- 11 Lunge Variations to Level up Your Leg Workout
- What are lunges actually good for?
- What muscles do lunges work?
- How many lunges should I do?
- 1. Reverse Lunge Press
- 2. Jumping Dumbbell Lunges
- 3. CrossFit Jumping Lunge
- 4. Slide Lunge
- 5. Sprinter Lunge
- 6. Step-Up Lunge
- 7. Lunge Twists
- 8. Walking Lunge
- 9. Speedy Lunge Jumps
- 10. Jumping Lunges
- 11. Clock Lunges
- 12. Treadmill Incline Lunges
- 13. Alternating Reverse Lunges With Bicep Curls
- 14. Stationary Lunge
- 15. Super Slide-Lunge
- 16. Curtsy Lunge
- 17. Bench Lunge With Press
- 18. Cable Reverse Lunge With Row
- 19. Side Lunges
- 20. Static Disco Lunges
- 21. Squat Lunge
- 22. Reverse Lunge with Knee Lift
- 23. Deep Lunges
- 24. Lunge with Bicep Curl
- 25. Sumo Lunge Kick
- 26. Dumbbell Lunge
- 27. Reverse Lunge with Front Kick
- 28. Lateral Lunge
- 29. Lunge and Kick
- 30. Reverse Lunge with Twist
- 31. Walking Lunge with Halo Chop
- 32. Side Lunge with Bicep Curl
- 33. Backward Lunge Rows
- 10 Lunge Variations to Build Leg Strength
- Why Lunge Training?
- 10 Lunge Variations to Try
- Tips on How to Get the Most Out of Your Lunge Training
- Squat vs Lunge: Which One Sculpts a Better Butt and Legs?
- Squat vs Lunge
- Top 10 Lunge Variations
- If You Have Knee Pain
- Don’t Skip the Squats
11 Lunge Variations to Level up Your Leg Workout
Squats and deadlifts are the most popular lower-body exercises, but lunges are the unsung hero of leg exercises. The squat and deadlift are bilateral exercises, which means you’re using both sides of your body at the same time. Lunges are unilateral, which means one leg works more than the other.
The lunge is a very natural movement, similar to walking or running. Since most of your weight is on one leg, you don’t need as much resistance as a squat or deadlift. Less weight means less risk of injury. Lunges are also safer on your knees than the squat, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
With the lunge you can create interesting exercise variations that challenge your balance, strength and endurance. They’re difficult exercises, but worth the discomfort.
Here are 11 variations on lunges to strengthen your body and balance:
1. SLIDER REVERSE LUNGE
When working on your lunge form, it’s easier to start with a reverse lunge than a forward lunge. There’s less impact, meaning less stress on your knees. By adding a slider to the reverse lunge you take the impact out of the exercise completely.
The move: Start standing with a slider under one foot. Your toes should be in the middle of the slider with your heel off the ground. Slide back and drop your back knee toward the ground. Stop before your knee hits the ground. In the bottom position, both knees should be bent at 90 degrees. Pull forward with your front leg to stand up.
2. TRX LUNGE
If you’re struggling to perform a bodyweight lunge, you can use a TRX for some assistance.
The move: Stand, holding the handles of the TRX, and step back a few feet. Lean back against the TRX and step back with one foot. Drop your back knee down until it’s just above the ground, then stand back up.
3. GOBLET FORWARD LUNGE
The move: When you lunge, your torso should be as upright as possible. If you use dumbbells or a barbell for resistance, the weight can push your torso forward. To stay upright while adding weight, use a kettlebell or dumbbell in the goblet position. With both hands, hold the weight at chest-height. By holding the weight in front of you, it’s easier to lean back while dropping down into the lunge.
4. PENDULUM LUNGE
Test your balance with this lunge variation.
The move: Step forward and drop your back knee down into a lunge. Push off your front leg and step back with that leg into a reverse lunge. Drop your back knee down and drive forward, alternating between a forward and reverse lunge. Try to avoid touching the ground as you transition between the forward and reverse lunge to test your balance further.
5. SPLIT SQUAT
This is one of the simplest lunge variations, but it can be the most fatiguing.
The move: Start with a soft pad on the ground. Get into the bottom of a lunge position with one knee on the pad. Both knees should be at 90-degree angles and your torso upright. Keeping your feet in place, lift yourself up and back down to the pad. At the top, your legs should be almost straight. Complete the desired number of reps on one side, then switch legs.
