Are you doing the 1 exercise the whole world seems to do, you know, the one that even athletes do, which we’re told will help get a firm bum and more lower body strength?
You know what I’m talking about. In most fitness classes, bootcamps and other groups style training programs that have everyone keep an upright torso (straight upper body), while they lunge across a room, going forward at that, until you can no longer go because the legs are beginning to turn to jelly or seize up.
Think back if you can and remember which body part begins to fail you while doing an upright lunge. The muscle that gives out first (which is the one that is doing all of the work). You got it, the quadriceps!
Let me give you a great tip for your training. The position of your torso has a direct bearing on the lower body muscles that are the prime users during that exercise.
Imagine doing a wall sit (upright torso) and expecting to get a firm bum and more power on your squat? Where is the resistance, and where are the forces being applied? Again, the quadriceps!
Now that we know the upright lunge is primarily a quadriceps exercise, let’s look at how it can hurt you, and negatively impact you while learning how to squat.
Your best friends, your groin muscles
If you’ve ever worked on someone (massage), be it a die hard “beat the crap out of me and make me feel it in the morning” fitness person, or a high level athlete, you will notice a strong similarity. Their inner thigh, especially near the back, closer to the medial (inner) hamstring, and deep in, is very ropey with much build up of fibrosity.
In other words, they have overused, overloaded and over stretched that region, and in some cases, let it do all of the work along with the quadriceps, while the glutes sat there and collected dust.
Of course, if the glutes are not working, how can they possibly get firm. Imagine wanting to get a “butt lift”, without the butt doing anything. That would be nice!
When you lunge, your groin muscles get pulled as the depth of the lunge increases. These muscles are a huge player when learning how to squat.
And if you squat with proper technique, their role becomes critical to avoid knee pain and to maximize glute activation when doing squats correctly.
So you have to be careful with this group of muscles as they are a big part of knowing how to squat with proper technique.
Now, how the lunge can affect how you squat begins to become clearer. Let’s say there are 100 people in a room, all of which are asked to lunge all the way across the room.
If we did this, we would be assuming that each person in that room:
A) Has a loose groin complex and can lunge that low with ease and proper form (no knee buckling in and no knee shooting forward)
B) All in the room weighed the same and could sustain the weight of their upper body as they did a lunge.
Another way to look at it would be like so. Say you have a small elastic band and its ends are held at each end by your fingers, so the band is parallel to the floor.
Now, you pull on the band to stretch it, and then as you do that, someone also apply pressure into it (like poking it), to stretch it even more.
The Lunge portion is the elastic band stretching and the pressure portion is the band being loaded with weight (your upper body).
This is where the damage occurs. The over stretching and micro trauma under the skin that begins to make some of the groin muscles tighter and less flexible.
Every muscle has been trained or has not been trained to move in daily life and in certain ways, and every muscles in each person varies in length. Not every person has the strength or flexibility to squat, or even squat low, yet, the lunge can be done by anyone in the world regardless of body type, training experience and flexibility?
And unfortunately, stretching, is not the remedy.
And aside from the clean and jerk, that movement, an upright lunge, does not exist in daily life or in sport.
The Top 3 groin and Hip Stretches That Hurt Rather Than Help
I never would have thought this would be a stretch considering the flexed hip however, if you can do avoid this one, you’d be smart.
The first one is when someone goes into a forward lunge and then as they are deep in the lunge, they twist their torso. The objective is to pull on the back or the hip flexor attachments to the spine I suspect, but why would you lengthen only the top half of a muscle, and all the while the bottom half is squished?
With your knee bent the hip flexors are shortened at the femur, and all the attachments to the hips are in neutral, while the hips are immobilized from flexion.
Now, you have what Dr. McGill calls an axial twist, whereby the back rotates however the hips don’t move. This movement is non-existent in the world of sports, and if you did this with a grocery bag, or heavy gardening soil, your back would be in grave danger!
Imagine doing a Jerk, whereby the lunge does apply, and then you ask a world champion to hold the weight up while in the split squat position (lunge) and twist his torso!
The second one is a deep lunge with knees shot forward while you press into the thigh, twist (axial again) and reach up and behind you.
I’m not sure where this movement pattern or this angel is used in sports, fitness or daily life, however once again, the hips are locked and the twist and pull is coming from the hip bone (for the groin) and the low back for the hip flexor, QL and so forth.
These muscles would never be asked to support you in that position, and thereby would not be a logical movement to help you improve your squat technique.
Try using this approach. If you have a bad (tight for some) back, and or “tight” hip muscles, and you keep doing these stretches, why isn’t the tightness or pain gone? Or better yet, why does it always come back?
Take care of your body, use common sense and as always…lift smart!