Tips on Keeping the Knee Discomfort Under Control
If you can’t lunge without feeling a twinge in your knees, it’s likely a hate-hate relationship and many of us have a love-hate relationship with lunges.
It’s not uncommon to feel knee discomfort or pain during lunges. The worst offenders tend to be forward lunges, walking lunges and jump lunges, says Dani Almeyda, corrective exercise specialist and co-owner of North Carolina-based Original Strength Institute. “Or at least that’s what I mostly see at our facility.”
If you’re bothered by knee discomfort or pain when you lunge, start your journey to relief by identifying the root cause. After all, lunges are a great exercise for strengthening and building stability in the legs and glutes, and worth including in any well-rounded strength program. Don’t exclude them if you don’t have to.
There are a couple of primary reasons lunges might bother your knees — aside from joint, tendon and ligament injuries, of course. See if one or both of these reasons apply to you.
Poor Form (Knee Discomfort)
If you feel knee discomfort or pain when you do lunges, check your form in the mirror. Notice where your front knee ends when you perform a lunge: Is it over your front toes? If not, your stance may be too narrow. If you don’t leave enough space between your front and back foot, your front knee will likely travel past your toes, which places extra pressure on the joint, says Eliza Nelson, ACE-certified personal trainer and orthopedic exercise specialist.
The fix: Widen your stance and see if that makes a difference. Check again to see if your front knee is over your toes.
While you’re checking your form, see if your front knee collapses inward when you lunge. You may need to ask a friend or trainer to watch you or you can take a video to self-assess. If you find your front knee is collapsing inward, you may have a glute strength problem. Your glutes — the gluteus maximus in particular — work to push your hips forward and outwardly rotate the leg. Why does this matter for your knees during lunges? “If the glute isn’t helping properly in the lunge, the upper leg and knee will collapse inward, and the knee won’t be allowed to track properly over the middle of the front foot, like we want,” Nelson explains.
The fix: Strengthen your glutes with exercises like glute bridges, sit-to-stands, clam shells and banded lateral walks. And be sure to stretch your glutes after you’re done with your strength routine. The standing or lying figure-four stretch and pigeon pose are two great options to start with, Nelson says.
What To Do If Lunges Still Hurt (Protect your Knee)
If you still can’t do lunges without knee discomfort or pain, there are a few other strategies you can try.
For example, if your exercise form is solid, slow the tempo and don’t lunge as far down. “See how that feels,” Almeyda says.
You can also experiment with different styles of lunges to determine if one feels better than another. Some lunge variations, like jump lunges and curtsy lunges, may be too advanced for where you’re at right now. “Choose a [lunge] variation that is comfortable to you and don’t feel pressure to enter into more advanced forms that require more stability, balance or range of motion that is beyond what you can perform without pain or discomfort,” Nelson says.
The static lunge is a great lunge variation to start with. With this variation, you start and finish the movement with your feet in the same position. “You remove the variability and some of the stability that is needed from other lunges,” Nelson explains.