Blogs You Might Find Helpful:

WHAT TO DO NEXT

If you want even mo re mobility goodness, check out my 3 must have mobility moves in the link below. It includes hip, shoulder and spine exercises that are my all-time favorite and I know you’ll love them too. They're completely free, so check it out.

the_best_mobility_exercises

 

ABOUT COACH MATT PIPPIN

Matt is a Strength and Mobility Coach with over 15 years experience in his field and has coached over a thousand professional, collegiate and everyday athletes with the goal to help them move, feel and perform at their highest level. He's incredibly passionate about bringing simple and effective online mobility training programs to everyone who wants to take control of their self care and make lasting change.


Certifications:

  • NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

  • Level 3: Fascial Stretch Specialist

  • Level 1: Institute of Motion Health Coach

  • Certified FRC Mobility Specialist (FRCms)

  • Level 1 Kinstretch Instructor

  • Weck Method Qualified


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