Lunges….Probably one of the hardest, most uncomfortable exercises you can perform….but so beneficial!, All is explained in the BodyFit Definitive Guide to Lunges.
Lifting weights tears your muscle fibers, forcing your body to repair them. The process of your body healing those microscopic muscle tears causes your muscles to grow bigger and stronger. Whether your goal is to build muscle for functional strength or for looks, it’s up to you to choose which muscles to build to create the physique you desire.
No matter what your ultimate goal is, maintaining a balanced physique is crucial. Why? Well, muscle imbalances between the sides of your body can result in pain over time as the stronger side works overtime to compensate for the weaker side. In order to create a balanced physique, it’s important to perform unilateral exercises regularly, and one of our favorite unilateral exercises is the lunge.
The basics of a lunge
Put simply, the lunge is a unilateral lower body movement. It’s kind of like a squat, but it’s performed with one leg in front of you and the other behind you. During a lunge, you’ll bend your front leg to about 90 degrees while keeping your hips square and your upper body perpendicular to the ground, as upright as possible.
Depending on the lunge variation, your back leg may also be bent at 90 degrees, or it might be extended farther behind you or elevated on a step, box, or bench.
Benefits of lunges
Everyone’s body has a dominant side (typically the side of the hand you write with), and that side is generally stronger than the non-dominant side. When it comes to exercise, this means that your dominant side may unintentionally handle more than its share of the load when you do movements that involve both arms or legs, like squats, barbell bicep curls, or barbell bench press.
So how do we combat overcompensation by our stronger side? As we laid out above, unilateral movements like lunges are the way to go. These movements allow you to create balance between the sides of your body by letting each side handle the load on its own. That is, when your right leg is in front of you as you lunge, it’s your right leg that’s doing the work, and vice versa. Unilateral movements also make it much easier for you to focus on the connection between your mind and the muscle you’re working, rather than just “going through the motions”.
Lunges are an incredible addition to your leg training regimen as they work a variety of different muscles at once, including your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Since your weight is distributed between your feet instead of directly over them, lunging also requires balance, forcing your calves and core to act as stabilisers throughout the movement.
Perhaps the most fun thing about lunges is that you can make small tweaks to your foot positioning or weight distribution to specifically target the muscles you want to build. Elevating your front or back leg, increasing or decreasing the distance between your feet, or holding dumbbells in each hand or a barbell across your shoulders can make all the difference to your lunge workout.
Go ahead, give the classic lunge a try! Once you’ve mastered the classic, challenge yourself by incorporating other lunge variations from our guide to lunges, into your workouts — we’ve listed all of our favorites below.
Step one foot in front of you and distribute your weight evenly between your feet. Lower yourself until both knees are at 90 degree angles.
As you progress, you can add weight to the classic lunge by holding a dumbbell in each hand or a barbell across your shoulders, or even by holding dumbbells, a barbell, or a weight plate overhead!
Step right foot behind you while you bend your front knee to 90 degrees. Return to starting position and repeat on the left side.
For a different challenge, try an elevated reverse lunge. Begin by standing on a bench or box, then step the back leg down to tap the ground before returning to the starting position.
Bulgarian split squat
The Bulgarian split squat is just a fancy name for a lunge performed with your back leg elevated on a bench or step. If you’re new to this exercise, start with just your bodyweight. As you progress, you can add weight by holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Stand in front of a bench or step, then reach your right leg back and place your toe on the elevated surface. Try bending your front leg to 90 degrees; if the angle isn’t quite right, adjust your distance from the elevated surface.
Keeping your upper body as upright as possible and most of your weight on your front foot, lower yourself by bending your front leg to 90 degrees. That’s one rep. Complete 10 reps on each leg.
To do a lateral lunge, you’ll be stepping out to the side instead of to the front or back, placing greater emphasis on your side hips and glutes.
Start with your feet together, then step your right foot out to the side and slightly in front of you while bending your knee to 90 degrees. Your toes should track in the same direction your toes are pointing, but your knee shouldn’t pass over your toes. If necessary, you can step slightly farther forward to avoid this.
Set yourself up as if you’re doing a reverse lunge, but instead of stepping your right foot directly behind you, step it behind and across your body to the left, as if curtsying. Return to center and repeat with the opposite leg.
Walking lunges can be performed with just your bodyweight or while holding a dumbbell in each hand or while resting a barbell across your shoulders as in a back squat. You’ll want to make sure you have enough space ahead of you to take at least 10 big steps — an empty gymnasium, group fitness room, or long hallway are all perfect spaces for this.
Take a big step forward with your right leg so that it reaches a 90 degree angle with your thigh parallel with the ground. Then bring your left foot forward to meet it, propelling yourself with the strength of your front leg. Alternate until you’ve done 10 lunges, then turn around and lunge back to where you started for a total of 20 lunges per set.
Correct lunge form
No matter what form of lunge you’re performing, there are a few key pointers you can employ to make sure you’re using proper lunge form.
The importance of utilizing proper form as you exercise is twofold: it ensures you work the muscles you intend to work, and it ensures you won’t get injured!
Lunge form tips:
- At the bottom of the lunge, your front leg should be bent at a 90 degree angle
- Always make sure your knee points in the same direction as your toes
- Don’t let your knee pass over your toes
- As you return to the starting position, always press your weight through the heel of the stationary leg, not the toes
- Keep your body as upright as possible throughout the movement — you’ll need to engage your core to do so.