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Best Lunge Variations to Strengthen Your Legs


If you’ve ever knelt down to tie your shoe or seen someone propose on a bended knee, you’re familiar with the lunge. A lunge is a single-leg bodyweight exercise that works your hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core and the hard-to-reach muscles of your inner thighs

Lunges can help you develop lower-body strength and endurance. They’re also a great beginner move. When done correctly, lunges can effectively target your lower-body muscles without placing added strain on your joints

While studies on this quintessential exercise are limited, we did dig up a study on swimmers. In 2015, researchers figured out that those who warmed up with either squats or lunges had faster swimming times — not too shabby for such a simple exercise.Trusted

Static Lunge

Why it works: “The static lunge may be your starting point of developing the movement pattern, but it still places huge stress on your hamstrings, glutes, and quads due to its strong eccentric contraction of your muscles,” King says. Working on the eccentric (lowering) phase of this exercise is super-important because you want to recruit as many muscle fibers—required for performance and muscle development—as possible. What’s more, the static lunge will challenge your balance (since all of your weight is loaded through your forward leg) and your hip flexibility (which will determine how deep you can settle into the lunge)

How to do it: Take a split stance so when you lower yourself into the lunge, both knees are bent at 90°. If your right leg is forward, place most of the load through this foot, aiming to keep it firm and flat against the floor at all times. Your trailing left leg should be used to support and balance you as you drive upwards through the heel of your right (forward) leg. Make sure you stay on the balls of your feet as your left (trailing) leg comes back up

Walking Lunge

Why it works: “Until it was made popular by bodybuilding in the ’90s, this beast of an exercise was confined to group exercise classes,” King says. The walking lunge is a simple, yet effective variation if you want to target your glutes and hamstrings. Walking lunges place huge demands on your cardiovascular system because you’re activating so many primary muscles, King adds. What’s more, you can increase the challenge by varying your stance and weight. Hold dumbbells in both hands to develop grip strength, place a bar on your back (or even in the front rack position) to place a greater demand on your balance and engage all your major core muscles, or take shorter steps to put more of an emphasis on your quads

How to do it: Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hands on your hips. Step forward with your right leg, placing your foot down as if you were setting up a static lunge, flexing your knees (90°), and dropping your hips. Lower your left knee toward the ground. Just before it makes contact with the floor, drive up and forward through your right leg, stepping into a lunge on your other side

Reverse Lunge

Why it works: The reverse lunge is a great alternative if you suffer from minor knee pain every now and again. Unlike conventional lunges, this lunge allows your knee joint to more favorably respond to hip flexion. “And though it may stress the knee joint less, it still delivers big results when it comes to muscle and strength development,” King says. “It can also be used as an assessment tool to evaluate muscle and structure imbalances while developing balance, strength, and hip flexibility through movement.”

How to do it: The starting position is exactly the same as a walking lunge: Keeping a neutral spine, take a step backward—exactly the same width as you would take moving forward in a walking lunge—with your right leg. Once your knee almost touches the floor, push back up and forward to your starting position, trying to maintain level hip alignment throughout and keep your weight in your back leg. The big difference here is you’re using your front leg to stabilize your body

Curtsy Lunge

Why it works: “The curtsy lunge, also called the reverse crossover lunge, will really help you build a strong, firm butt by targeting the inner and outer glute and thigh muscles,” King says. The unique action of crossing over your legs is the most challenging part; you’re putting emphasis on all three gluteal muscles—the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus

How to do it: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and take a large step back with your right leg, crossing it behind your left (as if you’re about to do a curtsy…yeah, yeah, get over the girliness of it). Your weight should be in your left foot as you slowly bend your knees, lowering your body straight down. Your left (front) leg should be parallel to the floor, your abs tight, and back straight. Push back up to the starting position

Rear Foot Elevated Lunge

Why it works: Essentially the same thing as a Bulgarian split squat, the rear foot elevated lunge shows up often in sports programs because it builds hip strength and mobility. Doing this exercise correctly is particularly difficult, because you’ll need a lot of flexibility and strength in your back leg. “It engages infrequently utilized muscles [like glutes and quads] while stretching out others that are generally overworked and tight [hamstrings and hip flexors],” King says

How to do it: Place your right foot on a bench or step, keeping your toes pointed, your foot flexed, and pressure penetrating the ball of your left foot [and the top of your right foot]. Once in position, descend under control until your right knee just about touches the floor and drive back up through your left leg to the starting position. Make sure your back knee doesn’t collapse toward your body, and that your forward knee doesn’t slide past your toes

Front Foot Elevated Lunge

Why it works: “Front foot elevated lunges are a great way to improve knee stability through the direct recruitment of the vastus medialis, one of the four quadriceps muscles,” King says. This is the perfect exercise to prep you for the ski slopes. Skiing places heavy demands on the structure of your knee, and the less your knee deviates from its neutral position, the less likely you are to get injured, he explains. To make sure you’re recruiting the correct muscles, think about keeping your knees aligned over your toes, and make sure your front heel stays in contact with the floor

How to do it: Place your right foot in front of you on an aerobics step or a 25kg Olympic lifting bumper plate. Keep this foot flat against the surface and stay on the ball of your left foot; this will bear your weight. With your abs tight and back straight, drive your front knee forward so it passes over your toes (which can require a certain amount of ankle mobility) and let your left knee lower naturally until it just about touches the floor. Drive back up through your right leg. This is important: The driving force behind this exercise is your front knee, not your rear knee, King stresses

Slide Lunge

Why it works: “Most of the movements we do in the gym are static and symmetrical. But at the end of the day, the human body was designed to move as a unit in all planes of motion,” King says. The slider lunge challenges your body because it changes in range-of-motion; this becomes exceedingly more difficult when you add, say, a weighted vest. This great lunge variation is great for strengthening hip flexion and extension, and working on your body’s awareness and coordination. (Note: The slider lunge can be done using Valslides (plastic sliding workout discs), furniture or carpet sliders, or a paper plate if you’re on hardwood or tile floors.)

