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May 19, 2022
Nobody really likes lunges, but we know our legs need them. Training your legs bilaterally all the time, with exercises like squats and deadlifts, can lead to strength imbalances between sides. Not only that but your training will likely become stale. This is where lunges come into play.
Adding lunges into your routine will help you to strengthen imbalances, improve overall muscle development and definition in your legs, and they can even boost your athletic performance. And if none of this means anything to you, lunges burn a ton of calories for improved fat loss. The lunge is without a doubt a staple exercise.
One of the best things about lunges is they are so versatile too. There are many lunge variations that you can do to emphasize certain muscles or areas of a muscle group for better definition and growth. You have forward lunges, walking lunges, lateral lunges, rear lunges, lunges with one dumbbell, lunges with two dumbbells, and so many more.
In this article, we’ll cover the following:
If you often complain about lunges (we understand, they will take the life out of you if you do them correctly), then think of lunges as bad-tasting medicine that is good for you. You want to get better, don’t you? Then get to lunging.
If lunges aren't a staple in your routine, here are a few reasons why they should be...
1) Improved Fat Loss:
All lunge variations train the large muscles of the quads, hips, and hamstrings which help you burn calories, improve your fat loss efforts, and build muscle. Because you’re training each leg individually, you’ll double the reps you usually do for bilateral exercises. This means double the fun, right? Lunges are great to build muscle and to lose weight!
2) Core Training Without Crunches:
Lunges are lower body unilateral exercises that automatically throw your body off balance. Training in a single-leg fashion increases the number of stabilizing muscles needed to remain upright and this includes your core muscles. The rectus abdominals, obliques, and lower back work harder for you to remain upright and to keep your spine neutral. So, while lunges are a leg exercise, you will get great core strength benefits from them too.
3) Better Muscle Development & Definition:
Because of activities of daily living and a heavy reliance on bilateral lifting, most people have a dominant and non-dominant side. This can lead to strength imbalances and one side is bigger than the other. Performing unilateral exercises like lunges help reduce muscle imbalances and leads to better muscle development between sides. Another great thing about lunges is the range of motion is good so you can really dig deep into your leg muscle fibers to create definition.
4) Improves Your Strength Numbers:
Reducing muscle imbalances and improving muscle development between sides may help improve your bilateral lifting technique and overall strength numbers. Because when you’re stronger lifting on one leg, this leads to being stronger lifting with two.
5) Boosts Athleticism:
Besides all that, lunges are great for improving athleticism. They will train you to have better hip, knee, and core stability, which means improved balance, coordination and agility.
Related: What Muscles do Lunges Work?
Let’s start by saying there is no better or worse when it comes to both of these exercises just different. Because it all depends on your goals, workout experience, and what you are comfortable doing, and this differs from person to person. There is room for both in the same program because they complement each other. Getting better and stronger at one will lead to improvements in the other.
The main differences between the two are obvious. The reduced base of support in a single leg stance means you’ll use less weight than bilateral squat, have an increase in core activation, and the engagement of lower body muscles will vary between squats and lunges. For example, squatting to parallel predominately uses quads but lunges engage more glute minimus, and medius and the adductors are called on more for stabilization in a single-leg stance.
Squats are great for building muscle mass, and strength while improving performance in and out of the gym. Lunges are fantastic for ironing out strength imbalances, increasing volume for better muscle development, and improving body coordination. There is room for both in the same program because one is not better than the other.
Here are the 7 most important types of lunges to add to your routine. Each lunge variation will offer a unique stimulus and emphasize different muscles.
The forward lunge is a quad-dominant exercise because stepping forward into a lunge, the knee bears most of the stress. This is a great exercise if have healthy knees and good hip mobility but if you don’t it’s best to skip this one. The forward lunge gives another option to train your quads other than split squats and will drive your heart rate up also.
Muscle Emphasized: Quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Benefit Of The Forward Lunge: Strengthens quad strength imbalances between sides and will train your knees to absorb force better.
How To Do The Forward Lunge:
Reverse lunges are the friendliest of the seven lunge variations because stepping back makes it a hip-dominant exercise. This means the reverse lunge puts less stress on your knees than other lunge variations on this list. If you suffer from knee pain, this is a godsend. Reverse lunges strengthen and mobilize the hips to improve mobility for exercises like barbell squats and deadlifts.
Muscles Emphasized: Glutes, hamstrings, and quads.
Benefit Of The Reverse Lunge: Here you can vary the step-back length. A smaller step back puts more focus on the quads and a larger step back put more emphasis on the hamstrings.
How To Do The Reverse Lunge:
The lateral lunge, aka side lunge, develops strength, stability, and balance in the frontal plane (side to side plane). This improves your ability to go from side to side which is especially handy on the field of play when you need to change direction quickly. Lateral lunges improve your adductor mobility to help prevent groin injuries also.
Muscles Emphasized: Glute max, mini and med, adductors, and quads
Benefit Of The Lateral Lunge: Strengthens the smaller glute muscles the minimus and medius and the adductors which are all important for knee health, preventing groin strains, and improving hip mobility.
How To Do The Lateral Lunge:
The walking lunge is basically a moving forward lunge. The forward step, alternating legs with each rep, takes the front lunge to a different level because of the balance and coordination needed to perform it well. This variation challenges the quads and glutes through a larger range of motion for booty-and-quad-building benefits. This is truly one of the essential leg exercises in a bodybuilding program.
Muscles Emphasized: Glutes, quads, adductors, and hamstrings.
Benefits Of The Walking Lunge: The walking lunge not only build your glutes but adds a cardio component as too.
How to Do the Walking Lunge:
There are no rules for how far you should lunge forward with each step. Some people prefer short steps while some will take even a few feet with each step. In the end, the larger the step, the more the glutes work, whereas the shorter the step, the more the quads work.