6. REAR-FOOT ELEVATED SPLIT SQUAT
The move: You’ll need a bench or flat surface, like a chair roughly knee-height for this exercise. Stand 2–3 feet in front of the bench and put your back foot on the flat surface. You can either dig your toes in or leave the top of your foot flat. With your torso as upright as possible, drop your back knee down toward the ground. Go as low as you can until you hit the ground or you feel a stretch in your back leg. Then, drive up with your front leg until you’re back in the start position. Stay on one leg until you’ve completed the desired number of reps, then switch.
7. SKATER SQUAT
Think of this exercise as a reverse lunge where your back foot can’t touch the ground. It helps to use light weights, like 5–10 pounds, as a counterbalance.
The move: Stand in front of a pad with the weights in your hands. Drop your back knee toward the ground and reach the weights out in front of you. Your back knee should touch the pad but your foot should not hit the ground. Lean forward and stand up, driving through your front leg.
8. WALKING LUNGE
The move: Making sure you have plenty of room, start with dumbbells in your hands. Step forward with one leg and drop your back knee down into a lunge. Step forward and bring your feet together, then step with the other leg. Keep lunging forward until you run out of room or get tired.
9. REVERSE LUNGE WITH OVERHEAD PRESS
London-based certified personal trainer Lee Ryan uses this exercise to incorporate an upper-body challenge to the lunge, killing two birds with one stone.
The move: Start with a dumbbell in one hand. Step back with the same leg, drop your back knee to the ground, then drive through the ball of your foot to stand back up. Press the dumbbell up in the air as you stand back up until your elbow is straight. Complete 8–10 reps, then switch hands and legs.
10. GLIDER CURTSY LUNGE
The move: Perform this exercise with as much control as possible. Start with one foot on a slider. Slide that foot back and behind the foot that isn’t sliding. Keep your weight on the leg that isn’t sliding. Think about drawing a reverse “J” shape in the ground with your sliding leg, curling around the leg that isn’t sliding. Bend your front leg as much as possible as you slide back.
11. JUMP LUNGES
This is one of the most intense and high-impact lunge variations, so you shouldn’t try it unless you’re in need of a challenge.
The move: Start by dropping down into a lunge position. When both of your knees are at 90-degree angles, jump into the air and switch legs. Land quietly with soft knees, drop down into a lunge and repeat.
As a move, the lunge exercise is one of the highest ROI movements you can do. Engaging and strengthening large lower body muscle groups – hello, quad-burn – while also getting your heart rate up and endorphins kicking, yeah, we’re pretty into it.
Although, once you’ve nailed the proper way to do lunges, it might be easy to relegate the movement to ‘functional but not fun’.
Enter: lunge variations.
A sure way to spice up a workout, modifying and building on the basic lunge to add in kicks, free-weights and varying directions, could be the key to you falling back in love with the lunge.
Call on this lunge-library when you need inspiration or motivation; they’re not easy moves to do properly – we can tell you that for free.
What are lunges actually good for?
Related Story Related Story
Lunging is beneficial in more ways than one. Whether you’re trying to tone your quads, build your butt muscles or strengthen your calves, lunging is the perfect exercise to help you reach your goals. Better yet, the functional, multi-joint exercise can be modified to meet your fitness needs, so there’s really no excuse.
What muscles do lunges work?
As mentioned, a lunge is an exercise multitasker. It recruits your hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core and the hard-to-reach muscles of your inner thighs.
How many lunges should I do?
To build more strength which you’ll see in muscle tone you should be working in the 8-12 rep range. Too easy? Add weights.
1. Reverse Lunge Press
1/ Grab a pair of dumbbells and hold them at shoulder height, elbows bent and palms facing forward. Step your left leg back and bend both knees to lower your body into a lunge.
2/ In one motion, press through your right heel to stand, raising your left knee in front of you to hip height and pressing the weights directly overhead.
3/ Pause, then lower back to start. That’s one rep. Repeat on the other side.
2. Jumping Dumbbell Lunges
1/ Bring your front leg forward and drop your rear leg back.
2/ Explosively jump in place, switching legs in a scissor-like fashion. Inhale as you bend your legs before each jump, and exhale as you perform the jump.
Add 5kg dumbbells and work upwards.
3. CrossFit Jumping Lunge
1/ You know the lunge drill – take a big step forward, lower your back knee to touch the ground, then lift up and push off from the heel of your front foot back to the start.
