The Lunge is something I would consider essential for good movement. Single-leg strength and stability is of massive importance in keeping humans healthy and performing at their peak.
For many people, the Forward Lunge is the first place they go to acquire single-leg strength. However, many people find this results in knee pain.
Although you could swap in Reverse Lunges and Split Squats to partially alleviate this issue, I believe the Forward Lunge has benefits of an open chain movement other variations cannot offer.
If you have cranky knees, there still may be a forward lunge variation that ‘s right for you. The Incline Forward Lunge is a great option for those with tenderness in their patella or surrounding areas, and offers a solution that can possibly bridge the athlete back into full range of motion Lunges.
To perform, elevate a flat bench on another flat bench at a perpendicular angle. This will create a makeshift incline bench. Most preset incline benches will not work for this due to the seat being in the way. You could also potentially use a decline bench for this variation.
Start with both feet on the ground and lunge forward and onto the incline bench you’ve created. The key is to place your foot in the same area on the bench with each rep and lunge with a natural stride length just as you would in a normal walking lunge.
This setup is very helpful for people who experience knee pain during Lunges and can also serve as a strengthener to those weak areas that may be causing the pain. Due to the elevation and incline of the front foot, the athlete’s ankle is not required to produce as much dorsiflexion. This is a similar effect to squatting with heels elevated on a wedge or small plate. The increased ankle mobility can lead to a much smoother movement at the knee joint, allowing the athlete to achieve an optimal range of motion with much less stress and discomfort on the joint itself.
Also, this variation adds value as an open chain exercise. The working leg, or forward lunging leg, still has to control deceleration forces and manage proprioceptive feedback because it is still lunging forward and backwards through the range of motion. This is a great quality for athletes to have as it transfers into their sport demands.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Split Squats and Reverse Lunge variations, too. I think a healthy mix of all of these are crucial for athletes. Do them all. But if your athlete or client is having trouble accomplishing pain-free results with Forward Lunges, give this variation a try before you scrap them all together. I’ve seen this not only help people lunge without pain, but also help them get strong enough to handle more difficult variations with no problems whatsoever.