Walking lunges provide a great lower-body workout, hitting the glutes, hamstrings, quads and even the calf muscles. But besides making you look a bit like a flamingo wading through water, walking lunges -- or any lunge -- can be hard on the knees. Fortunately, there are plenty of other exercises you can do in the gym or at home to work the same muscles, either at the same time or separately.
First, the myths. Lunges in and of themselves shouldn't damage your knees when done correctly. In fact, walking lunges, and all lunges, strengthen the muscles that promote knee health, and by working both the quads and hamstrings, they both save you time and reduce muscle imbalances that can lead to injury. Doing lunges correctly means lowering only until your thigh is parallel to the floor and not letting your knee overshoot your toes. Keeping form with a walking lunge can be more difficult than a static lunge, especially for beginners, and if you already have a knee injury, or you're carrying some extra pounds, lunges are probably not the best exercise for you.
Like lunges, squats also work the glutes as well as your leg muscles, but they put less strain on your knees. You can also modify them in a variety of ways to make them even easier on the joints. Do them with a stability ball against a wall, holding onto a support or free-standing. For extra strengthening, add weight. Even if you already have an injury, you should be OK if you limit the range of motion; that's a technical way of saying, stop before it hurts. A similar exercise is the leg press machine at the gym. This is like doing a squat sitting down. Machines distribute weight more evenly and, again, you can adjust the seat to limit the range.
Machines, such as the leg extension, leg curl and hip abductor -- the one where you push your legs out -- work the quads, hamstrings and certain glutes respectively. Using three machines in place of one may sound like a drag, but if you get your cardio on machines such as the treadmill or elliptical, you may already be working your quads more than your hamstrings, meaning, you may be able to skip the leg extension all together. You can do the equivalent of these exercises at home using ankle weights and sitting in a chair for extensions, lying face-down for curls and lying on your side for abduction.
While you probably make time to stretch after your workout, you may not know that there's a proper way to do that too. Grabbing each ankle for a second or two before you dash out the door is not the way to stretch your quads, and you may be overlooking your glutes and hamstrings entirely. Stretch your hamstrings sitting on the floor or by elevating your extended leg and leaning forward at the hips. Place your ankle on the opposite knee and press your inner thigh down to stretch your glutes. Whenever you stretch a muscle you should do at least four repetitions and hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, or the equivalent of four slow breaths.
- Transformation: Squats, Lunges and Your Knees
- Personal Fitness Training: Theory & Practice, Second Edition: Mary Yoke, MS
Nancy Cross is a certified paralegal who has worked as an employee benefits specialist and counseled employees on retirement preparation, including financial and estate planning. In addition to writing and editing, she runs a small business with her husband and is a certified personal trainer with the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA).