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The lunge is a great exercise for targeting many muscles to your lower body, helping to improve functional strength, balance, and coordination.
It’s also very versatile as it can be performed as a bodyweight exercise, or you can add resistance by making use of dumbbells or kettlebells.
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In this article, we’ll look at the various advantages of adding lunges to your regular exercise routine, as well as the different muscles worked along, with some useful tips to ensure you perform the exercise with proper form.
What Is A Lunge?
The lunge is a multi-joint compound exercise that challenges almost all the muscles in the lower body.
It’s also considered a functional exercise meaning that it replicates movements you may perform in your daily life such as stepping forwards, backwards or to the side.
There are several variations of the lunge exercise including the reverse lunge, walking lunge and the elevated lunge, all of which work the muscles differently and have varying degrees of difficulty.
How To Do A Lunge Exercise?
The forward lunge, sometimes called the stationary lunge, is the most basic variation of this exercise.
Here’s how to perform the movement:
- Start by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Take a large step forward with one leg. This is your starting position.
- Inhale and drive your hip and your knee forward, bending your back knee towards the floor.
- Be sure to control the descent so you don’t stress your knee joint.
- Pause when both knees are bent to 90 degrees.
- Exhale and push through your front foot to raise back to the starting position.
- Perform your desired number of reps and then switch to work the other leg.
Lunges Muscles Worked
The lunge exercise primarily works the quadriceps, glutes, adductors, and calf muscles.
Secondary muscles worked are the core and upper back, which engage to help stabilize the upper body throughout the movement.
The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle of your buttocks, responsible for hip extension.
It’s engaged when you push your hips forward and stand up from the lunge position.
The calf muscles, specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus, stabilize and support your ankles during the lunge.
They help you to maintain balance and control as you move up and down and alternate during the lunge.
The quadriceps consists of four muscles located at the front of your thigh; three vastus muscles and the rectus femoris.
These muscles extend the leg at the knee joint and flex the thigh at the hip joint.
They work when you’re pushing back up from the lunge position.
The more you bend your knees, the more your torso is upright, and the more quad emphasis the lunge will have.
The adductors are a group of muscles located on the inner thighs.
These muscles help stabilize your legs during the lateral lunge, which involves sideways movements.
They also play a role in bringing your legs back after a side lunge.
The core muscles, particularly the transverse abdominis (TrA) and obliques, stabilize your spine and pelvis during the lunge.
They help maintain balance and prevent wobbling or twisting as you ascend back to the start position.
Engaging your core muscles during a lunge allows you to perform the movement smoothly and safely.
Tips When Performing the Lunge
- At the bottom of the movement, your shoulder, hip, and knee should form a straight line.
- Keep your head and chest upright and don’t allow your upper back to round.
- Avoid taking too large or too small a step forward as this can impact your form.
- Keep tension on your back leg to help keep your pelvis stable.
- At the bottom of the exercise, the shin of your front leg should be vertical with your knee directly above your ankle.
- Don’t allow the knee of your front leg to travel beyond your toes as this could stress the knee joint.
- Think of the exercise as moving down and not forwards.
What are the Different Lunge Variations
Below are just a few of the different types of lunge exercises that you can perform.
The Walking Lunge
The walking lunge is a dynamic lower-body exercise that combines the lunge movement with walking, making it a more challenging variation of the stationary lunge.
The muscles worked during a walking lunge are the same as the stationary lunge being the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves whilst also engaging the core helping to promote balance and coordination.
The Reverse Lunge
The reverse lunge involves stepping backwards as opposed forwards.
It’s often advised to hinge forwards at the hips before stepping back to increase your range of motion.
When it comes to muscles worked, the reverse lunge will allow for greater activation of the glutes and hamstrings with less emphasis on the quads and calf muscles when compared to a stationary lunge.
The Side Lunge
The side lunge, also known as the lateral lunge, involves stepping out to the side and lunging down.
It’s a variation of the standard lunge that targets different muscles and movement patterns.
The side lunge primarily works the inner thighs (adductors), quads, hamstrings, and glutes, whilst also engaging the core for stability.
The Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat, sometimes known as the elevated split squat, elevates your back foot allowing for greater hip flexion and increased activation of your quadriceps.
The Front Elevated Split Squat
The front elevated split squat is a lunge variation that requires you to elevate your front foot.
As with the elevated split squat, this increases the range of motion but also reduces the load on the front knee.
This is a good option if you’re new to the lunge exercise.
Benefits of the Lunge Exercise
The lunge exercise comes with an array of benefits, with the most notable being that it works several muscle groups of the lower body at the same time.
This benefit makes it an important exercise in strengthening and injury prevention programs, such as the Athletics Injury Prevention Program and the Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) Injury Prevention.
This is because it helps to develop a balanced and functional lower body strength.
Here are the other benefits of the lunge exercise:
- Helps correct muscle imbalances between the left and right sides of your body.
- Helps build lean muscle and reduce body fat.
- Improves the flexibility of the hip flexor muscles, which are important for maintaining proper posture, promoting fluid movements, and preventing lower back discomfort.
- Activates the gluteal muscles, developing stronger, more defined buttocks while also supporting hip alignment and stability.
- Lunges that incorporate dynamic movements, like jump lunges or walking lunges, can elevate heart rate, thus contributing to cardiovascular conditioning.
- Strengthens the muscles of your lower body, contributing to better posture.
- Can be performed with or without weights and adapted to different fitness levels, making the exercise suitable for both beginners and more advanced athletes.
Lunge exercises not only strengthen, sculpt, and tone your lower body but also improve your overall fitness and athletic performance.
They work the large muscle groups in the body, which helps build lean muscle and reduce body fat.
As you use your stabilization muscles, it’s also a great way of developing balance, coordination, and stability.
They’re also hugely versatile and can be performed in many ways allowing you to target different muscles.
When you’re ready to progress, simply incorporate a pair of dumbbells giving your muscles some added resistance.