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how to lunge

Lunges: How To, Variations & Benefits

Lunges are a popular exercise for leg day and they have plenty of benefits, but do you know how to do a lunge correctly? If you’re unsure, we are here to help with a handy guide to lunges and tutorials for some variations. More specifically, we will cover:

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What Is A Lunge?

There are many variations of the lunge, but the stance for the standard movement is to position one leg so that it is bent behind you, and your other leg so that it is in front of you bent at a 90º angle. 

The lunge is a lower body exercise that works both of the legs simultaneously, however, since the movement works different muscles in your front and back legs, you need to perform this exercise an equal amount of times on each side of your body. For example, if you do 8 reps with your left leg forward, you need to then do 8 reps with your right leg forwards.

The reason for this is that the quadricep in the front leg is forced to be an active muscle, while the back leg has the glutes and hamstrings as the active muscles. This means it is necessary to evenly complete sets on each leg so they achieve the same results. Though there is inactive work going on, you should still take advantage of the isolation of muscle groups by completing equal sets on each side of your body.

The list of muscles worked during a lunge hits almost every corner of the lower body, including:

  • Abdominals
  • Gastrocnemius 
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteal muscles

There are plenty of lunge alternatives that can either make the exercise harder or easier depending on your level of fitness; we will get into what these are a little later but for now, let's see how to perform a lunge correctly.

How To Perform A Lunge Correctly

When trying to learn how to lunge properly, the vast amount of variations out there can seem a little overwhelming - but fear not, we are here to simplify it. 

We are going to start off by showing you how to do the basic movement pattern and perform a lunge with just your bodyweight. You can do this at home, in the gym, or outdoors. The versatile nature of this exercise also makes it perfect to do during a circuit or as part of a cool down. Let’s find how to get set up!

Set Up

To set up for a lunge, the necessities are extremely minimal. All you will need is a mat, and even that is not essential. You can of course intensify this exercise by adding different kinds of equipment, but we will get into those variations a little later. For now, just your own bodyweight will be enough!

Starting Position

  • If you are using a mat, stand at one end of the mat so it is vertically in front of you.
  • Then, begin with your back up straight and core tight.
  • Your feet should be together and hands by your side.

Execution

  • From the starting position, simply step your right leg forward.
  • The right leg should be bent at a 90º angle with your foot flat on the floor.
  • Ensure that your knee doesn't come further forwards than where your toes are positioned.
  • Meanwhile, your back (left) leg should be extended behind you and stabilised by your toes on the left foot.
  • This knee should be bent at 90º too.
  • Hold this position for the recommended time frame.

Muscles Worked

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes 
  • Hamstrings 
  • Core

Sets & Reps: This exercise should be performed in 1 or 2 second increments and repeated on each leg for a total of 12 reps and 4 sets.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Pushing the knee over the toe: To really feel the benefits of a static lunge, you should avoid leaning forward too far and in turn, pushing the knee over the toe. In order to do this exercise safely, your knee should be in line with your ankle and stability should stem from the heel, not the toes. This mistake is easy to avoid by simply concentrating on your posture. By leaning too far forward, you could put unnecessary stress on your knee joint, so you should avoid this at all costs!

Front knee collapsing: It is an easy mistake to make, but often with lunges your knee may fall inward which puts the knee under strain. This is typically due to the glutes not being strong enough, so you should work on strengthening your glutes in some other movements if you find your lunges are failing. Remember, your knee should be in line with your shoe laces and it shouldn’t feel painful to lunge!

Benefits of Lunges

Like any exercise, there are plenty of benefits that come along with doing lunges regularly. Just below, we have covered some of the most renowned and popular advantages that you can benefit from after you’ve learnt how to do a lunge properly.

#1 Weight Loss

This first benefit is one that is widely expected, an assistance in weight loss. Proper lunge form can be the perfect addition to a workout - particularly when included as part of a circuit.

Circuits are a great way to squeeze in an effective and strenuous workout if you’re time restricted, and due to their high intensity nature, you can still burn plenty of calories. Do note that the weight loss that you will see as a result of this varies depending on how hard you work, how often you do circuits, and what other exercises you incorporate.

The weight loss benefits of lunges also vary depending what kind of lunges you do. For example, aerobic exercise typically uses more energy which in turn, burns more calories. This could mean that you burn more calories doing power lunges, or walking lunges, for example, rather than a static lunge. That said, if aerobic exercise isn’t your thing, you can still burn plenty of calories by doing intense anaerobic lunge exercises.

So, with the likes of weighted lunges or weighted split squats, it is plausible that you can burn just as many, if not more calories. Overall, it depends on the intensity of each exercise and your personal preferences - after all, if you’re enjoying the exercise then you're more likely to keep it up for longer sets and reps.

