lunges

Lunges – Your How to Guide for Form, Tips, and Variations

You should be performing lunges frequently if you want to strengthen glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Here is a great guide with benefits, tips, and variations so you can do lunges right and keep lunges fun.

Lunges are a Staple Leg Exercise For Athletes.

You may often overlook the lunge if you instead focus on regular leg exercises such as squats, leg curls, leg press, and leg extensions. After reading this, you will want to include lunges as a staple exercise in your leg training program. Since it is an excellent leg exercise that incorporates your entire lower body.  Accordingly, if you fail to incorporate lunges, you are missing out on a very unique and important leg building exercise.

Lunge Summary

  • Primary Muscles Worked: Quadriceps
  • Other Muscles Used: Hamstrings, Glutes
  • Equipment: Required None, can use Barbell, Dumbells and Smith Machine.
  • Mechanics Type: Compound (Two or more joint movements are involved).
  • Force: Push (Concentric contraction of the targeted muscles, movement is away from the center of your body).
  • Utility: Auxiliary (An optional exercise that may supplement a basic exercise. Auxiliary exercises may place greater relative intensity on a specific muscle or a head of a muscle).

Correct Exercise Procedure Use for Lunge

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, hands on your waist or with hands and arms hanging by your side. You may prefer putting your hand behind your head to open your chest to breath deeper.
  • Look straight ahead, straighten your back and pull abdominal muscles in tight.
  • Take A large step forward controlling your foot as it lands on the ground. Your step should be long enough to where the back foot’s heel lifts off the ground.
  • Lower Yourself, while breathing in, until both your legs are at a 90-degree angle with keeping your weight on your forward foot. Your front knee should line up over the top of your foot and not over the toes.
  • Push back up through your front foot, while breathing out, returning to your starting position.
  • Continue on your same leg until you complete your desired repetitions, then switch legs and repeat.

Man performing bodyweight lunges.

Muscles Utilized

Your stance in the lunge will determine what muscles you are using. The longer your step, the more you will work your hamstrings. Conversely, the shorter the step, the more your quads will be used. However, your glutes will get the greatest workout the more you vary your lunge stance.

Target (Agonist) Muscles

  • Quadriceps

Synergist Muscles

  • Gluteus Maximus
  • Adductor Magnus

Stabilizers Muscles

  • Erector Spinae
  • Tibialis Anterior
  • Gluteus Medius
  • Gluteus Minimus

Antagonist Stabilizers

  • None

Skeletal muscle systems for a muscular man both front an back pose, with the muscle engaged for performing Lunges labeled.

Tips for Performing Lunges

When you use these tips you will help your muscles fully development by incorporating more muscle fibers per repetition. Therefore, increasing your muscle’s size and strength.

  • Use proper form and control. Starting with this exercise, or any exercise you have not performed before, make sure you use the full range of movement with proper extension and contraction. This is important for your muscles to full development.
  • Keep torso upright. Look straight ahead, straighten your back, chest up and pull abdominal muscles in tight while performing the lunge.
  • Lower until legs are at a 90-degree angle. When you lower yourself down until both legs are at a 90-degree angle you use the whole length of your muscles. Additionally, you should not go beyond 90-degrees. Because this will lead to you hitting or bouncing your back knee off the ground.
  • Keep knee over foot. During your lunges, it is very important to keep your front knee lined up over the foot and not the toes. Especially, if you add weight to your lunges, having your front knee in front of your foot will put undue pressure on your knee.
  • Push through your heel. When you come up to the starting position make sure you push through the heal of the front foot.
  • Maintain control. Maintaining control at all times and making sure not to jerk your movements through the motion for momentum.
  • Knee pointing the same direction your foot. Throughout the lunge movement, your lead knee should point in the same direction as the foot.
  • Avoid locking out knee. To keep tension on the quadriceps after returning to the starting position avoid locking out the knee.

Frequent Mistakes Made While Performing the Lunge

Performing an exercise improperly is often called cheating. You may be able to do more reps or more weight when cheating, but this is at the risk of injury and slower muscle development. You will not maximize your muscle fibers to their fullest potential, resulting in not achieving your desired development of your muscles.

  • Not keeping your torso upright. If you don’t look straight ahead or having your back straight, chest up and abdominal muscles pulled in tight while performing the lunge, can cause loss of balance or add stress to lower back.
  • Not lowering legs at 90-degree angle. Lowing legs beyond 90-degrees will add additional stress to the knee causing possible joint damage. Not lowing your legs to the 90-degree angle will not allow the full quadricep muscles to be incorporated therefore not achieving your desired quadricep development.
  • Not keeping knee over foot. You must knee directly over your foot during the lunge movement. For example, when you take to long or too short of a step, your knee will be in front of or behind your foot. Consequently, you will put undue pressure to your knee causing discomfort and possible joint damage.
  • Not pushing through heel. By not pushing through your front foot’s heel, when going back to starting position, you will cause an awkward movement. Therefore, you may lose your balance and possibly roll an ankle, or cause a knee or hip injury.
  • Not maintaining control. Not maintaining control by twisting the upper body and using jerky motions will defiantly put you at risk for an injury.
  • Knee not pointing the same direction as your foot. If your knee is not pointing the same direction as the foot throughout the lunge movement, your knee could twist causing lost of balance or knee injury.
  • Locking out the knee. By locking out your knee in the starting position, you will take some tension off your quadriceps and allow quadricep muscles to relax before the next repetition. But Locking your knee could lead to injury, especially with weighted lunges.
  • Movement performed too fast. When you perform lunges to fast you will not be fatiguing the muscle through resistance but aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise can be good if you are making lunges as part of a bodyweight HIIT or Circuit training session.

