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The Squat/Lunge Conundrum

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Old 08-20-2009, 12:29 PM   #1
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Default The Squat/Lunge Conundrum

So I've been working on squats and lunges for four weeks now. When I started out, I couldn't get very far down on either. A very small part of it was some knee pain, but I figure if I work on the muscles around the knee...well, you know. The bigger part is that the muscles weren't very strong and i feel like I'm going to fall. I have fallen, embarrassing as that is to type. But I just kept plugging away, trying to push myself to do them deeper and stronger. After four weeks--no improvement. I MAY feel like my thigh muscles are stronger, but I cannot go deeper into the squat or lunge.

What I'm wondering is this--what other exercises can I do to work these muscle groups without specific gym equipment? Will sitting against a wall work? (We used to do that when I was on swim team eons ago)

Please help!
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Old 08-20-2009, 12:38 PM   #2
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If you hold onto something, can you go deeper? If so, that's what I would do. I use a rope around a pole and use it as a counterbalance. That way, I can let it go slack if I'm okay, but tighten up if I need the help to balance.
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Old 08-20-2009, 12:41 PM   #3
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I think sitting against a wall like your sitting in a chair helps. I take a body2pump class at the gym and she has us do that and boy ol boy does it hurt lol
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Old 08-20-2009, 12:47 PM   #4
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I was seeing a personal trainer and he made us do this exercise every day that sounds soooo simple, but it will totally help anyone build the muscles necessary for squats and lunges. All you need to do is sit in a normal chair- like a wooden chair or folding chair and stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down... Sound easy enough, right? Until you get to your tenth and then it becomes more difficult. We did 3 reps of 25, but you can adjust your reps and sets to meet your own specific fitness/muscle level.
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Old 08-20-2009, 12:56 PM   #5
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Thanks so much!

I like the chair idea! I might alternate that with the wall sits.

When I do hold onto something, I find myself pushing with my arms as I come up. Then I feel that I get very little out of it. I think I'll try these suggestions and then in a month try some squats and lunges.

Wish me luck!
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Old 08-20-2009, 01:36 PM   #6
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My trainer had me put a balance ball behind my back and then push it against the wall with my back instead of just putting my back straight to the wall. I think it helps work some of the other muscles for balancing.
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Old 08-20-2009, 03:33 PM   #7
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Eumie, my knees wouldn't allow me to do full squats until I was well below 200 pounds. Before then I found that pressing a stability ball against the wall and holding in the squat position did wonders to help me build leg strength.

Good luck, and you'll be doing full squats before you know it!
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Old 08-20-2009, 05:44 PM   #8
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Lunges and Squats, Squats and Lunges. Some of the best exercises for lower body development. Don't let their simplicity fool you. You are wise to consider strengthening the muscles supporting the knee joint as you progress. I would suggest adding step ups to your routine to recruit more muscular development around the knees. Unweighted to begin and not very high to begin. Maybe an aerobic step with two risers. Then proceed with a third riser and following with the height of a bench.

Lunges are difficult. I found that I could master the squat long before I could lunge successfully without pain. Backward lunges are easier than forward. Speed is not the hallmark of a good lunge instead take it slow and steady until you are able to balance well.

Squats require you to move at the hip more than you may realize. When lowering into a squat make sure that first your feet a a little more than shoulder width apart, push back with your hips sticking your glutes far back, let your knees fall open and lower down. Chest should remain wide and shoulders square. I have also provided a link that does a decent job of trouble shooting common squat problems.

Good luck and enjoy your leg days!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90dbFDXfL3Q
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Old 08-21-2009, 03:33 PM   #9
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Lydia - thanks for that video link!
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Old 08-22-2009, 10:13 AM   #10
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If you haven't already, you may want to see a trainer to give you some guidance on your form. Squats and lunges are not simple exercises and I see people doing it with wrong form all the time which can lead to knee pain and other injuries. As a general matter, if you are not able to get down to or below parallel on the squat (and yes, a properly done squat should be done to or below parallel, it could be many causes, including:

1. lack of flexibility
2. mis-placement of bar on the back
3. position of hands on the bar
4. width of legs/feet
5. alignment of knees and femur to feet as you squat down
6. weight on wrong place (ball of feet).

