Lower Body Leg Blast: Lunges for Thigh Separation

Lunges are only for the serious gym rat who’s willing to push well through the pain barrier into the valley of unbelievable thighs.

Awesome thighs require heavy mass that flows across the entire quadriceps area with deep canyons etched between each muscle belly. Etching the separation in the muscle bellies of the middle quadriceps and lower thigh area just above the knee is particularly difficult for many serious weight trainers. Although regular squats and leg presses are great mass builders – and the cornerstone of any thigh building program – they simply don’t get the job done when it comes to developing thigh separation and cuts. Achieving those deep separations requires exercises that build mass by targeting each of the bellies under near-constant tension and this means some specialization work for the middle and the lower quadriceps.

Although lunges are an outstanding exercise if you’re anticipating great skiing (especially cross-country skiing), they’re also an intensive way to blast a bulky thigh into strips of sharp and lean mass any time of year. As a by-product, lunges will greatly improve your quadriceps power and endurance and this will come in pretty handy when you start your heavy squat sessions for adding even greater overall mass.

To do lunges properly, you must rise above the crowd that’s satisfied with a few sets of leg extensions to tighten the quadriceps. Lunges are only for the serious gym rat who’s willing to push well through the pain barrier into the valley of unbelievable thighs. Three sets of these will take your thighs to new contours, valleys and grooves you didn’t know existed.

Muscles Activated

The hip and hamstring muscles are affected strongly, but the greatest challenge will be felt in the anterior quadriceps muscle group. The quadriceps femoris (“quads”) are a group of four muscles that cover the anterior and lateral parts of the femur bone of the thigh. The three vasti muscles take their origin from their respective parts of the femur: the vastus lateralis muscle from the lateral part of the femur; the vastus medialis muscle from the medial part of the femur; and, the vastus intermedius muscle from the central, anterior part of the femur. As a result, the vastus lateralis muscle is positioned on the lateral (outer) part of the thigh; the vastus medialis covers the medial (inner) part of the thigh. The vastus intermedius is located intermediate and deep to the vastus lateralis and the vastus medialis muscles. The tendon from the vastus lateralis muscle combines with the tendons from the other two vasti muscles and the tendon of the rectus femoris to form the quadriceps tendon. The quadriceps tendon attaches to the patella (kneecap) and continues inferiorly (toward the foot) from the patella, where it’s called the patellar ligament. The patellar ligament inserts into the tibial tuberosity, a bumpy portion on the tibia bone of the lower leg.

The rectus femoris muscle (rectus=straight) is the fourth muscle in the quadriceps group. Unlike the vasti muscles, it begins on the hip bones at the iliac crest and above the socket where the head of the femur sits (acetabulum) in the hip. Its fibers run straight down from the hip to the knee. The tendon of the rectus femoris joins the tendons from the three vastus muscles to attach to the patella. Together, the three vasti and the rectus femoris form the only real manner we have for extending the leg at the knee. The rectus femoris is much weaker when the hip is flexed (e.g., seated position such as doing leg extensions).

Three hamstring muscles sit on the posterior side of the thigh. The biceps femoris muscle has a long and a short head. The long head begins on the posterior part of the ischial bone of the hip. You literally sit on these bones when you’re in a chair. The short head of the biceps femoris begins along the lateral side of femur bone of the thigh. Both heads of the biceps femoris come together to attach to a single tendon that connects to the small lateral bone of the lower leg called the fibula.

The semitendinosus and semimembranosus muscles make up the medial (inside) hamstring muscles. The semitendinosus muscle attaches to the ischial bone of the hip and it becomes a cord-like tendon as it approaches the knee. The semimembranosus muscle is about half (“semi”) membrane (“membranous”) and half muscle. It begins on the ischial tuberosity with the semitendinosus; it crosses to the medial side of the knee to attach on the tibia bone of the lower leg.

The gluteus maximus muscle is the largest and thickest hip muscle and it contains the strongest and largest muscle fibers in the body. The upper attachment of the gluteus maximus is on the major bones of the hip and the lower attachment is on the posterior side of the femur bone of the thigh, below the hip joint. This muscle pulls the thigh posteriorly (backward) in an action described as thigh or hip extension.

