There's nothing like post-workout soreness after some serious leg exercises. While your hams and glutes should feel the burn after lunges, you may have a problem if your knees seemed strained instead. Even if you have bad knees, there are a few signs that lunges might not be right for you. Not to worry though since there are a good amount of lunge alternatives to help build up strength in this very important part of your body. To find out if lunges are bad for your knees, and to get tips on doing a proper, pain-free lunge, POPSUGAR spoke to medical experts and a trainer to get all the details.
Are Lunges Bad For Your Knees?
According to Matthew Harb, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, lunges are an excellent way of preventing knee pain and injury. Even if you're dealing with severe knee conditions such as osteoarthritis, lunges offer some solid benefits. "I typically recommend lunges because this simple exercise works all of the important muscle groups around the knee," Dr. Harb told POPSUGAR. "We know that building strength and endurance, as well as preserving range of motion in the knee, are paramount to long-term knee health."
Although this is definitely great news to hear, Alyssa Kuhn, DPT, founder of Utah-based Keep the Adventure Alive, said that lunges can offer some risks. While she did acknowledge that lunges are a "powerful exercise for you knees," it's really dependent on your knee strength. "Not everyone's knees are always ready for lunges," Dr. Kuhn told POPSUGAR. "They can be a painful exercise to some, especially those dealing with knee pain. If you have significant levels of pain when doing lunges, your knees may be telling you they aren't ready for the exercise right now."
What Happens When You Do Lunges Incorrectly?
If you don't pay close attention to your form when doing lunges, you could seriously hurt yourself. Jessica Mazzucco, a New York-based certified fitness trainer for The Glute Recruit, told POPSUGAR some signs to watch out for if you're doing lunges incorrectly.
"Lunges at extreme angles can put added stress on the joints, and cause pain in the knees," Mazzucco said. "If you are leaning too far forward, your knee can't bend properly to a 90-degree angle, which can lead to knee injury and make balancing hard. Also, if your hips are weak, your knee may push out past your toes because your hip muscles don't keep the knee in line. This puts added pressure on the knee, resulting in pain and/or injury."
What Is the Correct Way to Do a Lunge?
To help prevent knee injury or pain, Dr. Harb gave these step-by-step instructions on doing a lunge correctly:
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
- Take a big step forward with your right leg.
- Lower your body until your right thigh is parallel with the floor and your left knee is very close to the floor.
- Hold the lunge at the bottom for 15-30 seconds and then return to the starting position.
- Repeat the same motion with the left leg.
- Perform this exercise 5-10 times on each leg.
What Modifications Can I Do to Avoid Hurting My Knees?
Mazzucco suggests doing lunge variations to avoid knee injury. Some of these include a modified lunge where you bend halfway instead of all the way, or lunging backward to help prevent your knee from moving too far forward. She also recommended trying static lunges, an exercise in which your feet don't move, but you still go down in lunge position, pause, and come back up.
"Make sure your right shin is vertical to the ground to prevent your knee from pushing over the right foot," Mazzucco said. "Static lunges are better for avoiding knee pain than walking forward lunges because walking lunges require momentum, making it hard to stop your movements, which can add pressure to the knee."
In addition to these alternative lunge exercises, Dr. Kuhn also suggests elevating your front foot on a small stair or box when doing lunges. Having some form of support nearby — whether it's a pole or kitchen sink — can also help relieve any knee pressure as well. If you suffer from knee conditions such as osteoarthritis, you can take the bend out altogether.
What Should I Do If My Knees Hurt After Lunges?
If none of the aforementioned suggestions and lunge modifications alleviated any knee pain after lunges, it's highly recommended that you take this exercise out of your workout. "There's a difference between a little burn that goes away versus a sharp pain in your knees," Mazzucco said. "Good pain affects positive change in the body, while painful twinging can indicate you are putting yourself at risk for injury."
Dr. Harb also agrees, and even suggests scheduling an appointment with your doctor to see if there are any possible underlying conditions that are causing your knees to hurt during and after lunges. However, be prepared to possibly do a few knee exercises to help get a proper diagnosis.
"Certain exercises and rehabilitation protocols are better for different causes of knee pain," Dr. Harb said. "I recommend that my patients focus on pre-habiliation exercises, which include exercises to improve strength, endurance, and range of motion prior to [a possible] operation. We know from many studies that patients who do these types of exercises before surgery have better results after having any type of orthopedic procedure."
As always, talk to your doctor before starting any type of new exercise program or if you are experiencing persistent pain that won't go away. Lunges should be a quick and efficient workout that you feel all over your leg — not a painful experience for your joints.