2/ Right, time to speed things up. Swap legs in mid-air, jumping in between each rep to land into a deep lunge.
4. Slide Lunge
1/ Put one foot on a towel. Slide one leg out to the side keeping it straight but bending the supporting leg while reaching forward with your arms.
2/ Return to the start position pressing through the ball of the foot.
5. Sprinter Lunge
1/ Stand with one foot on a towel. Bracing your core, slide that foot back into a low lunge. Go on – lower than that.
2/ Explode back up by pushing through the heel of the stationary leg and raise your arms straight above your head. That’s one rep.
6. Step-Up Lunge
1/ Step up with your right leg onto a park bench and lift your left knee up towards your chest.
2/ As you step back with your left leg, bring your right leg back into a deep backwards lunge.
7. Lunge Twists
1/ Place your hands behind your head with elbows out, lunge forward with your right leg onto a park bench and twist your left elbow to meet your right knee.
2/ Step back into your starting position and repeat on the other leg.
8. Walking Lunge
1/ Like a normal lunge, take a big step forwards with your right foot in line with your right hip, keeping your knee tracking directly over your right foot.
2/ Engage your right quads and hamstring by pushing your foot into the floor, then stand up to step forward on to your left foot.
9. Speedy Lunge Jumps
1/ From standing, lunge your left foot forward so your leg forms a right angle, then drop your right knee down so it’s almost touching the floor.
2/ Jump up, alternating legs so you land back in a lunge. Fast as you can… without stacking it.
10. Jumping Lunges
1/ Start in lunge position and for stability make sure your back foot isn’t directly behind your front.
2/ Driving through the heel, push yourself up, bringing your back foot forward in mid air and landing in the opposite lunge position.
11. Clock Lunges
1/ First, lunge forward with your right foot (as though you’re stepping towards the number 12 on a clock). Return to the centre, then lunge backwards (6) before pushing back to centre.
2/ Still with your right leg, lunge directly to the side (3) bending your right knee over your right toes, keeping your left leg straight.
Return to centre and finally step your right leg behind your left (9), bending your left leg to accommodate. Got it? Good, now repeat on the left. That’s one set.
12. Treadmill Incline Lunges
1/ Standing on the belt, with the treadmill set at 5km/h and an incline of 12, step forward into a lunge.
2/ Then step through into another lunge and keep going.
13. Alternating Reverse Lunges With Bicep Curls
1/ Hold dumbbells at your sides with your feet hip-width apart. Step back with your left foot, and bend both knees to lower until your right knee is bent at least 90°.
2/ At the same time curl the dumbbells to your chest. Reverse the movement to the start position. That’s one rep.
14. Stationary Lunge
1/ Stand in a lunge position holding the weights by your side.
2/ Lower further until your back knee taps the floor. (Don’t linger.) That’s one rep.
15. Super Slide-Lunge
1/ Grab a Swiss ball and stand beside it with your feet shoulder-width apart.
2/ Step your right leg out into a deep side lunge, pushing the ball out with your right hand (tip: use the ball to balance), for five sets of 45 seconds.
16. Curtsy Lunge
1/ Take a big step back with your left leg, crossing it behind your right. Keeping your body upright, bend your knees until your right thigh is nearly parallel to the floor.
2/ Return to the start and repeat, alternating legs.
17. Bench Lunge With Press
1/ Ready for this? Right then. Holding a 5kg dumbbell in your right hand, place your left foot up on a bench.
2/ Step up explosively on to the bench as you press the weight up, then lower down.
18. Cable Reverse Lunge With Row
1/ Facing a cable station, grab a waist-height (or lower) cable in your right hand with your palm facing down, your back and arm straight and the cable taut.
2/ Now step back with your right foot and lower your body until your right knee is at a 90-degree angle.
3/ In one motion, pull the cable in towards your armpit while simultaneously lifting your right knee to waist height. It’s a bit like rubbing your belly and patting your head.
4/ Return to the starting position.
19. Side Lunges
1/ Place your feet wide apart. Keep your hands and the weights in front of you and in line with your hip bone. Bend your right knee, lunge to that right side and touch your weight to your foot.
2/ Come up to the centre, then repeat on the other side.
20. Static Disco Lunges
1/ Step into a lunge and stay there. Bring your arms into a Y shape.
2/ Push up with your front leg and return to the start position.
21. Squat Lunge
1/ Start with your feet hip distance apart, knees slightly bent and arms at 90º to your body holding a 1-2kg weight in each hand.
