Lunges are usually used to sculpt and strengthen the buttocks and thighs. This is often considered as a body weight exercise, but it also uses weight resistance because you can perform lunges while holding weights to make them more difficult. Lunges work large areas of muscle and increase your heart rate and mobility, making them ideal for a warm up exercise. Increasing the difficulty can also make lunges ideal to help sculpt your lower body.
What Muscles do Lunges Work?
- Hip muscles. Lunges work all of the gluteal muscles in the hips, primarily the gluteus maximus that is used to extend your hips. Taking large steps during a lunge can further engage this muscle. The gluteus minimus and gluteus medius are also used to stabilize your body throughout the lunge.
- Thigh muscles. The quads in the thigh are one of the primary muscle groups engaged during a lunge. All four quadriceps are used to extend the knees. These are worked more extensively when taking smaller steps. The hamstrings are used to keep the knees stable and help to extend the gluteus maximus in the hips.
- Abdominal muscles. During a lunge the transverse abdominis muscle is compressed to help support the abdominal walls. You will also use the obliques to help the torso remain stable and upright while moving the hips out to the side during a lunge.
- Lower leg muscles. The soleus muscles in the calf are used when you flex the back leg, particularly when the heel is raised. You also use the gastrocnemius muscles in the calf to keep the knee stable while you lunge.
Lunge Variations to Better Work Those Muscles
Sliding Lunges. Place your feet hip-width apart with the ball of your left leg on a gliding disk or paper plate. Bend your right leg and slide the left foot backward into your lunge, keeping the back leg slightly bent and the front knee behind the toes. Slowly slide the back leg back into place while raising yourself back up into your starting position. Make sure you keep your weight on the front leg to ensure you have control of the foot you are moving. Perform 8-16 reps per leg.
Barbell Lunges. Take a medium-heavy barbell and place it on the meaty portion of your shoulders, using a pad if necessary. Place the right foot in front of your body and the left behind, making a point of keeping the torso engaged and straight. Lower yourself toward the floor, keeping your front knee above the ankle and lowering the back knee straight down. Do not allow the back knee to touch the floor. Use the heels to push yourself back up into your starting position. Perform 10sets on each side.
Side Lunges. Step out to the side with your right foot. Make a point to keep the toes facing forward and the left leg straight. When your right foot reaches the ground, bend your hips, pushing the glutes backward until all of your weight is on the right leg. Lunge until your shin is vertical with the floor and the right knee is lined up with the toes. Keep your heels flat. Use your heels to push yourself back up into the position when you start. Perform 10-15 sets per leg.
Split Squats. Set up a platform of elevated blocks and stand around three feet in front of this platform. Place your left leg on the blocks, resting the top of your foot or your toes on the blocks. The feet should be far enough apart that your front knee is behind your toes during your lunge. Take a moment to ensure you have your balance and bend your knees to lunge downward then push on your front heel to return yourself to your starting position. You can hold hand weights to make this exercise more challenging. Repeat 10-16 reps on each leg.
Sliding Side Lunges. Place your feet hip-width apart with the ball of your left foot on a glider or paper plate. Bend your right knee with your weight on the heel and slide your left foot to the side, keeping the right knee behind the toes and the torso engaged and upright. Press on the plate, allowing you to contract your inner thigh while you slide your left foot back in place. Repeat on each leg for 10-15 sets.
Low Lunges. Take a split stance with one foot forward and one foot back while holding weights in both hands. Bend your knees while bringing your hands down to the floor. Engage your abs and pull the shoulders back then use the heel of the front foot to lift your body up halfway, then lower yourself back down. Perform 10 sets on each leg.
One-Leg Lunge with Reach. Place your left shin or foot on an exercise ball while holding a medium-light hand weight in the right hand. Bend your right knee to lunge while rolling the exercise ball out using your left leg. Stop when your left leg is straight and your front knee is bent at a 90 degree angle with the knee behind the toes. Squeeze your right leg and use the left to roll the ball back to where you started. Perform 10-16 reps on each leg.
Lunge Deadlifts. Set up a platform behind you and stand in your lunge position. Rest your back foot on the platform, ensuring that there is enough room for you to keep the front knee behind the toes when you lunge. Bend your knees and lower your torso toward the front leg, bringing your hands down to the floor. Keep your abs engaged while you straighten your front knee in a deadlift position. Bend your knee to push yourself back up into your starting position with the torso straight. You can hold hand weights to make this exercise more difficult. Perform 8-10 reps on each leg.
Cautions for Doing Lunges
In order to get the most from lunges, you should:
- Performing a lunge properly will help you avoid putting excess strain on your joints. Make sure your upper body remains straight. Keep the chin up and the shoulders back and relaxed. It may help to pick a point in front of you to stare at so keep your body in line. Engage the core throughout the exercise for the best results.
- Step forward with one of your legs and lower the hips until both of your knees are at a 90 degree angle. Check to ensure that the front knee is above the ankle instead of pushed out in front. Do not allow the back knee to touch the floor. Make sure that your weight is on the heels to push yourself back into your starting position.