Lunge Variations

Barbell Lunge. Barbell Lunges are performed the same as the standard lunge but hold a weighted barbell across your shoulders like during a standard squat. Recommend you use a weight belt for additional back support anytime you have a barbell in this position. Barbell lunges will work additional core muscles in your stomach and back and increase resistance on your targeted muscle groups.
Dumbbell Lunge. Dumbbell Lunges are performed the same as the standard lunges and Barbell Lunges, but you are holding dumbbells down by your sides. By holding the dumbbells down at your sides your Trapezius Upper and Lower and Levator Scapulae are used as additional stabilizers.
Small Step Lunge. A Small Step lunge means taking a half step forward. By performing the lunge this way, you will put more emphasis on your front quadriceps muscle and less on your hamstrings.  When performing this variation, it is particularly important to ensure that your knee is tracking straight over your toe.
Long Step Lunge. When taking an extra long step forward the emphasis of the muscles you are working will be your hamstrings and glutes, rather than emphasizing your quadriceps. When performing this variation, be sure not to take too far of a step forward, as this will throw you off balance and you won’t be able to keep your weight stable this way you effectively strain your muscles.
Reverse Lunge. The reverse lunge is just like the normal lung, except as its name implies you take a step backward rather than forward. The effects on the muscles are the same. But, the reverse lunge places less stress on your knees because the knees cannot extend beyond the toes as easily. If you have pain in your knees, reverse lunges are a better choice than stepping forward lunges. Also, forward lunges your balance must shift forward as you step, this often makes it difficult to maintain your stability. In contrast, during the Reverse Lunge, your weight is primarily centered upon your forward leg the entire movement. Accordingly, your upper body remains stationary, making it easier to maintain your balance. All these factors make the Reverse Lunge the best lower body exercise to perform for novices and those people that are new to lunges.
Barbell Walking Lunge. Barbell Walking Lunges are performed the same as Walking Lunges but using the barbell to increase its intensity further. You will require more balance when performing barbell walking lunges. Additionally, make sure you have plenty of room for completing this exercise.
Dumbbell Walking Lunge. Dumbbell Walking Lunges are performed the same way as other walking lunges but holding dumbbells in your hands and arms hanging at your side. The drawback with the walking lunge as with other dumbbell lunges, when the quadriceps grow stronger the dumbbells will become increasingly more difficult to hold on to as the dumbbell weight increases.
Incline or Step-Up Lunge. Performed the same way as the standard Lunge, but you lunge on an incline or onto a step to increase the intensity and difficulty. Lunging up his or onto a step will isolate your quadriceps more and using a step will allow you to go deeper. You can perform either a step-up lunge or a step-back reverse lunge off the platform.
Bench Lunge or Split Squat with Bench. Bench Lunges are more similar to split squats since you are isolating the active leg more. The bench lunge is an advanced variation of the regular Lunge. You increase the intensity by lunging with the top of your back foot resting on a bench instead of being flat on the floor. Raising your back foot will put more weight on your front leg and increasing the work of your quadriceps.
Smith Machine Lunge. Smith Machine can help isolate the muscle by removing some of the stabilizing muscles required to perform the exercise. When performing lunges on a Smith Machine, it is more like a half lunge because you don’t want to go all the way up. You will work your quadriceps more if you keep your feet in the same position and go down and back up not taking a step. Since the bar only goes up and down you can not do normal lunges, but you can do reverse lunges if you want to push your active leg to full extension.
Smith Machine Elevated Reverse Lunge. Doing a reverse lunge on a Smith Machine allows you to also increase the intensity by adding some elevation. With a step directly under the bar, you not only can go up to full extension but also a deeper bend due to the step.

Additional Ways to Add Resistance To Lunges

  • Lever Lunge. Most gyms have other equipment or machines that mimic the use of free weights. The Lever Lunge is a good alternate choice for its safety and control for the dumbbell and barbell lunge while still increasing the intensity over the standard Lunge. Though, whenever you use a machine, you lose the benefit of working your stabilizer muscles.
  • Cable Lunge. Cable Lunge uses a low pulley and requires either a cable belt or dip belt for performing while holding on to the machine for balance. Additionally, Cable Lunges are a great safe way to perform the Lunge while adding weight. Using cable equipment and while holding on for balance, fewer stabilizing muscles are required.
  • One Arm Cable Lunge. With the One Arm Cable Lunge, you grasp a stirrup attachment facing low pulley equipment with one hand and with the other one on your hip for balance. This alternative weighted Lunge exercise introduces the Obliques to the group of stabilizing muscles.

Complimentary Exercises For the Lunge

These complimentary exercises work well with the lunges by using complimentary muscle groups. Adding these exercises to a day you perform lunges can be very benefitial to muscle fatigue in resistance training.

Conclusion

Lunges are a great addition to a leg workout routine as they will help you increase stability and balance. Additionally, lunges will help you add strength to other core power movements like the squats. When you build strength in these movements, you will see continued gains in the gym. Lunges are not always easy to do for the first time. But, after a few sessions, you will notice a big strength difference. Especially, in your quadriceps and glutes. With Lunge exercises, you will also work your body’s core by using the stabilizing muscles in your stomach and back.