2/ Very slowly step your right foot out about 50cm (toes facing forward), left leg stays straight, right leg bends.
3/ Make sure you keep your core engaged and your right knee is in line with your right toe. Lift your arms directly in front of you.
4/ Return to the start, switch to the left leg.
22. Reverse Lunge with Knee Lift
Lizzy Thomas at lizzythomas.com
1/ Take a step back with your left foot, bending both knees 90° so your back knee hovers off the floor. Extend both knees and transfer your weight onto your right foot.
2/ At the same time, lift up your left foot, bringing your knee to your chest. Release your left leg from your chest and place it back on the floor.
Advanced challenge: As you bring your knee into your chest, add a small jump.
23. Deep Lunges
1/ Stand with your legs together holding a dumbbell in each arm.
2/ Step forward on your left leg with your left knee at a 90-degree angle and your right leg extended behind (make sure your left knee doesn’t go past your toe). Simultaneously touch your right hand to the ground and stretch your left hand to the ceiling, turning your torso slightly to the left.
3/ Press through the heel of your left leg and bring your right leg to stand. Now jog!
24. Lunge with Bicep Curl
1/ Get into a lunge position, with a 90 degree bend in each leg. Lift your back knee an inch off the floor and hold.
2/ Perform bicep curls with dumbbells for 30 seconds before switching sides.
25. Sumo Lunge Kick
1/ Stand with your legs shoulder length apart. Lift your right leg from the knee and move it in a circular roundhouse.
2/ Land out to the side, wider than you started and immediately squat down, channeling a real sumo wrestler.
3/ As you come out of the squat, lift your right leg and kick out, leading with your heel. Each element should flow smoothly into the next. There are no breaks in a sumo lunge!
26. Dumbbell Lunge
1/ Stand tall, holding your dumbbells.
2/ Now, take a step to one side, lowering yourself on your lead leg and sticking your bottom out. Push off your lead leg back to the start.
27. Reverse Lunge with Front Kick
1/ Keeping your abs tight, step back with your right foot and lower into a lunge until both knees are bent 45°.
2/ Next, squeeze your glutes as you push through your left heel and kick your right leg straight up in front of you.
3/ Repeat, alternating legs.
28. Lateral Lunge
1/ Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips.
2/ Take a big step to the side with your left leg, then bend your left knee, push hips back and lower until your left knee is bent 90 degrees. This should take around two seconds.
3/ Push back to start. Repeat, alternating legs.
29. Lunge and Kick
1/ Step your left foot to the side and sit your hips back to lower into a lateral lunge.
2/ Press through your left heel to shift your weight back on to your right foot, extending your left leg into the air, then reverse into the lunge.
30. Reverse Lunge with Twist
1/ Holding a 10kg weight in both hands, step back with your right foot.
2/ Lower down and twist your torso to the left, abs tight. Return to the start.
31. Walking Lunge with Halo Chop
1/ Step into a lunge making sure you keep your toe pointing forward and your knee at a 90° angle. As you step, lift your arms above your head and rotate them in an anti-clockwise circle as though you’re drawing an invisible halo.
2/ Bring your alternate leg forward and land it in lunge – while you swing your arms in a clockwise circle. Keep going for 60 seconds.
32. Side Lunge with Bicep Curl
1/ Stand feet together. Hold dumbbells at chest level. Lunge on your right leg, so your left remains straight.
2/ Simultaneously straighten your arms out in front of you. Return to start position and repeat on other side.
33. Backward Lunge Rows
1/ Stand holding a 7.5kg dumbbell in each hand then step back into a reverse lunge.
2/ From the lunging position, lift both weights up towards your hips, then straighten your arms behind you as you step back to the standing start position.
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Morgan Fargo Morgan is WH’s digital fitness writer with a penchant for brutal HIIT classes and thick post-workout smoothies.
10 Lunge Variations to Build Leg Strength
The lunge is a movement used by most strength, power, and fitness athletes to increase leg strength, squatting and pulling abilities, increase unilateral performance, and increase injury resilience. The lunge has a wide array of variations that can be programmed to fit the specific needs of an athlete and further increase strength, hypertrophy, and sports performance.
In this article we will discuss:
- The Importance of Lunge Training
- 10 Lunge Variations You Should Try
- Tips on How to Get the Most Out of Your Lunge Training
Why Lunge Training?
