3/28/17

Living in harmony with lunges (or any other exercise you dread)

By Kiley Owen, PA-C

arty photo of woman lunging shot from above herThere's no question, if you're looking to strengthen and tone your lower body, lunges will get you results. But I'll admit, I have a love-hate relationship with lunges.

I love lunges because:

  • They are convenient. They can be done anywhere. No gym or fancy equipment is needed. 
  • They are efficient. Lunges strengthen and tone several big muscle groups at one time. 
  • They have multiple health benefits, including improved muscle strength and tone, improved coordination and balance, and a nice aerobic workout in the process.
  • They can get your lower body looking great. (A good thing to keep in mind with shorts weather just around the corner.)

I hate lunges because:

  • Doing them sucks. 

It's the truth. They're not fun. I have learned to like many forms of exercise, including running, biking, lifting weights, yoga ... . But I must admit that I dread lunges.

And years of doing them has not changed this for me.

Why the dread?

I got to thinking about my issues with lunges, and I realized why I dread them so much. Unlike strength exercises that target smaller muscle groups (such as the triceps, biceps, deltoids, pecs, abs, etc.), lunges involve big muscle groups lifting a lot of weight. This takes a great deal of work and wears you out quickly.

It's been awhile since I took physics, and I cannot tell you exactly how much work each muscle group is doing during my lunges routine. But I can tell you that literally tons of weight is being lunged by my lower body during this workout. 

No wonder I dread them so much!

My own goal is to do three sets of 60 lunges, three times per week. (Note: If you aren't used to doing lunges, I don't recommend starting here. An intense lunges workout can make your legs so wobbly that it's difficult to walk or take stairs afterward. Not to mention the intense next-day soreness that results if you're out of practice. It's best to start small, work your way up, and stop if your form is getting bad or if you experience joint pain. If your balance isn't the best, you can use something like ski poles for stabilization.) 

Sometimes I carry dumbbells for added weight. Sometimes I do a shoulder press motion with each lunge (working my deltoids at the same time). Sometimes, admittedly, I think about it too much, suddenly realize a hundred other things I "need" to do instead, and don't do them at all.

I don't recommend the latter option. I can tell you from experience that no strengthening or toning happens down that path. :)  In fact, I've come up with a plan to help me avoid that tempting but unhelpful path.

Living in Harmony with Lunges
(Or Any Other Beneficial Exercise You Dread)

So what's a girl (or guy) to do when she/he realizes the benefits of an exercise like lunges, yet completely dreads doing them?

I recommend setting some clear ground rules with your lunges (or other dreaded exercise). Lunges, I agree to show up three times a week, work hard, keep good form, and do my best during this workout. However, you only get 10 minutes of my day. That's it. Then I'm moving on.

The workout is much more palatable if it's brief. You can tolerate just about anything for 10 minutes, right?

So this is my lunges routine:

  1. Start the stopwatch on my iPhone
  2. Do a total of 60 walking lunges, alternating legs (There's no magic to the number 60. This is simply a number that works well for me right now. Again, start small and work your way up.)
  3. Time myself for a one-minute break (Otherwise I would be tempted to break for an hour or so.)
  4. Another 60 lunges
  5. Another one-minute break (Some hamstring and quads stretches are a good idea during breaks.)
  6. The final 60 lunges (It's really not fun at this point, but I'm almost done!)
  7. Walk around, stretch. Enjoy the great feeling of having done the lunges routine. Now I can go about my day. 

Give It a Try!

If you're looking for a convenient and efficient way to get your lower body in better shape, give lunges a try. Time yourself in order to stay on task and avoid prolonging the pain. In less than 10 minutes a day, three days a week, this quick routine can yield some nice results.

Kiley Owen is a physician assistant, blogger and preventive health enthusiast. This post—along with helpful links to other resources—originally appeared on her blog, makinghealthapriority.com.