Lunge Guide | How To, Muscles Worked, Variations, and More

Master the lunge to build a strong and dynamic lower body!

The lunge is arguably one of the best lower body exercises anyone can do when they’re on the pursuit of building a strong and balanced lower body. Outside of being a great exercise for strength, the lunge is phenomenal for improving the leg musculature as a whole and it comes with a ton of variations. 

There are a lot different ways to perform the lunge, and in this guide we’re going to cover the most popular option, the forward lunge. This is the lunge variation that involves stepping forward with one leg, then driving back upwards to return to the starting position.

In this lunge guide, we’re going to cover multiple topics including,

  • How To Perform the Lunge
  • Lunge Variations
  • Muscles Worked
  • Benefits
  • Mistakes

Check out our lunge guide video below for in-depth details about mastering of the lunge. 

How To Perform Lunges

The lunge is a relatively simple movement in nature, but there still needs to be careful attention spent on form to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck with them. Check out the fundamental steps to great lunges below. 

1.
Pick a Target, and Step

Pick a target and step out with the front leg. Allow the knee to track over the toe and maintain a flat foot position. Lightly touch the back knee to the ground, or lightly hover it before shifting to the concentric (standing) portion.

2.
Drive Upwards and Return to the Start

Stand up and think, “drive through the floor with the foot” and create a strong quadriceps contraction. Once you’re at your starting position, repeat this process on the opposing leg.

Lunge Variations

There are endless lunge variations out there, but for this guide we’re going to reference some of the most popular options lifters will employ in their training. 

1. Backward/Reverse Lunge

As the name suggests, the backward lunge is performed by taking a step backwards as opposed to forwards. This is a great variation for beginners working to improve their overall lunge form because the backwards stepping motion is a little easier to control than the forward lunge for some. 

Another reason the backwards lunge is a great variation to perform is due to the fact that it requires the posterior to initiate the first step, so it’s a good option for those aiming to train the glutes and hamstrings. 

2. Walking Lunge

The walking lunge is the closest lunge variation to mimic the forward lunge. These are a great lunge variation to employ because the nature of the step adds a level of focus on balance and coordination, so athletes will often use this exercise as a dynamic lower body training option. 

3. Lateral Lunge

The lateral lunge is performed by stepping directly out to the side, then standing up to return to one’s starting position. The lateral lunge is awesome because it challenges the adductors and requires the body to fight through positions that are often uncomfortable for many.

Other Ways to Create Variation

Outside of stepping in different directions, there are multiple ways to add variation to your lunge by manipulating how they’re loaded and the height in which they’re being performed from. 

  • Loading Variations: Dumbbells, Kettlebells, Barbell (in front, on back, overhead), Zercher, Sandbag, Single Dumbbell/Kettlebell, Goblet. 
  • Height Variation: Stepping to an elevated surface, or stepping from an elevated surface. 

Different loading variations can create different stability demands and height variations can increase mobility needs.

Muscles Worked In the Lunge

The lunge works a variety of muscles and it’s unique because the variation being performed can support higher activations during different movement phases.

Some of the major muscle groups the lunge works can be seen below,

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

Lunge Benefits

There are multiple lunge benefits worth highlighting. It’s important to remember that the benefits that come along with the lunge will vary from lifter to lifter based on their intent of use and which variation they’re performing. 

1. Endless Variations

The biggest benefit that comes with the lunge is the amount of variations one can perform with them. Beginners, athletes, and weathered gym rats can all benefit with performing various lunges and variations that coincide their training goals. 

2. Great for Assessing

The lunge can also be a fantastic tool for athletes and coaches to identify stability issues and weaknesses during certain lifting postures like a hip shift in the bottom of the lunge, knee valgus tendency in the stepping portion, and so forth.

Since the lunge is unilateral in nature, there are added demands on the body compared to the traditional squat, which can be limited at times from an assessment point of view.

3. Tackle Multiple Adaptations

On top of the variations, the lunge can be used to tackle multiple training adaptations. This is useful for athletes trying to improve strength, power, and muscular hypertrophy. Alter loading parameters, sets, reps, and rest times to target various training adaptations. 

Lunge-Guide-Step-2

Lunge Mistakes

Since the lunge is a unilateral movement that requires strength, coordination, and stability, there are multiple ways it can go wrong and below are two common mistakes to avoid.

1. Slamming the Knees

Lightly tapping the knee on the ground is common with the lunge, however, slamming the knee on the ground is a different story. This cannot only lead to knee discomfort, but it also suggests one might be lacking stability required to properly perform the lunge. 

2. Lack of Intent

Another common mistake that comes with the lunge is the lack of intent with their programming. Instead of simply using what most do, try to think about your goals, needs, and potential sport requirements, then pick lunges that work best within all of these realms. 

Lunge FAQs

Is the lunge good for beginners?

Absolutely. In fact, the lunge is one of the best exercises for beginners to conquer because it helps strengthen the lower body muscles while also building coordination and body awareness. True beginners should start with the basic forward or backward lunge to get started.

What muscles does the lunge work?

The lunge works a variety of muscles and these will change depending on the variation being performed. Some fo the major muscle groups the lunge targets include:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings

What are some common lunge variations?

The main lunge variations that are regularly performed are the forward, backward, lateral, and walking lunge. On top of these, there are other variations one can perform to target training adaptations along with different ways to load the body.

Are lunges dangerous?

No. Nothing about the lunge is inherently dangerous whatsoever. As with any exercise, there should be ample attention spent on form when first learning the movement.

Wrapping Up

The lunge is a fantastic lower body exercise that comes with handfuls of benefits. Nearly everyone can perform them and there’s a variation out there for every type of lifter. 

Jake Boly

Jake Boly

Jake holds a Master’s in Sports Science and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as the Fitness and Training Editor at BarBend. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand.

As of right now, Jake has published over 1,300 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake’s bread-and-butter.

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