Lunges are a unilateral leg training exercise that can build strength, address movement and muscle imbalances, and enhance bilateral squatting, deadliting, and athletic movements.
Strength, power, and fitness athletes can integrate lunges into programs in numerous of ways (see last section below). Powerlifters, strongman, and weightlifters can select lunges as part of a mass building phase to adding training volume or as a strength movement to swap out with lunges to decreased overall loading to the body yet still challenge the lower body.
For general fitness and everyday athletes, lunges can help with movement, coordination, and unilateral strength; all of which are important in actions like walking, running, jumping, and bilateral leg training (squats, deadlifts, jumps, etc).
10 Lunge Variations to Try
Below are ten (10) lunge variations that can be used (and should be) by strength, power, and fitness athletes looking to build serious leg strength and muscle mass.
The reverse lunge is done by having an athlete simply step one leg backwards into a kneeling position. In doing so, the athlete can better eccentrically load the hamstrings and glutes, while still loading the quads similar to most lunges.
The walking lunge is a dynamic unilateral lower body exercise that has a broad application across most strength, power, fitness, and lifestyle training. The walking lunge can be performed using most forms of resistance (barbell, dumbbell, etc) and done with various loading placements as well to diversify one’s fitness, movement, and abilities.
Stationary Lunge / Split Squat
The stationary lunge, also called the split squat, is a basic lunge variation that is done without dynamic movement (as opposed to the walking lunge or stepping lunge variations). This can be useful for athletes who may struggle with balance and coordination, and is often the first variation done with lifters prior to more advanced variations such as Bulgarian split squats and walking lunges.
Bulgarian Split Squat
Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is a stationary lunge done with the back foot elevated, which increased the amount of loading placed in the front leg. This exercise is one of the premiere unilateral strength and balance exercises done in powerlifting, Olympic weighting, and functional fitness. This variation, unlike most other lunges, forces the lifter to not only place higher amount of their bodyweight on the lead leg, but also use the front leg exclusively to stand up.
Front-Foot Elevated Reverse Lunge
Front foot elevated reverse lunges are done similar to a reverse lunge, with the only difference is that the lifter steps backward off a plate or small box, which increases the amount of knee flexion in the front leg as they step back. This can help to further isolate the quadriceps (of the front leg) due to the greater knee flexion.
The forward lunge is the opposite of the reverse lunge, as the lifter steps forwards and then steps back to the start position. By stepping forward, you for the lifter to eccentrically control the load as the step forward, which can increase quadriceps strength and hypertrophy.
The lateral lunge is done by the lifter stepping lateral (to the side) so that the other leg is fully extended. The lateral lunge can be done to increase lateral quadriceps development, increase knee stability, and be used as a lunge variation to help lifters and athletes become more injury resilient to directional changes (in sport or life). Lastly, this can be used to increase hip function which can further enhance squat and lower body performance.
Front Racked Bulgarian Split Squat
The front rack Bulgarian split squat is a Bulgarian split squat performed with the barbell in the front rack (same as the front squat) position. This is an extremely taxing and challenging lunge variation that can increase quadriceps development, unilateral leg strength, and reinforce an upright torso positioning for squatting.
The jump lunge can often be applied to the stationary lunge, reverse lunge, and sometimes the Bulgarian split squat. This are a plyometric lunge variation is often done with bodyweight of very little load to increase unilateral leg power.
Tempo training can be done with nearly every exercise on this list, even tempo eccentrics in the jump lunge. Tempo lunges can increase time under tension (muscle development), unilateral leg strength, balance, and overall unilateral lunge performance.
Tips on How to Get the Most Out of Your Lunge Training
Below are three (3) tips on how you can start integrating lunges into your current workout program to build unilateral leg strength, increase leg hypertrophy, and improve hip and knee function.
Add Lunges to Your Warm-Ups
Adding lunges to a warm-up is one of the easiest way to introduce new movements and prime bilateral exercises (such as back squats and deadlifts). By using the lunge in a warm-up routine, you can stimulate new muscle fibers, improve coordination and balance, and isolate muscles needed for that session’s harder work. In addition, this is a low-volume way to build up unilateral strength and balance so that you can progress using lunges in a more strength and hypertrophy-based program.
Swap Squats for Lunges
Swapping lunges for squats, especially during strength blocks, can be a good way to vary up training stimulus, increase hip and knee stability, and build serous strength and hypertrophy without running the risk of neural fatigue and/or nagging overuse injuries. Lifters who experience pain or nagging issues squatting multiple times per week could take few weeks to swap out one of those days for a lunge variation, which often can help increase stability, muscle development, and movement patterning specific to the bilateral squat.