We recommend doing a mixture of both anaerobic and aerobic lunges to keep your routines varied and thus more enjoyable. Weight loss ultimately comes from an energy deficit, so if you’re taking in less energy (or calories) than you're burning, weight loss will come naturally. Since either anaerobic or aerobic lunges can provide a high calorie burn, both have the potential to help you on your weight loss journey. 

#2 Balance and Coordination

You may be aware of how yoga can majorly improve your balance and coordination, but did you know that lunges are a popular base movement for some of the most popular yoga poses?

Such poses include the crescent moon pose and even the warrior poses - if we were to include side lunges. The point is that lunges have the ability to improve balance and coordination due to working one leg at a time. 

Most exercises are performed while you are standing on both legs, but lunges require one leg to take a little more slack than the other, hence why they need to be performed an equal number of times on each side. This in turn encourages strength from the stabilising muscles which then improve the more you exercise varied lunges.

An overall improvement in strength is, too, a catalyst for better balance. More importantly, it is the areas of which are strengthened by lunges that help balance. For example, it wouldn’t be as useful to strengthen the arms when trying to improve balance as much as the legs and core. 

Thankfully lunges target just that, the legs and core. So, for some balance practice, try incorporating lunges into your routine, maybe even in your next yoga practice. If you enjoy yoga, be sure to check out our article on the 24 styles of yoga here. 

#3 Strengthens Key Muscle Groups

As we mentioned earlier, lunges primarily work the:

  • Gastrocnemius 
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteal muscles

These muscles in particular are what give us the strength and stability to go about our daily tasks. As well as this, athletes, in particular runners, can benefit tremendously from keeping these muscles in top shape.

Why is this you may ask? Well, strong glutes assist in an efficient propulsion when running so you get a strong stride and arguably a better start! Not only that, but whether you’re an athlete or not, you are able to increase your protection against injuries.

This is beneficial for those who enjoy resistance training as you are able to support areas such as the lower back, which are susceptible to injury during heavy weight lifting movements such as deadlifts.

Overall, it is imperative to have strong glutes and core for some of our favourite exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and of course, weighted lunges.

#4 They are Versatile

Lunges are super versatile, they are a movement that can require only your bodyweight but they can also be used with a range of weights, such as barbells, dumbbells, or even chains. 

This makes for not only varied and exciting workouts, but also offers lunge alternatives that can hit more than just the lower body. You are able to get a workout that will make you sweat and burn calories regardless of whether you prefer resistance or cardio training.

The beauty of lunges is also the fact that you don’t have to be in the gym to do this exercise effectively. You can be just about anywhere, whether that be in your local park doing an outdoor workout or at home squeezing in a home exercise routine before work.

Versatility is a tool with lunges, you can try out power lunges in a cardio circuit or even pulse lunges to push your resistance skills without the weights. 

This adaptability also allows you to accurately track your progress, for example, you could use a log book to track how many weights you can lunge, similar to what you would do with a squat, and this will allow you to view your strength progress over a period of time.

Say you begin exercising with body weight lunges, then progress to lunge pulses, to weighted barbell lunges and from there, adding weights to the barbell as you get stronger and stronger. By logging this progress you can see how far you have come with the same exercise.

If you need help on choosing a log book, read our article on the best fitness journals to keep you motivated here!

#5 Improves Body Symmetry

It’s rather common to have one side of the body that is stronger than the other, for example if you’re right handed your left side might feel much weaker. This goes for left handed people too, as you use your right side less so it is naturally not as strong as your left. 

So, how do lunges improve this? Well, lunges use one leg at a time which means although your stronger side could take more weight compared to your other side side, you can control how much weight you use and ensure that each side of your body gets an equal workout. This allows you to focus on your weaker side to improve your overall body symmetry. 

This can contribute to more successful compound exercises such as squats. This may also help if you find that your DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) are more predominant on one side rather than the other, as you will be balancing out the weight more than usual. 

For more information on delayed onset muscle soreness, click here for our article on what DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is. 

Variations & Alternatives

There are plenty of lunge alternatives to choose from, but we have listed our top 5 favourites - each with a handy how-to video guide.

The below variations range from body weight exercises to those with equipment, so whether you’re a gym fanatic or a stay at home exercise enthusiast, we can guarantee that you’ll find something suitable!

#1 Barbell Lunge

Once you’ve perfected your lunge form you can then go on to add a barbell and some weights to see the benefits of the weighted lunges.

Set up

To do this exercise you will need some space, a barbell, and weight plates. We suggest starting with a smaller weight or even just a bar so you can get used to the feeling of lunging whilst holding a weight. 

