There's definitely nothing wrong with doing a basic lunge. In fact, it's one of the moves to perfect for a solid fitness foundation or just better everyday functional movement. "Lunges test the body’s ability to coordinate complex movement patterns and help with coordination, balance, strength, and aid with asymmetries within the body," says Melissa Kendter, U.S. Trainer for Tone & Sculpt. "[The lunge] also mimics the way our body works throughout most of our day, so excelling at lunges in the gym will translate into daily life."
Once you do learn how to do the basic lunge, there are seemingly infinite ways to change things up and challenge yourself. "With lunges, you are able to target different muscle groups by simply changing up lunge directions from forward to reverse to sideways, and you can also add depth. Doing lunge progressions with proper form can increase mobility in these areas, while putting your entire lower body to work," says Kendter.
How to know you're ready for advanced lunge variations
Once you know how to do the standard lunge (and when you feel strong, stable, and have good mobility) then you're ready to level up. "From there, we can work on increasing the amount of load or weight by holding dumbbells, kettlebells, or a barbell," says Kendter. If you don't want to add weight to your lunges, there are plenty of ways to advance, like with the variations below. "You can also change up the lunge direction or lunge angle, meaning multidirectional lunges or forward-reverse lunges. Once that becomes more comfortable, we can make the lunges more explosive by adding plyometric lunges or jumping lunge variations," says Kendter.
Ready to add more lunges into your workouts? Keep reading for four lunge variations plus the benefits, and the form mistakes to look out for.
4 lunge variations to try
"Add lunges to your leg day or full body routine to boost your unilateral leg strength and to mix things up. Paired with a few additional exercises, you’ll be on your way to a stronger core and legs," says Kendter. The lunge variations below from Kendter are ordered from easiest to hardest, so be sure to master the easier moves before advancing to the more difficult one.
1. Reverse Lunge
"These are great for targeting the posterior chain (particularly the glutes and hamstrings) and allows a more forward trunk lean. Another benefit is you get a nice stretch in your hip flexors," says Kendter.
How to do it: "Start out standing tall with your feet next to each other. Step your left foot back and bend your right leg until your thigh is about parallel to the floor. Stand and bring your left foot back next to your right. Once you have completed one set, repeat on the other side."
2. Bulgarian Split Squat
"The Bulgarian split squat strengthens the muscles of the legs, including the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and as a single leg exercise, your core is forced to work in overdrive to maintain your balance. A Bulgarian split squat (or rear elevated split squat) puts more emphasis on the front leg than other lunge variations and allows you to reach greater depth than a single-leg squat, requiring flexibility in your hips," says Kendter.
How to do it: "For this one, you will need a box or object that is about knee height. Start by standing about two feet in front of it. Lift your one leg up and rest your foot laces down on the step. Your feet should still be about shoulder-width apart, and your foot out front should be far enough in front of the bench where you can comfortably lunge. While engaging your core, roll your shoulders back and down and lean slightly forward at the waist, beginning to lower down, bending the knee. Then using the power from your quads and hamstrings to return to standing."
3. Lateral Lunge
"Instead of moving forward-and-back, you will be moving from side-to-side. This exercise allows you to train in different planes of motion which will help out total body fitness. It targets the glutes, legs, the adductors and hip abductors, including the 'glute med' which can sometimes go untrained," says Kendter.
How to do it: "If you’re trying this one for the first time, try a stationary side lunge first," says Kendter. "Start out in a wide stance with your feet wider than hip-width apart, toes pointing forward. Bend one leg, pushing your hips back and lean into the lunge, keeping your other leg straight. Keep your feet flat and the weight in your heel of the bent leg, with your hips back. Push through that leg to come up to your starting position."
After you've nailed that move, it's time to think about moving onto a more dynamic lateral lunge. "Start out with your feet next to each other. Take a large step out to the right, immediately lowering into a lunge, sinking hips back as done previously, and bending right knee to track directly in line with right foot. Keep the left leg straight, with both feet pointing forward. Push off the right foot to straighten the right leg and return to starting position."
4. Walking Lunge
"This move strengthens the leg muscles as well as the core, hips, and glutes," says Kendter
How to do it: "Stand upright, feet together, core tight with your shoulders back and down. Take a controlled step forward with your right leg, lowering your hips toward the floor by bending both knees to about 90 degrees. It is okay to have a slight lean forward, keeping your spine in neutral. The back knee should point toward the ground, hovering it, and your front knee should be in alignment with your toes. Press your right heel into the ground, and push off with your left foot to bring your left leg forward, stepping with control into a lunge on the other side."
Common form mistakes to look out for
Good form is key to effectively and safely lunging—whether you're doing the basic move or a variation. First, make sure you're driving from the front leg when you lunge. "That is where the weight should be, so we want to make sure we are not shifting back, arching the low back or making the back leg more dominant than it should be," says Kendter.
Also be sure to begin each lunge with your feet hip-width apart to help you balance while you lunge. "It’s also common for people to lunge with their feet too close to their centerline, which will make it hard to balance," explains Kendter.
Kendter also says to be aware of your knees and try to avoid any collapsing or sinking inward.
"A common error is allowing your front knee to collapse inward. As you lunge, make sure your front knee is tracking over your toes or shoelaces," advises Kendter. Your posture and core will also help you master a lunge and activate all the right muscles, so try not to slouch and keep your core engaged. "Avoid rounding your shoulders, allowing your belly to collapse or hyperextending your low back. You want to keep a firm, neutral back with your shoulders back and down, chest and hips square and your core tight," notes Kendter.
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