The side lunge is an extremely important exercise for improving knee and ankle stability as well as increasing glute strength. It is often overlooked as an exercise, because it involves moving laterally (side to side) and most people focus on front to back or up and down.
In other words, when people think of lower body exercises, they think of the squat, dead lift and lunge. But these do not take into account that the body also moves in other ranges of motion that are also important (i.e. side to side).
First of all, it is important to understand that most knee injuries and ankle sprains occur when the body moves eccentrically and laterally. That means that your legs are moving to the side and trying to brake. Unfortunately, the muscles may not be strong enough to stabilize the braking motion and tear or sprain.
In fact, up to 70% of ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament) injuries to the knee are non-contact. And we also know that the #1 most common sports related injury is a sprained ankle. So, improving stability and strength in the knees and ankles is a vitally important step to protecting yourself from injury.
One of my favorite exercise choices for this task is the side lunge. I hardly ever see anyone doing it, but incorporating this into your routine will really help your overall movement and reduce your risk of injury. So, let’s take a look at the classic side lunge. Of course, there are lots of great variations on this exercise, but first start with the basics and then you can always advance it.
Side Lunge Exercise
1. Stand tall and make sure your feet are pointed straight ahead. (I always tell people to look at the outside of their feet not the inside, when pointing their feet straight). It may feel a little awkward at first, but you will get the hang of it quickly.
2. While under control, move one leg out to the side (about 2-3 feet). As that foot lands, let the knee bend, but keep the other leg straight.
3. Make sure the foot that steps to the side lands straight. Do not let that foot angle out to the side.
3. Sink the butt back and down as the knee bends. Do not let the knee extend over the toes. Imagine sitting back into a chair. In fact, when I first teach people this exercise, I usually have a chair or bench behind them so they can sit if desired, to get the feel of it.
4. You can use your arms as a counterweight and bring them out in front of you. If you are using weights, keep them in front of you and let your arms hang straight down, as seen in the image.
5. Now, push off from the leg that stepped out to the side and bring it back to the middle, standing tall.
6. Do 8-12 reps per leg.
In the beginning, do not use any weights. Instead, learn the proper form and get good at doing the movement under control. Once you feel comfortable, you can begin adding weight to increase the challenge. Just make sure you sink back and do NOT bend too far forward with your back.
As I mentioned, once you master the basic side lunge, you can begin doing variations that add difficulty and introduce more speed and power. But, simply adding more and more weight and focusing on proper form will also give you great benefits.