Starting Position

  • After finding yourself some space, grab a bar that you can comfortably lift over your head.
  • Pick up the bar with an over hand grip and pull the bar up to your chest - almost like a barbell clean but with a full grip of the bar.
  • Push the bar up and over your head until it reaches the fleshy centre of your shoulders.
  • Ensuring you have a comfortable grip, stand with your feet shoulder width apart. 

Execution

  • Once you are comfortable in the starting position, step forwards into a lunge so that your right leg creates a 90º angle and your left leg lowers until your knee is just off of the ground.
  • Your right knee should be in line with your ankle.
  • Hold for one second and push back to the starting position.
  • Alternate each lunge with a different leg and continue for the recommended sets and reps.

Reps & Sets: 8-10 reps, 3 sets.

Muscles Worked:

  • Back muscles
  • Abdominals
  • Gastrocnemius 
  • Hamstrings
  • Gluteal muscles

Common mistakes to avoid

Allowing the knee to reach over the toes: As we mentioned earlier for the static lunge, you need to avoid leaning so far forward that your front knee goes further forward than your toes. To avoid this, you should use your front heel to push yourself back up to the starting position, not the toes. This will ensure your ankle is in line with your knee and will help to minimise your risk of injury.

If you need some help on strength exercises when you’re trying to get fit, read our articles below:

#2 Sandbag Lunge

Once you learn how to do a proper lunge you will be well on your way to gaining some serious muscle, especially if you try this sandbag lunge option. So, grab a sandbag and let's get started!

Set up

To set up this exercise all you need is a sandbag and some space. You can usually find sandbags in your gym but if you prefer a home workout, they are a great piece of kit to invest in as they’re super versatile. You can find out more about sandbag training here in our article.

Starting Position

  • Begin with your feet shoulder width apart.
  • Lift the sandbag up to your right shoulder.
  • Hold the sandbag with a neutral grip and ensure your left arm is supporting the front edge.

Execution

  • From the starting position, lunge your right foot forward.
  • Keep the back straight and engage your core.
  • Your back (left) knee should be just above the floor.
  • Your front (right) knee should be above the toes so that your leg makes a 90º angle.
  • Complete one set with your right leg forwards, then switch sides and repeat the steps on your left leg forward.
  • When you perform this lunge with your left leg forwards, the sandbag should be on your left shoulder.

Muscles Worked:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Core

Reps & Sets: 8-10 reps and 3 sets on each side.

Common mistakes to avoid

Lifting too heavy: Sandbags may feel a little different to you if you’re used to using weights with an even weight distribution, such as barbells or dumbbells. So, you should practice becoming accustomed to how sandbags feel on each side as you may find it difficult if you have smaller shoulders. Start small and work your way up, and don’t forget to track along the way!

#3 Lunge With Rotation

This is a great exercise for adding some resistance to your lunges and gaining some muscle. This is a good start when learning how to do a lunge with a little extra weight as it doesn’t require a barbell or any intimidating weights. Medicine balls come in lighter and heavier sizes, so you can easily get used to the motion with a lighter weight before moving up a weight.

Set up

Set up this exercise by grabbing a medicine ball that is a comfortable weight, we recommend finding one with handles to help with grip. Medicine balls with handles are much easier for this kind of lunge, it allows you to focus on your positioning rather than gripping the ball. 

Starting Position

  • Begin by holding the medicine ball at chest level. 
  • Your feet should be next to one another around hip width apart.

Execution

  • From the starting position, take a large step forward with your right leg.
  • Allow your left leg to plunge into a deep lunge.
  • Your left knee should be just off of the ground.
  • Then, once in the lunging position - twist the torso.
  • Twist in the ball to the right and bring it back to the centre.
  • Switch sides and repeat on the other side.

Muscles Worked

  • Glutes
  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Core
  • Spine
  • Hip flexors

Reps & Sets: 8-10 reps & 3 sets.

#4 TRX Lunge

This is one of the lunge alternatives that can greatly benefit your technique and balance. TRX attachments are widely available in gyms and are perfect for body weight exercises, in particular, lunges!

Set up

Set up this exercise by ensuring that the suspension straps are positioned to hang approximately 15cm off of the ground. This can of course just be a starting point and is simply an average height to begin with before adjusting them to your height and comfortability. Place a mat underneath the attachment for extra comfort and to keep your knees safe. 

Starting Position

  • While standing in front of the attachment, put your rear foot into the TRX handle so that your toes are facing the floor.
  • Keep your back straight and your opposing food planted firmly on the ground.

Execution

  • Engage your core and bring your rear leg backwards until it is resting on the mat you had previously put underneath the attachment.
  • This lowering movement should allow both knees to be at a 90º angle.
  • Ensure your front knee does not surpass your toes.
  • Drive yourself back to the starting position, pushing from your front heel.
  • Repeat on each leg for an equal amount of sets and reps.

