The knee is the joint that connects your femur and tibia, allowing you to walk, run and flex your lower leg. So keeping the knees strong and flexible through daily exercise is important for maintaining an active lifestyle. Strengthening these muscle groups, along with the glutes and calves, will better support your knees. Lunges are one exercise you can do every day.
When in a lunge, you're contracting -- or tightening -- the quadriceps, hamstring and gluteal muscle groups. These muscles groups make up the front and back thigh and your buttocks. Each of these larger muscle groups consists of smaller muscles -- the quads have four, and the hamstrings and glutes each have three. The key to keeping your knees strong and flexible is exercising the hamstrings and quads. These muscles support your knee joint, and strengthening them can prevent injury.
It's important to begin any exercise or strength routine with basic stretches. Without doing so, muscle strain and discomfort can result. You should do a series of quad stretches, hamstring stretches and calf stretches before lunges. Calf stretches ready your soleus and gastrocnemius muscles -- the two muscles forming your calf -- for exercise. While primarily an upper leg and butt exercise, lunges will work your calves, too. To stretch your calf, stand facing a wall. Brace your arms against the wall and put your left foot behind you. Slowly lunge forward with your right leg, keeping your left leg straight. Hold this position for 30 seconds while thrusting your hips forward. Keep your back straight. Switch legs and repeat.
Once your muscles are warmed up, move into a lunge by standing with your legs hip-width apart. Relax your arms, placing them at your sides as you step forward with your left foot. Lean into the lunge, bending the left knee until it forms a 90-degree angle. Your left thigh will form a tabletop while your right lower leg is parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight and don't let your left knee extend past your second toe. Once you feel tension in your thigh and buttocks, stand and repeat until your muscles are tired. Switch legs and repeat on the opposite side.
With time, you may wish to change your daily strengthening routine. When you do, there's no need to toss out your trusty thigh-toning lunges. Variations on the standard move make this exercise as versatile as the little black dress. The advanced lunge, also known as Warrior I, the reverse lunge, walking lunges, side lunges and side lunges with leg lifts strengthen the knee while tightening the leg and butt muscles. Do walking lunges as you would a regular lunge but with only one difference. When you come out of the lunge, stand and step forward with the opposite leg. Repeat the lunge movement with the "new" leg. Continue this way until you are tired.
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