Split squats are probably the first exercise you should try on this list, especially when comparing split squats vs lunges. If you cannot stay upright and stable doing these then you will not have much hope doing it while performing a moving lunge. This is a quad-dominant exercise help improve leg drive which is important when squatting up from the ‘hole’ and or when you’re pulling from the floor.
Muscles Emphasized: Quads, adductors (inner thighs), and gluteal muscles.
Benefit Of The Split Squat: Builds unilateral strength in your glutes and quads for improved deadlift and squat performance.
How To Do The Split Squat:
Bulgarian Split Squat is also known as the elevated split squat. The elevated range of motion compared to the split squat gives you extra time under tension to improve your hip mobility, leg drive, and muscle-building potential. If you were to do one exercise on this list to improve your barbell squats and deadlifts this would be it because of the leg drive benefits, it provides. This exercise isn’t the most liked on this list but it is brutally effective. Enjoy.
Muscles Emphasized: Quads, hip adductors (inner thighs), and glutes.
Benefit Of the Bulgarian Split Squat: The elevated range of motion improves leg drive and muscle-building potential on each leg.
How To Do The Bulgarian Split Squat:
The curtsy lunge resembles something you would do when you meet the queen. This exercise works in the rotational plane, and it works the quads and glutes from different angles. The step behind fires up the neglected glute mini and med which are important for knee health and single-leg balance. Because of the narrow base of support of this lunge exercise, this challenges your balance so go easy with load here.
Muscles Emphasized: Glutes (emphasis on side glutes - glute medius and minimus), quads (inner and outer thighs), and hamstrings.
Benefit Of the Curtsy Lunge: Training the internal and external rotation of your hips helps improve hip mobility and builds a killer set of glutes.
How To Do The Curtsy Lunge:
Besides sets, reps, tempo, etc. there are different ways you can load the lunge which can make it easier or difficult depending on how far the load is away from the legs. Plus, added movements like a twist or knee drive will affect loading and balance. Here are the major loading variables for the lunges above.
Training the lunge with one dumbbell throws your balance off even further as your body is fighting the offset load. This is great if you want to increase your core strength and improve balance.
Loading with two dumbbells provides more load for better strength and muscle-building and is a little easier to do than one dumbbell.
The front rack position is further away from the legs, increasing the lever between the working muscle and the load. This makes your legs work harder if you’re using the same weight as the goblet or holding dumbbells by your side. Plus, your upper back and anterior core are working harder to maintain a neutral spine.
The goblet squat made famous by Dan John can be used for so much more, including lunges. Holding the dumbbell in the goblet position is easier than the front rack position and acts as a counterbalance to allow you to get into some lunge positions easier. Plus, it provides anterior core and upper back engagement too but comes at the cost of loading. Big dumbbells are awkward in this position.
This can be with hands, dumbbells, kettlebells, or a weight plate. This is the most difficult position as the lever between the legs and load is at its greatest, This position demands strength from the upper back, shoulders, core, and lower back. Your balance, stability, and form all need to be dialed in. When you’re looking to increase the intensity without increasing the load the overhead position is the winner.
The barbell allows you to load the lunge heavier because you have the stability of your upper back and spine to support the load and grip isn’t an issue. This is great for added strength and mass. But your need good shoulder mobility to get the barbell into position and this variation require some setup and space to perform.
Lunge with knee drive increases hip flexor action on the knee drive side and hip extension strength on the other side. This is great to improve balance and to drive the heart up but not so great for loading due to the lack of stability. Again, this all depends on your goals and what you want to achieve by doing lunges.
Lunge with a twist is great when you want to throw yourself off balance to increase your core strength and your ability to rotate through the hips and upper back. But it is difficult to load unless you’re using a weight vest, so it's usually done as a bodyweight lunge.
Try forward and backward lunges! To do this exercise, you will step forward into a front lunge then instead of pressing back up into a bilateral stance, you will bring the forward leg all the way back into a rear lunge. You'll need some good coordination for this one.
Note: You can also do lunges with resistance bands and kettlebells.
Yes, you can certainly build muscle with lunges. Like all other exercises, progressive overload and increased time under tension are key. And this muscle is built with a variety of set and rep ranges. As a rule, when you do more reps, you do fewer sets and when you perform more sets it’s advisable to do fewer reps.
For example, 2 sets of 15 reps per side or 3 sets of 10 reps per side. Performing fewer reps allows you to load heavier, doing more reps, you load a little less.
Lunges are not a typical strength exercise like a squat, bench, or deadlift so there is no need to go crazy with heavy loads with fewer reps. It’s best performed with moderate weight and reps to get the muscle-building benefits. Three to five sets doing between 24-60 reps per side is a great starting point.
Set and rep ranges like:
Variations of this work for building muscle and burning fat.
There is no better or worse lunge variation, only different plus it all depends on your goals and level of training experience.
If you’re looking to improve your performance with your barbell squats and deadlifts, the split squat variations work best because they increase leg drive from the floor and the bottom of the squat. Plus, if you’re a training beginner reverse lunges and stationary split squats work best because they are the easiest of all the 7 variations above.
Furthermore, when you’re looking to improve athletic performance and your movement from side to side, side and curtsy lunges work best because they mimic what happens on the field of play.
Finally, when you’re suffering from knee pain then reverse lunges work best because it is a hip dominant exercise as opposed to the traditional lunge (front lunge), which is more knee dominant. There is no better or worse, it all depends on what fits your goals best.
The seven lunge variations here have a place in most programs to improve balance, core strength, strength imbalances between sides, and to improve muscle development between legs. These will help improve your lower body bilateral lifts and improve your performance in and out of the gym.
Related: Best Lunge Alternatives for Bad Knees
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June 08, 2023
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