Lunges activate the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, calves, lower back and abdominal muscles, and improve balance and coordination. Stand with feet a few inches apart. Step forward with one foot, then bend the front knee until it’s at a 90 degree angle. Pull the front foot back to complete one rep. Advanced variations include walking, reverse, step-up, slider, and backpack lunges.
When Was The Last Time You Did Lunges?
I’m willing to bet it was a long time ago, or you don’t do them as frequently as you should. Most of us only do squats to increase lower body strength and muscles. Well, squats may be the king of all exercises, but lunges are up there with them.
The biggest mistake one can make is to ignore leg training. Because it doesn’t matter how strong your core or arms are if the muscles supporting the body aren’t equally as strong.
What Muscles Do Lunges Work?
This compound exercise activates the hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, calves, lower back and the abdominal muscles. Only a few bodyweight exercises activate as many muscles as lunges. If you want to burn fat and increase muscle mass, do exercises which activate many muscle groups at the same time. Some of the benefits of lunges are:
Improves Hip And Hamstring Flexibility
All lunging movements stretch the hip flexors and hamstrings. These muscles usually tighten due to long hours of sitting. And if they’re not loosened, one may end up with lower back pain1 and bad posture. Doing lunges properly, and frequently, will strengthen these muscles and improve their flexibility.
Lunges are a unilateral exercise – they activate one side of the body at a time. Unilateral exercises improve balance and stability more than exercises that train both legs at a time.
Fixes Muscle Imbalances
Walk into any gym and you’ll see a guy with muscular upper body and skinny legs. Chicken legs don’t look appealing and they increase risk of injury. Lunges will increase lower body strength and fix any muscle imbalances you may have. And if one leg is stronger than the other – lunges will balance their strength since they work one leg at a time.
To perform lunges properly, you need to coordinate the core, arms and lower body movement. Improving coordination will boost athleticism and make it is easy to perform other tasks. If you truly want to improve coordination, jumping rope is more effective than lunges.
Increases Core Strength
As you may know, the butt, lower back and abs are part of the core. The lower back and the abs are activated when doing lunges since they keep the upper body upright. Frankly, you won’t get all these benefits if you don’t perform lunges properly. So here’s how to execute a perfect lunge.
Right Way To Do Lunges
- Stand with feet a few inches apart, keep the upper body upright and look forward.
- Step forward with one foot, then bend the front knee until it’s at a 90 degree angle. Make sure the front knee is directly below the ankle (it should go past the toes) when you lunge.
- Pull the front foot back to the starting position to complete one rep.
- Step forward again and repeat the movement.
- Perform the movement slowly to avoid hitting the floor with the rear knee.
- Engage the core throughout.
- If you feel that lunges are putting too much strain on the knees – make smaller strides. You’ll still activate all muscles and there will be less pressure on the knees.
This is a basic lunge variation most beginners should be able to do. But, lunges are not for beginners only – advanced trainees can use them as well. Find the variations which match your fitness level in the list below.
Perform walking lunges in a spacious room or outdoors. Once you’ve lunged, complete the rep by bringing the rear foot forward and keep moving forward.
Perform this exercise slowly to maintain proper form. And remember to keep the upper body upright.
This variation is quite simple, instead finishing reps for one leg before you switch to the other – alternate legs after each rep.
Chances are you’ll perform more reps when doing alternating lunges.
This variation helps improve balance since it involves backward movement. Reverse lunges are also good for folks with minor knee pain because they don’t put much pressure on the knees as forward lunges.
To perform reverse lunges:
- Stand upright then step backward with the left foot and bend the front knee to get in the lunge position.
- Then slowly pull the left foot forward to starting position and repeat.
- You can complete reps for one leg or alternate legs after each rep.
I mentioned this exercise as one of the 12 exercises you can do using a step box. Use a bench or a box which bends the knee at a 90 degree angle when you step on it.
To perform the step-up lunges:
- Stand facing the step box then place the left foot on top of it.
- Push through the heels to bring the right foot up.
- Once both feet are on top of the box, step back with the left foot then bring the right foot on the floor to complete the rep.
A harder variation of this exercise:
- Step on the box with the right foot.
- Then bring the left foot up and keep the knee bend at 90 degrees (only one foot will be resting on the box).
- Bend the right foot and lower the left foot until it taps the floor then bring it up again and repeat the movement.
Split Lunge Jump
This will increase the intensity of the workout since it combines lunging and jumping.
- Start with the feet split apart – one foot forward and the other back.
- The stance should be wide enough to get in the lunge position when you bend the front knee.
- Jump off the floor and switch the feet in the air – the front foot goes back and the back foot comes in front.
- Bend the front knee to lunge and jump again.
You need a slippery floor or sliding workout discs to perform this exercise. It will help strengthen the hip extensors and hip flexors.
- Assume a shoulder width stance, step on the slider with the left foot.
- Then push it back until your front thighs are fully stretched and the knee almost touches the floor.
- The slide the left foot forward to starting position to complete the rep.
- Do the same number of reps for each leg.
Reverse Lunge Kick
The reverse lunge kick will increase the intensity of the workout and stretch the hamstrings.
- Step back with the right foot and do the reverse lunge.
- Then rise and kick forward with the right foot.
- Bring it back to the reverse lunge position and repeat.
This exercise will activate the glutes, hips and thighs, differently than regular squats and lunges. And it puts less pressure on the knee than other lunge variations.
- Stand upright and keep feet close together.
- Step sideways with the left foot then bend the left knee to a 90 degree angle.
- Bring it back to the starting position and repeat.
Most of these exercises may not be challenging to folks who have strong and flexible lower body. Wearing a backpack will increase resistance and make the exercises more challenging.
Load the backpack with the amount of weight you’re comfortable with and do any of the above variations. A weighted vest serves the same purpose as a backpack.
The above lunge variations can build a stronger and flexible lower body. But, you don’t have to do all variations, just pick one or two exercises and add them to your leg workout.
What other effective lunge variations do you do?
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Jandre Reis, Felipe Jose, and Adriana Ribeiro Macedo. “Influence of Hamstring Tightness in Pelvic, Lumbar and Trunk Range of Motion in Low Back Pain and Asymptomatic Volunteers during Forward Bending.” Asian spine journal 9.4 (2015): 535-540.|