Lunges

Lunges aren’t for everyone. They can be tough on the knees, so you should carefully warm them up with stretches and some moderate biking before doing lunges. There are several ways to do lunges, but in this article we describe the tele-lunge. A telemark turn in skiing is the manner in which one performs a high-speed turn on free-heel skis. It’s done from a lunge position with the skis parallel and weight distributed on both legs, edging the skis into the turn. Even if you never hit the slopes, the adaptation of tele-lunges to your exercise routine will cut edges of unbelievable depths into your thighs.

1. Although the exercise can be done with a barbell, you will likely find it easier to control your balance and each lunge if you use dumbbells. Take a dumbbell in each hand and stand vertically. Your torso should remain vertical throughout the entire exercise (i.e., avoid leaning forward during the lunge step).

2. One leg will act as an anchor (e.g., the left leg). The other leg will lunge forward so you plant your foot in front of you as if you were taking a stride forward.

3. Take a short stride with the forward leg of only about two feet (this is a much shorter stride than most other versions of the lunge).

4. The knee on the front leg bends to 90 degrees so the thigh is parallel to the floor. At the same time as the knee from the lead leg is going forward, the thigh of the rear anchor leg remains vertical to the floor while the knee comes down to almost kiss the floor. Keep your back vertical to the floor and your head up during each repetition.

5. Alternate your step so the left leg is now lunged forward. Alternate between left and right legs as you lunge around the gym. Start with 25 repetitions each leg (50 total steps). If it’s a nice day, you might want to take your dumbbells out to the parking lot and lunge around the lot while catching a few rays.

Training Tips

If you’re interested in developing a power thrust for jumping or climbing, you should take a longer stride (usually around a three-foot stride length for most people). A deeper lunge and greater stride will provide a superior stretch and this will improve activation of all of the affected muscles. However, you must work into this slowly.

You should stretch your hamstrings, calves and quadriceps prior to beginning the exercise. Be careful you don’t bend forward from the waist during the lunge. If so, you’re likely using too much weight and/or your stride is too short. The musculature of your middle and lower back and calves will also be activated during lunges, so this will provide an added bonus for increasing your body’s metabolism to maximize your ripped-to-shreds training goals.

I can’t promise you that tele-lunges will quickly etch striations across your underpinnings, however, you’ll certainly see a radical difference to the power, shape and separations in your anterior thigh if you get serious about your lunges. By giving lunges a try for three months while you’re watching your calories, a whole new set of ropes, valleys and peaks will erupt in your lower quadriceps.

References:

1. Babuccu, O., Gozil, R., Ozmen, S., Bahcelioglu, M., Latifoglu, O. and Celebi, M. C. (2002). Gluteal region morphology: the effect of the weight gain and aging. Aesthetic Plast Surg,  26, 130-133.

2. Bearne, L. M., Scott, D. L. and Hurley, M. V. (2002). Exercise can reverse quadriceps sensorimotor dysfunction that is associated with rheumatoid arthritis without exacerbating disease activity. Rheumatology, (Oxford)  41, 157-166.

3. Cronin, J., McNair, P. J., Marshall, R. N. (2003) Lunge performance and its determinants. J Sports Sci, 21, 49-57

4. Hefzy, M. S., al Khazim, M. and Harrison, L. (1997). Co-activation of the hamstrings and quadriceps during the lunge exercise. Biomed Sci Instrum,  33, 360-365.

5. McCarthy, J. P., Pozniak, M. A. and Agre, J. C. (2002). Neuromuscular adaptations to concurrent strength and endurance training. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 34, 511-519.

6. Pincivero, D. M., Aldworth, C., Dickerson, T., Petry, C. and Shultz, T. (2000). Quadriceps-hamstring EMG activity during functional, closed kinetic chain exercise to fatigue. Eur J Appl Physiol, 81, 504-509.

7. Stuart, M. J., Meglan, D. A., Lutz, G. E., Growney, E. S. and An, K. N. (1996). Comparison of intersegmental tibiofemoral joint forces and muscle activity during various closed kinetic chain exercises. Am J Sports Med, 24, 792-799. 

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