Variations on the lunge

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  • #9322

    Hi Uphill Athletes,

    I’m hoping that someone could help out with a question about lunges. The lunge seems to be a great exercise for the mountain athlete. It’s a single leg exercise and trains the eccentric strength required for ski and running descents. It also seems safer and easier to learn than the classic, bilateral, barbell exercises.

    So i’ve always had the lunge somewhere in my strength routine. But I’ve started wondering whether a particular type of lunge is better suited to my interests in mountain running and ski touring.

    I’ve identified four types of lunge. I’ve been cycling through them all, but wondered whether you had thoughts on the relative strengths/weaknesses of each.

    – The standard forward lunge. I read somewhere that this variation better approximates the eccentric movement in skiing and running. I find it the easiest lunge to do with good form.

    – The reverse lunge where you step backwards. I think I read elsewhere that this is a safer movement, and better approximates movements you tend to do naturally (whatever that means). I can’t find the source for this now, and I’m sceptical. Do you still get the same benefits of eccentric training from the reverse lunge?

    – The deficit reverse lunge. The stationary front foot goes on a raised platform. This has the potential advantage of increasing the range of motion of the exercise. That’s quite an appealing feature.

    – The walking lunge. Often described as the most effective lunge and a favourite of Rob Shaul and co at the Mountain Tactical Institute. I’m speculating, but does it increase the range of motion at the top of the movement? Does the walking aspect also mean that you have to use more force to counter the “downwards” movement as you drop into the lunge? I would need a good reason to do them as they are a bit of a faff to do in busy gyms with limited floor space.

    Of course lunges are also similar to split squats. Split squats seem to be pretty limited in usefulness, unless you are training for olympic lifting, but the “bulgarian” split squat, where the rear foot is elevated, might offer advantages over the lunge. However, I suspect you might lose some of the eccentric strength benefits.

    Thanks to anyone who’s got this far – I’d be grateful for any thoughts on the different types of lunge!

    P.s. I’m a big fan of TFNA, and have found this forum to be a great additional resource. Thanks for putting it together! Very much looking forward to the new book I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere.

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    Anonymous on #9323

    I wouldn’t rule out barbell work or split squats. Barbell work is very useful, probably essential, for max strength work. Split squats are great for both max strength and LME, albeit with different loads.

    WRT lunge types, I don’t have enough experience to say. They all seem similar enough that perhaps it’s splitting hairs to recommend one type over another.

    I do like the idea of reverse negative lunges. That seems like a great way to overload the upward-locomotive muscle groups which would be pretty specific to alpine travel. (Caveat: …but I haven’t tried them.)

    Anonymous on #9354

    I’m a big fan of lunges. The gym based muscular endurance routines we prescribe to our coaching clients rely heavily on single leg movements; front lunge, split jump squat, box step up.

    For general conditioning I think the Split Squat with the rear foot on the ground or elevated is a great exercise for preparing one for the rigors of the much more dynamic lunge and split jump squat.

    I too like the eccentric loading of the front lunge. If you do the front lunge very dynamically not only do you get the eccentric loading but the return push off with the front leg to get back the start is very quad intensive. The walking lunge is really just a series of front lunges connected.

    Like Scott S says: The bipedal lifts have their place as general strength exercises. They should not be completely overlooked.


    James H on #9357

    I like the static one leg squat/lunge – I usually put weight in a pack and hold a dumbbell in the same side hand as the working leg.

    Anonymous on #9369

    thanks for the replies. You are probably right that the differences are fairly marginal! And maybe I ought to substitute some of the time i spend one lunges and step ups with some squats and deadlifts…

    Steve House on #9390

    I like pairing lunges (any type, though the Reverse Negative Lunges sound a bit too geeky for me, I’ll leave those to Scott Semple) and split-squats with 1-legged dead-lifts in the same workout, not back-to-back mind you. Try it and tell me what you think.

    From the 20,000-foot-view, I think of them this way: bi-pedal lifts are ‘general strength period’ exercises except when we need to dip into a max-strength maintenance workout. Specific period strength is all one-legged work, hill-sprints, etc.


    Thrusthamster on #9419

    Walking lunges are great, they are harder particularly on the hip muscles because they work to stabilize you longer during the exercise. Also your grip gets worked.

    Step ups are also a good variation of the same movement that I’ve started doing after seeing it in the book.

    My best mountaineering performance gains were during a period I did a lot of lunges. I had trouble with leg fatigue, but during a 6 hour and 1000m vertical trip after 3 months of lunges once a week (a lot of volume though), I never felt any burn in my thighs. The trip before that when I just did barbell squats my thighs burned so bad I was really struggling.

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