When my mother was in her early 20's, her knees had become seriously damaged due to wear, tear and idiots diving at her legs in intramural basketball because there was no other way to stop her. She was told she would need two new knees by the time she was 25. She quit aging at about 26, but it’s been a couple decades and still no new knees but plenty of swelling, complications and limitations. Typical lunges performed in a workout class would have her hampered for a week. We needed a solution. And abracadabra, Magic Lunges came to be! I’m certainly not the first one to adjust lunges to save knee pain and promote better posterior chain recruitment, this is just how I coach and program them.
Firstly, this is a moving lunge variation so be sure you know the layout of the space you are in. My favorite space in grad school was a racquetball court to ensure enough space and no one to get in the way.
Now, to perform the typical lunge, a medium step is taken with the foot moving straight forward. Then when lunging, the hips tend to shift forward, pushing the knee into a fairly extreme bend and placing a lot of pressure in the ball of the foot. This raises quad muscle involvement and pressure on the knees. Whenever I have clients who hate lunges, it's because this common technique hurts them.
For magic lunges, we try to avoid these issues the best we can. Let’s go step by step.
1. Start in a standing position. Take an abnormally long step forward and slightly to
the side. You should be planted solidly in the heel on your front foot, and on the
ball of your foot in the back.
Description: Evan standing tall, feet shoulder width.
Description: Evan takes a long step forward and slightly to the side, keeping his weight evenly distributed.
Description: A side view of the long step forward.
2. Keeping your back straight, sit your hips straight down to the floor. You must
focus on the heel pressure in the front, not allowing the front knee to drift
forward and letting the back knee bend as necessary.
Description: Keeping weight in the heel of his front foot and the ball of his back foot, Evan sinks into a lunge.
Description: Side view of the bottom of the lunge.
3. To stand back up, stomp your front foot through the ground and step straight up
to a standing position where the front foot is. Lots of people initially press in the
front foot, rock back to the long step position with legs locked, then kick forward.
Make sure your step up is one smooth motion forward to meet the front and
4. Rinse and repeat on the other side and for the requisite amount of reps.
Initially, I would advise segmenting this movement very robotically. Step, stop. Sit downward, stop. Stomp to the top. This will keep you from blending the initial step into the lunge which tends to enable old habits of knee driving drastically forward. Get used to using those glutes and hamstrings and feeling less tension in your quad muscles and knees. Then go ahead and speed it up a little.
As for programming, go ahead and just work GREAT form first until you feel good and used to the movement performed in this style. Then I would start performing a certain amount of reps or for a certain amount of time and progressing. This can look like 50 total reps a few days a week, adding 50 when it becomes nonchalant. It could also be 3 minutes or so of lunges, adding a minute when again, the set isn’t terribly difficult anymore.
While magic lunges aren’t the end all be all for single leg step variations, they have helped a lot of people stay out of knee pain and develop their glute and hamstring muscles. I hope they are of great use to you as well to get lots done and be able to ease your way back into other variants down the road.
Because I feel these are so important, we will be offering free video reviews for this movement. You can submit a video via our Instagram page @caneandablefitness and we will give feedback on what corrections to make. Don’t be shy!