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Just One Thing. The one exercise you can and should do this holiday weekend!

Just One Thing. The one exercise you can and should do this holiday weekend!

Author: Colleen Gulick, Ph.D (ExPhys), MS, BS (BioE), EIT (ME), CSCS

The one exercise you should do this holiday season to get the biggest bang for your buck.

Are you planning on traveling for the holidays?  Whether you are headed to the in-laws, at a fancy resort, or traveling with the kids, you will probably want to squeeze in a workout at some point. 

When you’re on the road it’s challenging to find the time, space, and/or resources to do so.  Luckily, we are here to help share some efficient workout ideas so that if you did just one thing to work out in a hotel or friends/parents guest room you can get the maximum benefit. 

Choosing just one exercise was a tough decision but we went with the lunge since it has plenty of variations and the ability to suit the majority of goals and environments. 

Why the lunge?

I’m going to go out on a limb (no pun intended) and say that the lunge is one of the most underrated lower body exercises.  It can be used to improve stability, flexibility, posture, and strength.  Plus, there are tons of variations to help keep it interesting.  

Stability

The unilateral nature of the lunge lends it to being an incredibly practical exercise.  Very few activities in everyday life are bilateral, with the exceptions being squatting and hopping (and how often do we truly hop each day).  Walking, running, and stair climbing are all unilateral activities that require stability.  This makes the lunge a valuable exercise not only for daily life, but also for performance in any sport that incorporates running.  In this way, the lunge is usually more sport specific than squats. 

Furthermore, many people have a side preference; they hit with their right hand only or favor their left leg.  Over time, this can lead to one side of the body being significantly stronger than the other.  If an individual only performs bilateral exercises, they can easily hide this discrepancy by developing compensation strategies.  However, this can often lead to injuries due to a large strength/flexibility/mobility difference between sides.  This makes the lunge a useful tool for injury prevention and rehabilitation.

Flexibility and Posture

  The bottom position of the lunge is great for stretching the hip flexors, which are tight for most people due to prolonged sitting behind a desk or computer.  As you stand up out of this bottom position, you are activating the glutes.  When you go through the range of motion of the lunge you are repeatedly stretching and contracting these muscles.  This helps to both strengthen muscles as well as stretch the deep fascia to which they are connected.  In this way, you are helping to improve posture, increase strength and increase your range of motion.  Furthermore, the upper body position (upright torso and shoulders back) is great to reinforce good posture. 

Strength

The lunge activates all of the major lower body musculature including the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves, iliopsoas (hip flexor) and core.  Lunges are particularly great at recruiting the gluteal muscles.  Strengthening these muscles does much more than just helping to create that perfectly sculpted rear end.  The gluteus medius muscle is important for improving landing technique (by stopping the knees from collapsing inward when running or squatting), preventing ACL injuries and patellofemoral tracking dysfunction (PFTD).  In addition, strengthening the glute med is particularly important for runners as it helps to prevent Trendelenburg gait (when the hips drop on the non-weight bearing side while running or walking).  Not only is this gait pattern inefficient, it can also become painful (ITB syndrome and low back pain) if repeated over time.  The gluteus maximus muscle is the largest of the gluteal muscles.  It is critical for the support of the lower back as well as propulsion during running (it’s no coincidence that sprinters have more musculature booties).    

If you are working on increasing your strength or muscle size (hypertrophy), then the unilateral nature of the lunge means that you have to add less weight in order to activate the muscle.  This is great when you are away from home and have limited resources for adding resistance.  You can easily add some weight to your lunge by holding something heavy in your hands or wearing a backpack full of books.  If you want to be very efficient you can hold dumbbells and simultaneously perform bicep curls. If you are targeting hypertrophy, strength or threshold improvements and really want to step it up a notch you can incorporate blood flow restriction training (BFR), but this training methodology is too intricate to get into here (be on the lookout for a future article with details).

 Check out the variations below to see which lunge variations suit your needs.

Variations

  • Traditional forward lunge
    •  How to: Start with your feet about shoulder width apart.  Step forward with the right leg and bend both knees, lowering yourself until your right thigh is just above parallel with the floor.  Push off with your left leg and step through so that your left foot lands next to your right foot and you return to the upright, starting position.  Remember to keep your chest up and shoulders back throughout the entire exercise.     
  • Scissor Jump
    •  If you’re looking for a more aerobic workout then try the scissor jump.  It will keep your heart rate high and require a large muscle contraction.
    •  How to: start in the bottom of a lunge position and jump straight up.  While in the air, switch the positions of your legs so that whichever leg was in the front is now in the back. Land in this alternating lunge and repeat, switching legs with each jump.
  • Side lunges
    • Side lunges are a great variation to incorporate a lateral component.  These lunges still utilize the quads and glutes, but put extra emphasis on the hip abductor and adductor muscles (inner and outer thighs).
    • How to: Step out to the side while keeping the torso upright.  Sit back and bend your knee until it’s at approximately 90 degrees.  Stand up and return to the starting position
  • Curtsy lunge
    • This variation still recruits the quad and glute muscles.  However, when your rear leg crosses behind your body, the gluteus medius is heavily recruited. 
    • How to: Start by standing with your feet shoulder width apart. Take your right leg and perform a reverse lunge.  However, instead of going straight back and lowering yourself, cross your right leg behind your left as you descend into the bottom of the lunge.  This means that in the bottom position your right leg will be behind and to the outside of your left leg (similar to the crossed position of a speed skater).  Remember to keep your hips level and left shin perpendicular to the floor.  Step forward and return to the starting point. 

Feel free to mix up your workout and incorporate multiple different lunge variations, add weight, increase or decrease your speed and add or subtract repetitions. 

The lunge is a great exercise to help you stay strong wherever your travels may take you.  Whether you prefer the traditional, scissor jump, side, or curtsy, we hope that your holidays will be filled with lunges.

Wherever you're lunging this holiday, don't forget to keep well hydrated. Our Replenish Electrolyte formula comes in handy single serve tear sticks so you can take them anywhere. they give you all the electrolyte with none of the sugar of other drinks. Get them here.