How To Do Lunges: Build Lower Body Power And Balance

(Image credit: Unknown)

 In This Series

Had Neil Armstrong spent a little more time down the Nasa gym doing lunges he might have been able to take more than a small step when he reached the Moon’s surface. How much further mankind would have advanced as a result, who knows, but it’s certainly worth avoiding Armstrong’s error by ensuring the lunge is a staple of your own exercise regime.

The lunge is a compound exercise, which means it hits multiple joints and muscles groups in one fell swoop. By taking one big step forwards you work the muscles in your hips, glutes and legs in particular, making them stronger and improving your balance and flexibility in general.

It’s also a movement that translates brilliantly to a variety of sports, and runners in particular should never miss an opportunity to include lunges in their workouts if they want to get faster and more resilient to injury. The functional benefits of the movement will help you out in your day-to-day life as well – when your powerful stride ensures you nab the last slice of cake ahead of your dumbfounded colleagues or household members, tip your hat to the lunge.

Even better, all these benefits arise from just the standard lunge, and there are plenty of lunge variations to help expand the advantages you can get from the move. Once you’ve taken in the form guide for the standard lunge make sure you keep scrolling to find a range of options for mixing up the move and progressing.

How To Lunge

From a standing start, step forward with one leg and lower your hips until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your front knee above your ankle, rather than pushed out in front of it, and try to avoid your back knee touching the ground. As for your upper body, keep your back straight, your shoulders relaxed and your chin up. Make sure your core is engaged throughout the movement.

Then, when you’re pushing back up to the starting position, do so through your heels.

Aim for 20 lunges on both legs, or do them for a minute on each side, making sure the form on each and every lunge is perfect.

Form Tips

Like any exercise, the lunge will only make your body fitter and stronger if you perform it properly. It is a challenging exercise to get right – it requires balance, co-ordination and good posture, as well as muscle strength – so make sure you always keep to the following to keep each rep perfect.

Keep your chin up

This will correct your posture so you don’t end up staring down at your leading foot, which makes balancing more difficult.

Keep your chest up

This will ensure your upper body stays upright, which helps you lunge forwards and back smoothly, as well as keeping your spine in its natural alignment.

Brace your core

This will keep your upper body tight, improving your ability to lower into a lunge without falling over, and work your abs harder.

Tense your glutes

Do this just before you begin each rep to make sure you’re recruiting your buttocks and hamstrings, the two main muscle groups responsible for the movement.

Lunge Variations

Once you’ve mastered the standard lunge take a moment to pat yourself on the back, then move on to one of these variations.

Reverse lunge

A lot of lunge variations involve moving in different directions, but since you’ve mastered the standard lunge, let’s start on the sagittal plane (that’s forwards and backwards). Take a big step backwards and lower until both knees are bent at 90°, then push back up. Why go backwards? Well, the same muscles are involved as in a standard lunge, but by pushing back up and forwards in the second half of the movement the reverse lunge provides a closer approximation of the movements you’ll undertake in sport, so it helps to build functional power.

Side lunge

Another new direction to lunge in – two new directions in fact, because you have two sides to play with here. The side or lateral lunge is another move that mimics the movements of sports like football and rugby, where moving only forwards and backwards would make you a liability to your team, and it also enlists some extra muscles in your inner and outer thighs. From a standing position, take a big step to the side and lower until the knee on your leading leg is bent at 90°, keeping your trailing leg straight. Then push back up.

Clock lunge

Once you’ve nailed the form for forward, reverse and side lunges, put them all together and complete a clock lunge. Lunge forwards, to one sidem backwards and to the other side sequentially to hit the 12, 3, 6, and 9 hour marks on a clock face.

Walking lunge

If staying stationary starts to make you feel like a rat in a cage, take your lunge on the road (or over there at least) with the walking version of the exercise. Lunge forwards as normal, but instead of pushing back up move your back leg forwards so you go straight into another lunge, keeping your torso as low as possible as you move. The challenge of staying low and balanced as you move will help improve your core stability as well as strengthening your leg muscles. You can also do a walking reverse lunge, but there’s an obvious disadvantage to that – you can’t see where you’re going.

Jump lunge

The jump lunge is the most advanced variation here, but it’s still an exercise that almost anyone will be able to do once they’ve got to grips with the standard version. Start by stepping forwards into a classic lunge, but instead of pushing back up, power into the air by driving off your front foot and switch your legs in midair so you land ready to drop into another lunge on the opposite leg. This version of the lunge helps build explosive power in your legs and is a must-do move for runners looking to increase their speed.

Curtsy lunge

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step backwards with your right leg but bring your foot across to the other side of your body as you lower, finishing with the toes and ball of your right foot on the ground. Push through your left heel to return to standing. Complete all the reps on one side, then swap legs.

Pulse lunge

Lunge forwards as normal, then hold that position. Ensuring you remain balanced and keeping both feet on the floor, slowly rise straight up, then lower again. Pulse for 20 to 30 seconds on one leg, then switch.

Weighted lunge

The easiest way to increase both the difficulty and the benefit of a standard lunge is to add some weight. Hold a dumbbell in each hand by your sides or your shoulders, or clutch a kettlebell or sandbell to your chest as you lunge. If you plan on using a barbell, make sure you’re confident with the move and can keep your knees in line with your toes throughout. No matter the weight, pay attention to where you position it – you want the weight centred so you’re balanced. You can also add weight to all the lunge variations below once you’ve mastered the bodyweight versions of the exercises.

Lunge with overhead press

One step harder than the weighted lunge is the lunge with overhead press. Hold two dumbbells by your shoulders with palms facing. Perform a forward lunge and once your knees are bent at 90° press the dumbbells up. Reverse the movements to return to the start, alternating legs with each rep.

Lunge to step-up

You will need a box for this exercise, but that’s the least of your worries. This lunge-to-step-up is going to get your legs working on all kinds of levels – literally.

Stand in front of a box, then take a large step backwards to find your starting position. Perform a forward lunge towards the box, then push through the heel on your front foot and as you rise bring your back foot forwards and use it to step onto the box. Drive up so you end standing on the box.

Slowly step down and go straight into a reverse lunge to the starting position, one lunge’s distance from the box again.

Reverse lunge to knee drive

As we’ve mentioned, the reverse lunge is a better way to mimic the movements you make when playing sports than the forward lunge, and adding in a knee drive at the end of the move makes it an even more effective exercise for building the power and strength that are useful when running. Step back into your reverse lunge as normal, then when you push back up to standing, bring your trailing leg through and drive the knee up to chest height. Balancing on your standing leg also increases the movement’s challenge to your core.

Arm extended weighted dumbbell lunge

This is also known as the Statue of Liberty lunge, which is a useful way of picturing the position. Stand holding a dumbbell (instead of a flaming torch) in one arm above your head with your arm fully extended, with your other arm by your side – unless you want to hold a tablet to complete the Lady Liberty look. Keep the dumbbell above your head as you perform a forward lunge. The position of the dumbbell will increase the challenge to your core by making you work to maintain your balance throughout the exercise, and the extra weight will increase the benefits of the move in general.

Jake Stones

Jake was formely an intern for Coach and now contributes workouts from some of London’s top trainers. As well as training in the gym and running, he’s competed in the eight-hours-long overnight event Europe's Toughest Mudder twice and the 24-hours-long World's Toughest Mudder once.