I think lunges are underrated exercises; to me, they’re easy enough to do and come with pretty decent benefits (read on for those). You can add them to almost any workout with variations to suit strength or cardio goals. But before you start loading weight onto this exercise or turning it into a plyometric movement, it’s best to go back to basics and learn how to lunge properly.
So far on the blog we’ve been over the basics like squats, press ups and planks – the links to all those are below. These movements are the starting point for many other exercises so once you’ve nailed those, you’ll be staying safe and injury free throughout your active life. So, let’s master the basics and nail those forward lunges….
Master The Basics:
- Kettlebell swing for beginners
- How to do a burpee in 3 simple steps
- You need a goblet squat in your workout
- Perfect Form: How to plank
- Perfect Form: How to squat
- Perfect Form: How to do a push up
What Muscles Do Lunges Work?
Lunges are a lower body exercise which work your hips, glutes, hamstrings and quadriceps. Variations of lunges are often included in many yoga poses such as warrior one. A long lunge emphasizes the glutes whereas a short lunge emphasizes the quadriceps.
Lunges are unilateral exercises – performed with the strength of just one leg at a time – making them a great exercise for identifying and correcting any muscle imbalances.
You can do your lunges just using bodyweight, or make them more difficult by using dumbbells / barbell.
How to do a forward lunge
1. Begin by standing with your feet hip width apart. Relax your shoulders keeping them away from your ears whilst opening your chest and focusing straight ahead of you.
2. Take a step forward on one leg, keeping both toes pointing forward. Bend your knees, and drop your hips down towards the ground; your front thigh should be parallel to the ground whilst your back knee is off the ground both at about a 90 degree angle.
3. Ensure that your front knee is directly above your ankle with both knees tracking forward. Keeping the weight in your heels, push through your front leg to return to the starting position and repeat on your other side.
Add Lunges To Your Workout:
Beginner: 1 set of 12 reps per leg
Intermediate / Advanced: 2 sets of 12 reps (or an alternative advanced version)
Progressions: Dumbbell lunges (one in each hand)
The Ultimate Lunge Workout
Using this forward lunge and a couple more variations featured below, I created the ultimate (lower body) lunge workout. All of the exercises are low impact (see more about the exercises using the plyometric box here) so they’re perfect for looking after your joints.
- Side lunges, 12 reps each leg, 3 sets
- Step ups, 20 reps each leg, 3 sets
- Curtsy lunges, 12 reps each leg, 3 sets
- Elevated glute bridges, 8-12 reps, 3 sets
- Forward lunges, 12 reps each leg, 3 sets
- Pistol Squats, 8-12 reps each leg, 3 sets
- REST: 60 seconds between sets
Forward Lunge Variations
It seems that reverse lunges might actually be more intuitive, and therefore potentially easier than forward lunges for a few reasons. Reverse lunges are easier to control, require less core stability and create less torque (force of rotation) at the knee joint.
How To Reverse Lunge:
- Begin by standing with your feet hip width apart. Relax your shoulders keeping them away from your ears whilst opening your chest and focusing straight ahead of you.
- Take a step backward on one leg, keeping both toes pointing forward. Bend your knees, and drop your hips down towards the ground; your front thigh should be parallel to the ground whilst your back knee is off the ground both at about a 90 degree angle.
- Ensure that your front knee is directly above your ankle with both knees tracking forward. Keeping the weight in your heels, push through your back leg to return to the starting position and repeat on your other side.
- Begin by standing with your feet hip width apart. Jump your left leg forward and your right leg back into a lunge, with both knees at 90 degrees.
- Jump up and switch your legs in midair (pictured above) so that you land in a lunge with your right leg in front.
- Repeat for time or number of reps.
Try jumping lunges in a Tabata style workout.
Side Lunge / Lateral Lunge
The side lunge variation of a classic lunge will help to open up tight hips and groin, while strengthening the inner thigh and glutes. A benefit of side lunges is moving laterally (side to side) and not just forward – backward as with a classic lunge; this is more reflective of everyday life.
- Begin by standing with your feet hip width apart, toes pointed forward.
- Step out to your right, with your right foot as wide as possible.
- Bend your right knee as you drop your hips back and down, while keeping your left leg straight.
- Squeeze and engage your core, glutes and legs as you push through your right heel to return to the start position.
Things To Remember:
- Keep both soles of the feet on the ground and toes pointed straight forward
- Make sure your right knee is tracking over your right foot (in line with your second and third toes) throughout the movement.
Curtsy lunges are one of the best exercises for toning your inner thighs in addition to targeting your gluteus medius, a muscle in your butt that improves your posture by stabilising your hips.
- Start standing with feet hip width apart. Step your left leg behind you and to the right so your thighs cross, bending both knees as if you were curtsying. Make sure your front knee is aligned with your front ankle.
- Return to standing, and repeat on the other (right) leg.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian splits squats, otherwise known as an elevated lunge is a great variation of a lunge that focuses on strengthening your glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves in a stationary position. The BSS also tests your balance and co-ordination while building up single-leg strength.
- Start standing with feet hop width apart, facing away from the bench / box / sofa.
- Place your left foot on the bench behind you, laces facing down.
- Bend your right knee (front leg), lowering your back knee down toward the floor.
- Push up through your right (front) foot to return to the start position.
Things To Remember:
- Don’t let your front knee go beyond your toes
- Keep your torso upright throughout the movement
- Keep an eye on your positioning; you don’t want to be too close or too far away from the bench.
Now your lunge form is flawless, it’s time to weave the exercises into your training plan. Your goals will determine how many reps (i.e 1-20) or sets you complete. Otherwise you can do each exercise for time in a HIIT style workout.
Which is your favourite lunge variation?!
P.S Safety always comes first. If you are new to exercise ensure you seek advice from your GP. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, wear appropriate clothing and carry out drills in a suitable space. Technique is paramount, and nothing should hurt. Should you experience pain, discomfort, nausea, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath etc, STOP and consult your GP.