Bodyweight side lunges are already challenging but you may be ready to take them one step higher. Find out the most effective ways to do them weighted.
Doing side lunges, aka lateral lunges, with extra resistance at the right point in your training journey offers more growth and strengthening potential and can simply speed up results.
At the same time, you still need to choose somewhat suited weights to make sure you don’t lose balance during the exercise.
1. Side lunges with dumbbells
Doing side lunges with dumbbells is the most popular way to make this movement more challenging but that does not mean the most optimal.
There are a few different ways you can hold the dumbbells with some advantages and disadvantages. Before going into these, all of them make it so side lunges work your glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and outer thighs more.
With that in mind, if you have trouble balancing yourself during side lunges, you likely want to let your arms hang down beside you with a dumbbell in each hand.
The benefit of this variation is that your center of gravity is relatively low to the ground.
Two downsides include that the dumbbells could get in the way of your movements and that your forearm grip muscles could fatigue before getting a good leg workout.
The next category of dumbbell lateral lunges includes keeping the weight(s) at shoulder height.
You can hold one single dumbbell in front of your chest in a so-called goblet hold or if you need more resistance, hold two dumbbells at shoulder height.
These variations will be easier on your forearm grip muscles but also more challenging for your shoulder muscles, biceps, and balance.
Lastly, you could consider doing overhead dumbbell side lunges. However, these can be really challenging in terms of balance.
If this is your goal, the overhead variation can be helpful. If not, you likely want to choose one of the other ways to hold the dumbbells.
In short, people who struggle with balance want to hold the dumbbells by their sides. Besides that, it is a matter of personal preference and how strong certain muscles are.
2. Side lunges with a barbell
A barbell is the long bar in the gym you can put weight plates on.
This piece of fitness equipment is very popular for leg exercises like squats because you can add a lot of weight in a way that does not really fatigue muscles that are not the main focus.
The same benefit is not as useful for one-legged exercises like side lunges because your muscles experience double the resistance anyway.
That being said, it is still a benefit of side lunges with a barbell, only to a lesser extent.
On the flip side, you do want to keep the potential downsides of barbell lateral lunges in mind.
First of all, your center of gravity is somewhat higher because the barbell rests on your shoulders. Secondly, barbell side lunges require more equipment, room, and time to set up than many of the other options.
Especially for an at-home situation, this variation will likely not be your favorite choice.
In theory, you could also do overhead barbell side lunges. In practice, these will likely be too challenging in terms of balance to get a good workout for any muscles.
3. Weighted vest lateral lunges
As the name implies, a weighted vest is simply a vest with some weights attached to it. You can use weighted vests in a variety of exercises, including side lunges, to make them more challenging.
A benefit of this weighted lateral lunge is that you can still easily move your arms. This can be helpful for people who struggle with keeping their balance.
Additionally, while it is not as low as holding two dumbbells by your side, your center of gravity during weighted vest lateral lunges will be lower than the barbell version.
This is also the case without having to engage your forearm grip muscles.
Next, weighted vests often have a reasonable price, are very versatile, and are easy to store.
People who struggle with balance during side lunges, have relatively weak forearm grip muscles, and/or want to keep these muscles fresh for the rest of the workout may find a good weighted vest the best choice for them.
4. Kettlebell side lunges
Kettlebells are big metal balls with a handle in the middle. Not every single gym will have them but at the same time, they are somewhat popular pieces of equipment.
The ways you can use kettlebells for side lunges are similar to dumbbells.
That means you can hold them by your sides for balance but more forearm muscle challenge, in front of your chest in a goblet hold or “racked” at shoulder height, and overhead to make the movement harder for balance.
One thing to note is that kettlebells typically don’t have knurling (grooves on the handles). This makes the kettlebell side lunge variation where you hold the weights by your sides even more challenging for balance.
Additionally, kettlebells tend to be bulkier than dumbbells which means that it is more likely that they will get in the way.
Lastly, if you are scared of dropping or bumping around the weights, you can consider investing in soft kettlebells instead of using the metal models.
Kettlebell side lunges are somewhat similar to the dumbbell variations but due to the handles and bulkiness, you will likely prefer using these in a goblet position or racked at shoulder height for side lunges.
5. Cable side lunges
A cable machine is a metal construction where a cable is attached to weights on one side and can be held on the other side.
Generally, the best way to do this cable leg exercise is by holding a one-handed handle and doing the side lunge in the direction of the machine. This will work your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and outer thighs more.
A downside of this version compared to other weighted side lunges is that you have to hold all of the resistance in one hand instead of two. This makes it so your forearm grip muscles may fatigue too soon.
Another option is strapping on an ankle strap to the leg farthest away from the machine and doing the lateral lunge away from the machine.
This will work your outer thigh muscles a lot harder in the first part but also make the movement somewhat easier for these muscles in the second part.
Even if you would not mind the other downsides, cable machines are also not the most at-home-friendly pieces of fitness equipment.
6. Side lunges with resistance bands
Resistance bands are elastic bands that add resistance as you stretch them out. You can use these to do weighted side lunges in two main ways.