As a general matter, stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder width with feet pointing about 30 degrees out. Take a deep breadth and hold it throughout the movement. Tighten your core and keep your back straight (no rounding). As you squat, keep your weight on your heels. Spread out your knees as you come down so your knees and your upper thighs are aligned with your feet. First movement up is the hip drive--drive the weight up by driving your hips straight up (while keeping your back angle). Breath at top and repeat.

I highly recommend Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe (there is a companion DVD that is great as well). By far one of the best instruction book on doing basic barbell exercises.
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Old 08-22-2009, 11:29 AM   #11
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KD, not sure, but I think the OP was asking about bodyweight/air squats, which is a more upright squat and executed differently than the one you're referring to. Definitely good advice, though, for that low bar position barbell back squat!
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Old 08-22-2009, 08:08 PM   #12
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Oops. I definitely misunderstood. One thing I would still say applies on bodyweight squats is to make sure your legs and knees line up with your feet. This is one of the major reasons why people have knee problems when they squat. When the legs are misaligned with the feet, that puts an incredible amount of pressure on your knees.
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Old 08-22-2009, 08:53 PM   #13
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I have horrible balance, I can do a good squat but those lunges! I worked on them for three months before I got to the point where I could do 10 without tipping over. I used a pole/broomstick to hold onto {a chair back would work also} in the beginning. I would try stationary lunges over walking lunges, just standing in the correct position and the up and down movement was enough for me in the beginning. I much prefer step ups over lunges any day, I actually rather like the stepping up or down part, as previously mentioned start with a short height and work your way up.


The secret to a good squat, for me, was to stick my butt out/back farther than I thought I should, otherwise I was using my knees too much. HTH
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Old 08-22-2009, 09:23 PM   #14
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KD, I agree with you there. Thinking about pushing the knees out helps, sometimes, if a person has a tendency to let the knees collapse inward, so just that cue of "knees out" or as my trainer says "fight for it!" can help keep the knees tracking out over the foot correctly.

Just on the subject of squats and lunges in general, I had a lot of knee-popping, knee pains, hip pains, etc, when I first started trying to do lunges and squats. The squats, I could do, just not very deep, and that was a good place to start, for me. I had very tight/short hamstrings when I started, and they were about as thick as a slice of bacon, lol, so I just could not get down even to parallel in the beginning. I just started by squatting to the height of my bed, since that was all I could do, and gradually worked my way lower from there. Now, I can go hams to calves, pain free, so it's definitely possible to make improvements, if you're patient and keep working on it.

Lunges, I could not do, at all, at first, as they really were giving me a lot of knee pain, like scary injury kind, so I started with step-ups, and again, started low, just a few inches, and worked my way to a higher and higher step. Earlier this year, after joining my new gym, we had walking lunges (trailing knee to floor being the standard) in our workout, and I surprised the heck out of myself by doing them, with NO knee pain at all!

So, for the OP, just start doing whatever you can manage, and if you keep at it, you will get to where you want to be. It took me about a year to get from where I started, to where I could do below parallel squats and lunges all the way to the floor, just to give you an idea of one person's time line. It may not take you that long. Good luck, and don't give up on it!
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Old 08-25-2009, 08:55 AM   #15
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You probably don't need this now as you are doing body weight squats, but one piece of equipment that you may want to consider getting if you do a lot of squats are weightlifting shoes. I know it sounds a bit excessive but they have two benefits that really help:

1. They have hard soles with no cushion (which is important especially when you are squating heavy weights since you want a solid foundation to push off from and not have your feet on an uneven surface that gives a lot.

2. More importantly, they have a slight heel that lets you put proper weight on heels of your feet while keeping good balance. This part helps a lot.

In the meantime, you may want to try putting 5 or 10 pound plates on the heels of each feet when you squat. They will probably let you get down a little deeper while keeping good balance.
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