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Lunges: How To Do, Variations, Risks,…

There are many different ways to improve your current exercise routine. What about doing lunges, what will the effects be?

Lunges are a popular exercise where you lower your body with one foot in front and one foot back. They are a good exercise for building leg muscle strength and endurance. In turn, this makes lunges also good for fitness goals like losing weight, longevity, and athletic performance.

Keep in mind that lunges can be hard on your knees, especially if you do them with suboptimal technique.

Before you give this compound leg exercise a try, also keep in mind that you generally can’t target fat loss in specific body parts. Lunges can be helpful for building leg muscle but they do not only burn thigh fat specifically.

Whether you should add lunges or alternatives to your routine depends on things like your personal situation, personal preference, and training goals.

How to do a lunge

There are many lunge variations but this article will consider the lunge where you start and stay with one foot forward, one foot back, the standard version. To do a lunge take the following steps:

  1. Stand upright with one foot forward, one foot back, at a distance where the following steps can be done at the right angles. Horizontally speaking you want your feet to be about shoulder width apart or slightly wider for balance.
  2. Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you ideally want both of your knees and your front thigh to your body at 90-degree angles. You can use your arms for balance if needed.
  3. Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs. Your front leg will likely carry most of the weight.

Make sure you do the same number of repetitions with each leg first to avoid any muscle imbalances.

When doing lunges you generally want your front knee to stay behind the toes of your front foot. If you keep your feet in the same position this is easy after an initial adjustment. With lunge variations this is something to pay attention to.

How to do a lunge

Lunge variations and build-up exercises

The lunge done with just your body weight and standing still is the standard version of the exercise. There are also a few lunge variations, modifications, and build-up exercises that can make the exercise easier or harder, focus on slightly different things, or help you work toward a full lunge.

Easier varations and build-up exercises

Some people are not ready yet for a full lunge. You can also do other build-up exercises. The first example is a VMO dip. This is where you stand on the edge of an elevated platform with one foot in the air. You then bend the knee of the support leg just a small amount and raise yourself back up.

The vastus medialis oblique is a muscle that plays a role in knee health. If you can’t do lunges because your knees hurt, strengthening this muscle with VMO dips may help you resolve this issue.

Another reason why individuals can not do lunges (yet) is that their quadriceps, glutes, and other muscles are not yet strong enough to lift their full body weight.

If this is the case you can start with bodyweight squats. In this exercise, each of your legs only carries half the amount of weight compared to a lunge. Once your muscles are strong enough you can then switch to lunges.

Another option is to lower your body only a small amount instead of going for the full 90-degree angles. All of these will help you train similar muscles but at a less challenging level.

Different variations

Lunges are an exercise with many variations that focus slightly more on different things. Some of the main ones include:

  • Walking lunges: Instead of keeping your two feet on the ground you take lunge steps forward. This can benefit glute muscle growth and allow you to do more repetitions in a shorter amount of time.
  • Jump lunges: The way you train your muscles changes what fitness component you focus on. By jumping you focus more on muscle power instead of muscle strength and endurance.
  • Lateral lunges: Instead of stepping forward, lateral lunges require you to step sideways. This engages your inner and outer thigh muscles slightly more.
  • Curtsy lunges: Instead of having your back foot straight behind you it goes sideways behind the support leg. This engages your outer thigh muscles slightly more.
  • Bulgarian split squats: Lunges with your back foot on an elevated object. This puts more weight on your front leg and is more challenging for balance and coordination.

Some of these different lunge variations may align more with your fitness goals. If you are not sure which one would be best you can start with the basic standing lunge. Once you have the technique down, walking lunges can be a good overall variation to start with.

Harder variations

If you are more experienced with leg resistance training, bodyweight lunges may be too easy to build a lot of extra muscle mass fast. At this point, you need to turn to other leg exercises or make lunges harder to keep growing your leg muscles a lot.

Making lunges harder at the right points in your training journey can also speed up muscle growth compared to doing the bodyweight variation over and over.

The main way to do this is to do weighted lunges. This is basically doing the same exercise but with extra weights or resistance to make it harder.

The best way to do this is with free weights, preferably no-handed or one-handed weights. Some examples of these are a weighted vest, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight plates, grocery bags, etc.

The reason for this is that lunges do require some balance to do successfully. With these types of weights, you can still use your arms for balance if needed. That being said, you can definitely also use two-handed weights like a barbell for lunges.

You can also do bodyweight lunges faster but this is to make it more of a cardio workout. If that is your goal something like running or cycling may be a better choice.

Muscles worked with lunges

Some of the primary muscles worked with lunges include:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Calves

Some of the secondary muscles worked with lunges include:

  • Hamstrings
  • Core
  • Hip flexors
  • Hip abductors
  • Hip adductors

Although these other muscles play a role as well, lunges will mainly focus on your quadriceps, calves, and glute muscles.

For both lunges and weighted variations, to build the most muscle mass you want to do about 4 sets of 10-40 lunges depending on how advanced you are.

Benefits of lunges

Some people question how useful this exercise can be but adding lunges to your routine can offer you some amazing benefits. Some of the most important ones include:

  1. Stronger muscles: Lunges are a type of resistance training that can help you strengthen your leg muscles.
  2. Can help with losing weight: Doing lunges likely requires more energy than your regular daily activities. Extra muscle mass also helps with burning more calories. Both of these aspects can help with, but are no guarantee for, weight loss.
  3. Improves mood: Exercise like lunges promotes the release of substances that help you feel good.
  4. Helps you avoid muscle asymmetries: By putting your whole weight on one leg at a time you reduce the risk of using one leg more than the other like in certain other exercises. This can help you avoid muscle asymmetries.
  5. Improves sleep: Exercise like lunges can improve the quality and duration of your sleep which in turn offers many important benefits.
  6. Slows down aging: Lunges won’t influence how many days have passed since you were born. However, exercise can slow down the progress of certain aging markers that are correlated with negative health effects.
  7. Balance and coordination: Balance and coordination are fitness skills that can be improved by challenging them. Lunges can help you with this.

While inevitably some workouts are better for some of these benefits than lunges, it is amazing that you can get so many important benefits from adding one activity to your routine.

Potential risks

The main thing to keep in mind is that lunges can be hard on body parts like your ankles, knees, hips, and back even if you implement the right technique.

If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any knee pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before implementing more lunges.

If you feel pain in any body parts it may be a sign you are overdoing it. In that case, you may need some rest, better lifestyle habits, a less intense workout schedule, or it may be a sign that lunges are not (yet) for you.

Lunge alternatives

While lunges can definitely be a great addition to your workout routine, there are also some alternatives available for training your leg muscles. Some of these lunge alternatives include:

  • Step-ups
  • Squats
  • Jump lunges
  • Bulgarian split squats
  • Pistol squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Single-leg press

Which one of these options is the best depends on things like your personal situation, training goals, the equipment you have available, etc.

Conclusion

Most people will benefit a lot from adding lunges with the right technique to their routine. They can be a great exercise option to strengthen and grow a variety of important leg muscles.

The main thing to keep in mind is that lunges can be hard on body parts like your ankles, knees, hips, and back even if you implement the right technique.

If you are weak or sensitive in these body parts you may need to do other strengthening exercises first. Especially if you have any knee pain, you may want to talk to your primary care provider before doing more lunges.

Also keep in mind that consistency is an important factor for any workout plan. The more you love the exercise you do the easier it becomes to do it consistently. If doing lunges is a workout you love, great. If not lunge alternatives and other exercises can also offer a lot of benefits.

If you do decide to implement more lunges make sure you give your body enough nutrients, rest, and sleep to repair and grow your muscles.