How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place the slider under your right foot and push back until your hip is fully stretched and your knee is nearly touching the floor. Bracing your core, apply pressure into the slide and bring your leg back to the start. Remember, the body is designed to move in all planes of motion. Don’t be afraid to get creative and move around in multidirectional angles

Around-the-Clock Lunge

Why it works: More of a workout method than a true variation, the around-the-clock lunge is a well-rounded, multi-directional exercise that’s perfect for HIIT-style workouts because it trains the lactate threshold of your quads and hamstrings, which is especially great for long-distance cyclists and runners, King says. Your body is constantly moving so your heart rate rises rapidly as you try to hit every number “on the clock”. You’re placing your muscles under tension for a prolonged period of time, too

How to do it: Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a clock with the numbers 1-12 around the outside. Face forward so your chest points toward 12 o’clock; you’re going to face noon for the entirety of the exercise to make sure you’re moving in a lateral plane of motion each time you push back to the start position. Your goal is to hit every clock number. Start with your right foot, using your left leg as a stabilizer, and lunge forward to 12, then forward and slightly right to 1, all the way until you’re stepping back to 6. Then, switch feet and finish the other numbers with your left foot

Lunge and Reach

Why it works: If you’re looking to build a rock-solid butt and fry your hamstrings and glutes in one fell swoop, then the lunge and reach variation is for you. “With the additional hip flexion from reaching forward, you’re really targeting the ‘big dog’—your gluteus maximus,” King says. Plus, with your trunk leaning forward, you’re really lengthening your glutes under load, which requires your muscles to fire maximally to produce enough force to push you back to the start point. Also, if you’re plagued by lower-back pain, this could be a great lunge alternative—if done correctly—because it takes a lot of the load off your lumbar muscles. Your glutes, hamstrings, and quads are the primary movers

How to do it: Lunge forward, starting with your right foot. At the same time, lean your trunk forward so your hands touch the floor on either side of your right foot. Keep your rear foot in the same position (pressure through the balls of your feet) and explosively push back to the start position, maintaining balance before alternating to your other leg

Reverse Lunge Step-up

Why it works: Single-leg stability is a must if you play contact sports or if your sport involves quick directional changes (this goes for workouts, too). The only problem? Most legs workouts limit the potential activation of your quads and hamstrings, capping the movement off when your legs come parallel to the ground. “The reverse lunge stepup gives you a platform where you can massively increase your range-of-motion,” King says. This is crucial whether you’re trying to become more athletic, add muscle, run faster, or jump higher

How to do it: Do three things to make the most of this exercise: You need to get high, go deep, and power up. Stand on a step or box that’s roughly mid-shin height. Sink into a reverse lunge, with your right leg, keeping your ankles and knees aligned. As your right knee nears the floor, push through your left heel to drive back up onto the step, and continuing driving up until your right knee is raised up to waist height. You’ll shift all your weight onto your left leg, which results in maximum glute activation

Overhead Walking Lunge

Why it works: This lunge variation will make you faster, stronger, and more flexible—and shred your entire body. The overhead walking lunge works all of your lower-body muscles and activates muscles in your core, thoracic, shoulders, and upper and lower traps. “The overhead load forces your core muscles to lengthen and contract more fully, working not only the superficial good-looking core muscles but the ones that lie deep beneath that actually stabilize the body and make you strong,” King says

How to do it: Start light; take a weight (can be a barbell, plate, kettlebell, or dumbbell) and hold it directly above your head, elbows in line with your ears and your arms completely locked out. Take a step forward with your right leg into a deep lunge, keeping your arms locked and elbows in line with your ears, then forcefully drive this forward heel into the ground to return to the start position. Continue on the opposite leg. If you want to notch it up a level, use a bar—it’s more difficult to keep balanced

Jumping Lunge

Why it works: The jumping lunge is perfectly suited for high-intensity interval training. This plyometric bodyweight conditioning exercise helps you gain balance, power, and speed (and it’ll have you sweating almost immediately). “The continued explosive jumping action spikes your heart rate, taking your body outside its comfort zone,” Kings says. The more your body stays in this zone, the quicker the results will come

How to do it: Begin in a split-stance lunge position, bracing your core and keeping your upper body straight. Lunge down (starting with your right leg) so your knees are at 90°, then jump high in the air and swap leg positions, bringing your back left leg to the front. Launch straight into the next jump, bending your knees to absorb the impact. If you want to take it to the next level, try using a weighted vest

Windmill Lunge

What it works and why it’s challenging: The step-out phase of the windmill lunge works ankle mobility and hip flexion/extension, while the rotational element works on trunk stability. Plus, the external rotation of your arms improves shoulder mobility and improves your range-of-motion, which is commonly very tight and short in men

How to do it: Stand tall with a neutral spine, step forward with your right foot, and perform a typical lunge. Then take your left hand and touch the inside of your big toe. In doing so, take your right arm and externally rotate as far as your body allows, aiming for your right hand to point up toward the ceiling. You want the motion to be as seamless as possible, flowing from one side to the other