Shakira got one thing right. The hips don’t lie. You can’t hide what the hips can tell about your body, from misalignments to weak muscles that may be causing lower back pain or the tender knee you’ve been tolerating.
Certainly an ill-fitting shoe, the worn-out chair and many other external factors may contribute to some body aches and pains. However, the hips muscles, in addition to other abdominals and back muscles, are considered for many what defines the core to which body extremities get connected to and resist external forces.
This is why a strong hip musculature is the starting point to stabilize the pelvis and provide the right support to the lower extremity kinetic chain movements. An unstable hip can cause a serial of distortions patterns that lead to injuries, as states in the article “Importance of Comprehensive Hip Strengthening” published in the Strength and Conditioning Journal, 2012.
The unbalanced relationship
Over 17 muscles allow the hip to extend, flex, adduct, abduct and rotate internally and externally. The lack of strength of these muscles increases the risks of suffering from the common iliotibial band syndrome – injury to the thigh – with runners and bikers. Problems here can also lead to other acute and chronic knee pains.
Unfortunately, many exercises that are done at the gym such as lunges, squats and deadlifts emphasize the hip extensors (gluteus and hamstrings) more than the hip flexors, the inner hip muscles (iliopsoas) and the quadriceps.
“This strength imbalance can lead to hip flexors strain and also to a posterior pelvic tic, which puts the lumbar spine at a greater risk of injury,” states the article.
The lunge is one of the exercises that provides more versatility to quickly shift the stress from one area of the hips muscles to another. Certainly, lunges will not cover all hips matters but at least will be an easy start since many fitness aficionados already include it in their workouts.
The boundaries of the lunge are that this multi-joint leg movement recruits muscle synergy so that “the larger trunk muscle such as the rectus abdominis, spinal erectors, oblique and hips muscles works as global spinal stabilizers and provided the force needed for actual trunk or hip muscles,” explains Everett Asberg in the book Muscle Mechanics.
In other words, when doing a lunge you are also targeting the abdominals and other important back muscles.
Not your typical lunge
The multi-planar lunge will engage not just the hip extensors such as the gluteus maximus and the hamstrings (posterior part of the thigh) but also the hip adductors such as the adductors magnus, longus and brevis (interior part of the thigh) and the hip flexors – iliopsoas and rectus femoris.
Add this exercise to your lower body workout or whole body circuit. This move will heavily engage the abdominals and due to its large muscle involvement will aid to support a lean body mass. It can be done with dumbbells or a barbell.
At all times, keep your back straight and chest up. Your knee should not pass the toe of your foot. Stand tall and keep your core tight. Focus on the technique rather than the weight you lift. Consider that the exercise has four moves in which a rep counts after you do all four. This will make your heart pump and tackle your endurance, strength and balance capacity.
How to do it?
In a standing position, take one leg forward onto a lunge position making sure to sit back while keeping the body aligned, go back to starting position to immediately step to one side to do a lateral lunge. Go back to the beginning and quickly rotate your body to 45 degree angle to perform another side lunge. Sit back and push off with the heel of this leg to return to the starting position. Right away, perform a backward lunge. Pushing off from the heel of the leg planted lift the leg knee high and fully contract the gluteus while holding the leg in this position without tilting the pelvis. Go back to starting position.
This is one rep. Now, do the same with the other leg. Do 2-3 sets of 3 reps per leg – a total of 12 lunges in different directions per leg.
Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning coach and master trainer, who teaches as an adjunct professor at Florida International University. Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, martamontenegro.com, combines fitness, nutrition and health tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.