The lunge is a functional, multi-joint exercise that can help tone your lower body, increase muscle mass, develop core strength and make your hips more flexible. Lunges can be adapted to any fitness level and can be altered to target different muscle groups, making them an incredibly beneficial exercise that can be programmed to meet any fitness goal.
The best thing about lunges is the variety of ways they can be performed. You can mix up the direction you complete them in to change the plane of motion, add weight to make the movement more challenging, or change the height of your foot position to work different muscles – there are so many progressions and variations possible.
Once you or your client have nailed the basic static lunge with good form, give some of these lunge variations a go!
It’s important to get the foundational lunge movement pattern technique correct, so we’ll start with the static lunge.
- Stand with one foot in front of the other, hip-width apart and trunk upright
- Lower under control until the rear knee gently touches the floor
- Commence upwards movement by pushing through the heel of the front foot and the toe of the rear foot, keeping the head and chest up
- Continue until the front leg is fully extended at the top of the movement
The reverse lunge is a little easier on the knees and joints, and also gives you more stability in your front leg. If you have minor knee pain from time to time or less hip mobility this variation is ideal. More emphasis is placed on the glutes and hamstrings, making this a good exercise for training strength if you’re adding weight through dumbbells or a barbell.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and trunk upright
- Take a step back with your left foot, lowering your body by bending your right knee
- Once your knee almost touches the floor, push back up and forward to your starting position
Walking lunges are a great functional exercise that will also test your balance and coordination. This exercise will target your glutes and hamstrings, as well as placing some demand on your cardiovascular system. Holding dumbbells or placing a barbell on your back will challenge your lower body further and engage your major core muscles.
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart
- Step forward with your right leg, placing your foot down as if you were setting up a static lunge, flexing your knees and dropping your hips
- As you prepare to drive up and forward, step into a lunge on your other side
Lateral, or side lunges, work your inner and outer thighs as you move from side to side rather than forward and backwards. This exercise can help to increase knee stability, and be used as a lunge variation to help athletes become more injury resilient to directional changes. For those not playing sports, it will still contribute to the functional strength of your lower body.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart and trunk upright
- Take a big step to the side and lower until the knee of your leading leg is bent at around 90°, keeping your trailing leg straight
- Push back up and return to starting position
Rear Foot Elevated Lunge
Also called the Bulgarian split squat, this exercise is a great way to build single leg strength, add lower body mass and improve hip mobility. As well as testing your balance, your glutes, quads, calves and hamstrings will all benefit from performing this exercise. The simplest way to add weight variations to this exercise is with dumbbells – firstly in a goblet position and then one in each hand.
- Find a step or bench that is about knee height for your foot to rest on
- Start in a forward lunge position with trunk upright, core braced and hips square to your body, with your back foot elevated on the bench
- Lower until your front thigh is almost horizontal, keeping your knee in line with your foot
- Drive up through your front heel back to the starting position
Front Foot Elevated Lunge
Elevating the front foot will load up your quads and glutes and will help to improve knee stability. This exercise has an emphasis on deep hip flexion and creates additional range of motion in comparison to a regular lunge, therefore an increased demand on your muscles to fire efficiently.
- Place your right foot on an elevated surface (aerobics step or 25kg plate)
- Assume a comfortable lunge stance and lower your left leg until it just about touches the floor
- Drive back up through your right leg – keep tension through your front foot at all times
Jump lunges add a cardiovascular element to the exercise, and is perfectly suited to HIIT workouts. This plyometric exercise will increase your power, balance and speed – so if you want to jump higher or run faster, you should include this explosive movement in your training program. The best way to add weight to this exercise is a weighted vest.
- Begin in a split stance lunge position, bracing your core and keeping your torso upright
- Lunge down and then jump in the air and swap leg positions
- The aim is to launch straight from one leg to the next
The curtsy lunge is a serious glute burner as it targets the inner and outer glute and thigh muscles. Using a kettlebell or dumbbell will up the intensity of this variation.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, torso upright
- Take a big step back with your right leg, crossing it behind your left
- Bend your knees and lower your hips until your left thigh is nearly parallel to the floor
- Return to starting position by driving up your right leg