Muscles Worked:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Core

Reps & Sets: 8-10 reps & 3 sets.

Common mistakes to avoid

Stepping back too far: A common mistake that prevents proper lunge form is stepping too far backwards. This can even increase the risk of injury during the exercises as the front knee takes the pressure which can potentially cause muscle or ligament injuries. 

If you’re new to TRX workouts, read our article on the benefits of TRX training here.

#5 Moving Low lunge

If you’re wanting to know how to do a lunge that incorporates elements of yoga, you need to try the moving low lunge. Already a fan of yoga? You may be pretty familiar with this sort of movement!

Set up

Set up for this exercise by simply grabbing a mat and finding some space. Since this is a low lunge, you should definitely opt for a mat as your knee will be in direct contact with the floor. If you are performing this lunge at home and feel your carpet or even a rug is sufficient in keeping you comfortable, that works too.

Starting Position

  • Begin by kneeling onto the mat.
  • Step one foot out forward so you are down on one knee. 

Execution

  • From the starting position, move forward slowly so that from your shoulders to your back knee is presenting a diagonal line.
  • Rest but don’t push down your hands on your front stabilising knee. 
  • As you lean forward, your back leg should extend.
  • Slowly lean forward and back in a rocking motion with control.
  • Continue for the recommended duration. 

Muscles Worked:

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Adductors

Duration: 30 seconds each leg.

FAQs

Are there any risks to lunges?

Though very unlikely, there are of course risks to doing lunges, just as there are with any other exercise. The potential for injury usually comes down to the practice in learning how to do a lunge properly.

Risks typically revolve around muscle strains and loss of balance. The likes of loss of balance injuries can be easily reduced with regular practice and proper form. The same goes for muscle strains - focusing on starting off small and working your way up to heavier weights should help to avoid, or at least minimise, problems associated with strained muscles.

Since there are plenty of lunge alternatives, there are equally various types and severities of injuries that you could experience. For example, if you are split squatting with a 40kg barbell, there is a greater risk of injury than there would be if you were to do a bodyweight static lunge. Our advice, work on your balance with static lunges and then add weight or introduce variations gradually.  

Should my back knee be on the ground?

For the most part, no, with a standard lunge your back knee should never touch the ground. However, this again depends on the kind of lunge that you are performing. For example, if it is a moving low lunge, then yes it should be.

That said, most lunge variations require your knee to be just above the floor as this keeps your muscles engaged and adds to the effectiveness of the exercise. You should aim to lunge low enough for your back knee to be as close to the ground as possible without it actually touching the ground.

Lunges, especially weighted variations, work as a resistance exercise, and so having an elevated back knee makes you work harder and challenges your balance and coordination. Meanwhile, letting your knee rest on the ground would take away much of the stress (and as a result, the benefits) of the lunge.

So, most lunge variations will specify if your knee needs to be on the ground but typically, no, it should always be elevated slightly.

Can I grow my glutes with lunges?

Yes, in fact lunges are an incredibly popular exercise for working the gluteal muscles.

Growing glutes in particular requires progressive overload so you should try to increase your weights gradually rather than sticking to static squats to actually see a difference; so, below we have some favourable examples of lunge alternatives that make a difference:

  • Deficit Bulgarian split squats
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Walking lunges (weighted or not)
  • Reverse lunges
  • Forward lunges
  • Curtsy lunges

Maybe add these into your next leg day and with the right diet, you should start to see some progress. If you are looking for dietary information, be sure to read our article on the best healthy high fat foods here.

Before You Go

Now that you know how to do a lunge correctly, you’re ready to gain strength and muscle, as well as improve your balance and coordination.

Hopefully now you’re aware of just how many lunge variations are out there, you’ll be able to find one that suits your fitness goals. 

Just before you leave us, if you think your passion for fitness can take you places, why not enquire about our level 3 course in personal training here? Alternatively, you can browse through all the fitness courses that we offer here in our downloadable course prospectus. 

Written by Kimberley Mitchell

Editor

Having gained a B.A Hons degree in Media, Culture and Communications, Kimberley has gained experience in areas of web journalism, website production and marketing.

Alongside this, Kim expanded her knowledge and passion for fitness, by becoming a fully qualified fitness instructuor and personal trainer. Kim has also gained specialist qualifications in yoga, nutriton, spin and many more.

After working in the industry as a PT, Kimberley went on to study an MA in Digital Marketing and continues to expand her knowledge in the industry. Her main focus is to keep up with current trends and communications with a focus around health & fitness, writing and being creative.

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