Sometimes the toll lunges take on your knees may simply be due to putting all that extra pressure on already bad knees. Or that knee pain may be due to incorrect form or more commonly, muscle imbalance. “Our body is interconnected, and when we have an imbalance in muscles of the feet, legs, hips, and glutes, this can create pain from incorrect form due to compensations,” says Courtney Virden, a fitness trainer and pelvic floor expert.
For some people, correcting those muscle imbalances can help make lunges more pain-free, but there are also some alternatives Virden recommends that work the same muscles in a more knee-friendly, low-impact way.
Exercises to do instead of lunges if you’re experiencing knee pain
1. Static lunge
Virden recommends skipping normal lunges and instead going with a static version, where you don’t move your feet and instead focus on holding the lunge.
How to do it:
- Start with your legs wide enough apart so that when you lunge your knee stays above your ankle.
- Lower into your lunge. Instead of alternating legs, stay on the same leg.
- Keep your torso tall and your tailbone dropped so that you use your glutes and abs—not your lower back.
2. Glute bridge
Aside from being really gentle on the knees, Virden says glute bridges are a great way to strengthen the muscles needed for lunges as well. “It’s also an exercise that’s ideal for any age and fitness level,” she says.
How to do it:
- Lie on the floor with your feet under your ankles (hip-distance apart, pointing straight ahead).
- Tilt your pubic bone toward your spine and slowly lift your hips off the floor.
- Slowly round your spine back down and repeat.
- For a greater challenge, do this exercise with one leg on the floor and the other leg slightly lifted up.
3. Squat with stability ball
Doing a squat with a stability ball helps strengthen your lower body, minus all the pressure on your knees. “This is a great exercise to do barefoot to help you remember to press your toes into the floor,” Virden says. “Doing this will enable your abs to help you and keep proper form.”
How to do it:
- Place a stability ball on the wall so when you lean back against it, your glutes are in the middle of the ball.
- Place your feet about 1.5 feet in front of your body, pointing straight ahead and shoulder-distance apart.
- Slowly bend your knees, dropping your tailbone and keeping your torso lifted as you squat, almost as if your spine is sliding straight up and down a pole.
- Reach your head toward the ceiling the entire time, making sure you aren’t collapsing forward or leaning back.
- When you’re in a full squat, your knees should be above your ankles and your torso upright.
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