You’re killing your workout at the HIIT class and then boom, all of a sudden, walking or jump lunges are involved, and you start to feel that dull ache in one of your knees. It happens to even the most fit humans.
For a lot of us, lunges hurt. The pain isn’t unbearable, but you’ve probably worried if it’s a sign of a bigger problem. And you’ve definitely wondered how to make it stop hurting. We talked to Michelle Rodriguez, MPT, OCS, CMPT, of Manhattan Physio Group in NYC, about how to stop the pain in its tracks, and some tips on the best exercises for knee pain—moves to do that'll help you feel even less pain in the future.
Knee pain during lunges can come from two sources: improper form or a muscle imbalance.
Normally, when you step forward into a lunge, your knee can naturally push forward. But if your hips are weak, your knee can push out farther past your toes because the hip muscles don’t keep it in line, which puts added pressure on the knee, Rodriguez says. Another reason? If you have weak glute (butt) muscles, and your butt isn’t doing the work it should, your knee won’t be able to stay aligned over the middle of your foot. Keep an eye out to see if your knee bends inward as you deepen into a lunge.
How to know when you do need to strengthen your glutes (besides the knee pain)? When you’re lunging, it might be hard for you to drop all the way down, and your range of motion might be affected, Sarah Otey, an instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp, told SELF. A trainer or physical therapist can likely diagnose which of these muscles you really need to work on.
Some knee pain is symptomatic of other issues. If it persists after your workout is over, or if there is swelling or sharp pain, you should see a physical therapist.
Do this lunge variation to ease pressure on your knees.
“The best thing you can do is to make the lunge be static,” Rodriguez says. A static lunge is a basic lunge where your feet don’t move. How to do it: Start standing with your feet staggered, one in front of the other. Bend at your knees and hips to lower your body down into a lunge. Pause, then raise back up. Keep your right shin vertical to the ground so that your knee doesn’t push over the right foot.
Why are static lunges better for you?
“When you say lunges, there are a plethora of them,” Rodriguez says. You can stand still and take a step forward, or backward, or out to the side. Any way you do it, there is motion involved. That motion involves momentum which makes it hard to stop and slow down your movements, which can add to the pressure on your knee.
Static lunges are also a great movement to start with if you have any balance issues. “There’s a coordination element [involved] while moving your body through space. A walking forward lunge contains too many variables for people to organize and control well,” Rodriguez says.
Do these two moves to fix the issues that are causing your knee pain.
The best exercises for knee pain during lunges will work your inner thighs, glutes, and hip muscles, including the deep stabilizing muscles of your hip joint, Rodriguez says. It’s the imbalances in all of these that can cause knee pain when you lower into a lunge. That might sound like a long list, but you really only need two moves to help strengthen those muscles:
1. Modified Bridge
“The best is to do a modified bridge, where you lie on your back, put your feet and knees together and then activate your glutes,” Rodriguez says. Because your knees and feet are together, you’re working your inner thighs and deep into your glutes to start to address that imbalance.
Here’s how to do it: Lie face up with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your feet together. Lift at your hips; pause. Return to start. Tip: Squeeze your butt as you push your hips up. It’s normal if you can’t get your hips quite as high as they can go in a regular bridge.
Start with a 10-second hold, then lower back down. Repeat this ten times. Then, do that whole set twice. Bridging is also great for your endurance, so once ten seconds seems easy, feel free to add an extra five. Do this three times per week as part of your warm up.
When you do clamshells, you’re working on stabilizing your core and focusing on the hip rotation, two key things you need to keep your body in balance.
Here's how to do it: Start lying on your right side with knees bent and heels together. Rest your head on your arm. Keep your heels together and lift your top knee to 45 degrees. Try not to move your pelvis, Rodriguez says.
The trick with these clam shells is to make sure your knees aren’t out in front of you, mermaid-style. Instead, you want to make sure you’re one long line from the top of your head, down to your core and glutes, through to your knees. Then your feet can be pointed back behind you.
Lift up your top knee slowly and hold for three seconds, then lower back down for one rep. Complete ten reps and then switch sides. Repeat that whole set twice. Do three times per week as part of your warm up.