Learn how to do Squats and Lunges
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Squats and Lunges: Exercise Tips

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Squats and lunges are two very valuable, tried and true exercises that have long been utilized by athletes to improve strength and performance. For a lot of us non- or ex- athletes (I no longer compete), they provide a great stimulus for weight loss, and they keep our legs, hips and abdominals strong which will help us to continue to do our favorite activities and sports.

Squats and lunges are, at least in the US, all the rave and have become a common exercise in gyms and studios across America. Plus, they can enhance your outdoor activities such as walking, running, cycling, hiking, skiing and more. Done correctly, they can also help transform your body.

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As I mentioned, both of these movements can greatly aid in weight loss since they are multi-joint, multi-muscle exercises. These types of exercises expend the most amount of energy (Kcals). Then, when you perform outdoor activities, you are able to do them with more gusto causing even more energy expenditure. They are also very ‘functional’, meaning they provide valuable fitness for real life movements. In other words, we all often do some variation of a squat and a lunge daily perhaps without really even realizing it.

If you do certain exercises in a gym, think about this …day in and day out, rep after rep, week after week, month after month, and year after year you do these exercises and you see and feel a change. You’re delighted! You feel fine, in fact, stronger than ever. Also, you perhaps learned some of these exercises from social media.

But are they legitimate exercises? Are they even good for you to do? Are you sure that you are doing them correctly? Maybe you’ve just been following everyone else’s form. And hey, the person on social media looks amazing so they must know, right? Not exactly. This is scary to me. Or, if you have an instructor, do they explain specific form in a detailed manner? Actually, you’re not even sure of your instructor’s qualifications or if he/she knows the right form to begin with, and you train with them often.

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Then suddenly one day you feel pain in your knee, or your back, or your hip. Uh oh. You go to the doctor and he/she determines it’s a serious knee injury, you have to rest for a month, lose all of your fitness, go to therapy and/or wear a brace or worse have surgery..

I just now finished a run with a super fit friend who said he did just that. He was sitting at his desk at work screwing a screw into a part and bam!. He felt pain and his back seized up. He had to take a day off work and lay in bed. He couldn’t move. Wow. We talked, I asked some questions, and he said that he takes a lot of yoga classes. Then he pointed out something that the instructor said about holding a squat, and I cringed. They also strive to perform the splits often in his class. Another cringe! These could have set him up for injury.

Here are some key form points for squats followed by lunge form so that you can improve your chances of doing both safely and effectively without injury:

Squats:

Position your feet just outside hip width, turned out slightly. Variation: feet parallel, hip width. Keep perfect posture: eyes straight ahead, shoulders set back slightly and down, abs tense (not hollowed) holding your ribcage fixed firmly above your hips and stable, neutral spine (natural curves).

The initial movement is a shifting of the hips backward slightly. Your body tilts forward slightly with a stable spine as you descend into a squat while your eyes are still focused straight ahead. This is helpful in keeping your posture.

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Weight is on the backs and outside of your feet. This is key as it causes you to utilize all of the glute (hip/butt) muscles. Keep your arches light, and squat to 90 degrees if you can comfortably. At about 85 degrees, there is the most tibiofemoral (knee joint) compression so 90 degrees could be your goal. This may take some training. Make sure that you feel comfortable always.

The arms are often shown forward of the body or swinging out in front. Please avoid this as it, on the one hand, may work to compensate for tight calves, knees and/or hips, but it tends to put more weight onto the balls of your feet which loads the knee joint not a good way. Then, the body will also tend to fall too far forward which can put undo stress on the spine. So I suggest keeping you arms close to your body, or placing the hands on your shoulders. Once you progress to using a weight, you can hold a light medicine ball at your chest or over your head, dumbbells at your sides in line with your body or at your shoulders, or a bar behind your head on your shoulders to name a few varieties.

Your ankle, knee and hip flexibility as well as abdominal strength is very important to good form. Lack of any one or all three may hinder your squat form and cause you to lean forward into the balls of your feet or cause your heels to lift. But hypermobility – too much flexibility – in the ankles, knees, and hips can be very dangerous. You just need enough to, generally speaking, properly perform a squat. You do not need as much flexibility as a gymnast. And please avoid extreme twisting of the spine and any splits.

Also, try to avoid doing sets/reps/weights that are generally recommended. It is best to find a qualified (check his/her background always) trainer and do what’s comfortable specifically for you and your ability. Always follow a safe progression.

It is best to stand where you can or your instructor can watch you from the front, each side, and the back. If he or she doesn’t watch you from all sides, move around, and point out specific form, get a new instructor.

Lunges:

Stand with your body tilted just slightly forward in a split stance with the weight on the back and outside of the front foot and the ball of the back foot, heel lifted. You should feel like there is a little bit more weight in the front foot/hip than the back knee/thigh. This takes balance and that’s a bonus. When you lunge down, your knees approach a 90 degree bend. Keep perfect posture always, eyes focused forward, abs tight, chest lifted, body stable.

Depth of a lunge depends on your level of fitness, consistency and comfort. There are many variations of a lunge: standing lunges (above), walking lunges, stepping lunges, side lunges, and more. Plus, you can add a medicine ball, dumbbells, a bar, etc. depending on your goals and level of fitness. If you’re just learning a lunge, it is best to start with body weight only until you can perform lunges with perfect form.

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Once you start to add weights, lunges as well as squats become excellent total body exercises utilizing arms, back and chest. This can provide a fantastic cross over for your outdoor activities. Then you can do your activities and sports with greater zest.

Remember, form, form, form! Injuries often take weeks, months, and maybe even years to manifest. So be very careful. Your body has to last a lifetime.

Mary K. has over 30 years of experience as a Personal Trainer, has a BA in Athletic Training, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a Certified Nutrition Coach and Golf Injury Specialist. She grew up a competitive swimmer, a beach lover and surfer, competed in track and cross country followed by triathlons and mountain bike racing. Mary K. has always lived a healthy, fit lifestyle and has turned her passion into a very successful career. Find out more about Mary K. on her website.

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