The first one includes holding the bands in your hands or looping them around your shoulders and the foot that stays in place.
These banded side lunges mainly make the exercise harder for your outer thighs but also the typical leg muscles you work with lateral lunges.
Another option is looping a resistance band around your upper legs, close to your knees. This variation will only work your outer thigh muscles harder.
A relatively unique benefit of resistance bands for doing side lunges is that they still allow you to use your arms for balance.
More general upsides of these pieces of fitness equipment are that they are relatively budget-friendly, very versatile, and easy to store.
One potential downside is that you may not like the more sideways pull of the resistance bands in side lunges. Additionally, you will have to replace your resistance bands every once in a while due to wear and tear.
7. Workout sandbag side lunges
Workout sandbags are simply sandbags with extra handles and capacity so that you can use them in exercises like side lunges.
You can basically see this option as the more budget and at-home-friendly variation of the barbell side lunge. Workout sandbags tend to be relatively cheap and often have a nice weight capacity.
One thing you do want to keep in mind is that you typically have to fill the sandbag yourself. This likely requires an extra trip to the store.
Similar to the barbell variation, workout sandbag side lunges can be somewhat challenging when it comes to balance because you hold the weight at shoulder height.
On the flip side, because you can hold the workout sandbag on your shoulders, you can really work your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and outer thigh muscles without worrying about forearm grip, shoulder, or bicep muscle fatigue.
Workout sandbags may not be your number one choice for the side lunge exercise specifically but they can be great equipment choices for an entire workout program.
8. Landmine lateral lunges
A landmine setup is basically a barbell that is anchored to the ground on one side. You can still put weight plates on the other barbell sleeve to add more resistance to landmine leg exercises like lateral lunges.
There are two main ways to do lateral lunges. In both ways, you do the exercise with your face toward the anchor but the way you hold the end of the barbell is different.
In the first landmine lateral lunge variation, you hold the end of the barbell in a goblet position. In simpler words, you hold it right in front of your chest with both of your hands.
This version will be slightly more challenging for balance, your shoulder muscles, and your bicep muscles (on top of the more standard extra challenge for your leg muscles).
Secondly, you can hold the landmine in front of you with your arms hanging down. This will be harder for your forearm grip muscles but easier for balance.
The benefit of both of these lateral lunges over other weighted variations is that they are somewhat easier in terms of balance since one side of the barbell is anchored to the ground.
On the flip side, you may not like the more unique feeling of landmine lateral lunges and/or the way they engage muscles in areas different from your legs.
9. Weight plate side lunges
There are not many situations where you have weight plates but not a barbell available. That being said, you may not like the extra balance requirements from barbell side lunges.
You have different options when it comes to holding weight plates during side lunges. These depend a good amount on what plates you have available.
For example, there are weight plates with handles. You can hold these in ways similar to dumbbell and kettlebell side lunges with similar upsides and downsides.
If you have regular weight plates without handles or bumper plates, you will have to hold one plate in two hands with your arms hanging down or with the weight plate against your chest.
Especially this second category of weight plate side lunges is not ideal since you can only hold one plate. This is too easy for people who need more than 45 pounds (20 kg) to make side lunges challenging enough.
At the same time, this weighted side lunge variation may be your only option if you don’t like the barbell variation. In that case, you can definitely still give this option a try.
10. Medicine ball side lunges
Medicine balls are weighted balls with a soft surface that are typically used in throwing and core exercises.
If you are interested in just doing side lunges with weights to work your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and outer thigh muscles harder, medicine balls are usable but not ideal.
They require a good amount of work from other muscles like your shoulders, chest, forearms, and potentially biceps to hold.
This is not necessarily bad but most people will prefer equipment options that allow them to focus more on training their leg muscles.
On the flip side, if you want to combine side lunges with something like a sideways throw to work core muscles like your obliques more, a medicine ball is one of the few equipment options that can help you.
So most people will prefer one of the other ways of doing weighted side lunges. However, for certain types of training goals, a medicine ball could be the best choice.
5 Benefits of weighted side lunges
By now, you know about most ways of doing side lunges with extra resistance, their advantages, and their disadvantages.
However, you may want a refresher on the potential benefits of actually implementing the exercises above in your workout routine. Some of these include:
- Can help you build more muscle faster: Side lunges can help you grow and strengthen muscles by challenging these enough. By adding weights, you can challenge them faster and to a larger extent with in turn, typically more results.
- Can help you lose more weight: Side lunges can be helpful for fitness goals like weight loss by helping you get more muscle mass and use up more energy during the workout itself. Weighted variations help even more with these things.
- Slightly more time-efficient: A good lateral lunge workout does not necessarily mean spending more time. By making your repetitions harder, you can see the same results in a shorter amount of time.
- More balance and coordination training: Many of the weighted side lunges above make the movement more challenging in terms of balance and coordination. Challenging yourself to safe extents in these areas could lead to more progress faster.
- Regular side lunge benefits to a larger extent: Side lunges offer a variety of secondary benefits. As long as your body can deal with the extra pressure, adding weights typically offers these benefits to a larger extent.
Depending on things like your training goals and current strength level, adding weights to your side lunges can be helpful.