Enhance Muscle Growth with Lunges
Unilateral training has been shown to increase muscle hypertrophy, due to increase muscle activation and often time under tension (balance and stability may increase time duration). Lunges can be done after main strength and power blocks to add quality loading to the quadriceps, gluteals, and hamstrings without having to load the spine and fatigue the central nervous system (due to unilateral exercises often not having to be done with nearly as much loading as bilateral movements).
Featured Image: Mike Dewar
You don’t have to leave home to get a great workout. You just have to keep a few essential moves in your back pocket. There are many total-body exercises that I love, but these “around the world” moves are especially fun. There’s just something about themed workouts that make getting active all the more exciting, right?
The following workout was designed as a circuit, which means you complete each move for the required number of reps before starting the next move. Then, after you complete each of the three moves, you do it all over again!
Around the World Lunges: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, then lunge forward with your right foot. Push back up to standing, then take your right foot out laterally to complete a side lunge. Return to standing, then reach your right foot back and complete a backward lunge. Once you push back up to standing again, repeat the series on your left side to complete one rep.
Around the World Push Ups: Get into plank position. With your core tight and your body forming a straight line, complete a push up. Lift your right arm and flip yourself over into a reverse plank. Complete a triceps dip before lifting your left arm and returning to the push up position. Make a lot of space for this move, because you’ll be traveling! One push up and one triceps dip make one complete rep.
Around the World Squats: Stand with your feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell (or any other heavy object!) at chest height with both of your hands. Squat down then push through your heels to return to standing. Circle the dumbbell above your head before returning to the starting position. That’s one rep.
Weight Loss Coach Stephanie Mansour and TV Personality Jenny Milkowski team up again to bring you an awesome partner workout! You don’t have to travel far to get a great workout in with these around the world lunges.
Get ready to sweat with your favorite workout buddy! You will feel the burn. You will lunge low. You will . . . hold hands.
Yes, these around the world lunges are about as awesome as a trip to Paris. Oiu oiu, it’s true! OK, each has it’s own perks. This one is great for the glutes and Paris is great for the gluten-lovers. But enough about that–on to the workout!
Get your butt, legs, and core strong with this fun partner exercise. Watch the video for great fitness tips on proper form and technique. OK, and for laughs.
Steph & Jenny
As a private weight loss coach and a private fitness coach for women, I specialize in helping successful women lose weight.
If you’re looking for a life coach, a wellness coach, or a confidence coach in Chicago and beyond, you’ve come to the right place! As a certified personal trainer for women, Yoga Instructor in Chicago, Pilates Instructor in Chicagoland, and certified professional life coach in Chicago, I work with successful women across the country as a private weight loss coach for women.
For more inspiration, join our FREE 21 Day Challenge at stepitupchallenge.com
Squat vs Lunge: Which One Sculpts a Better Butt and Legs?
by: Yuri Elkaim
“If you absolutely had to choose …”
We’ve all been there, caught between one amazing choice versus another of the same greatness. How can you choose? It’s almost impossible – and as a result, we usually don’t.
But I’m going out on a limb today to make a choice – to tell you which exercise I think sculpts a better butt and legs.
The contenders are squats vs lunges. Now, the choice isn’t easy but after careful analysis …
The Winner Is …
(Gasp!) I know. But I have my reasons, and they’re based on substantial evidence.
Squat vs Lunge
Lunges have a leg up (get it?) when it comes to sculpting a tight butt and legs for a number of reasons.
1. Muscle Activation
Both the lunge and the squat activate the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes at different stages of their movement. However, even though forward lunges activate more of the quads than the glutes and hamstrings, other lunge variations – which you’ll see below – effectively target both the glutes and hamstrings.
Not to mention, lunges also mimic a wide range of natural, functional movements such as walking, running, sprinting, and climbing/going up stairs, making them excellent for developing everyday strength.
Also, since the movement occurs on just one leg, lunges activate more stabilizer muscles. These muscles involve our core and help our spine remain stable during real-world and sport-specific movements.
Surprisingly, Bulgarian split-squats (a variation of the traditional lunge, which has the rear foot elevated on a bench or box) also elicit similar activity in the rectus abdominis and erector spinae muscles as squats (1).
- The 10 Best Glute Activation Exercises for a Stronger, Tighter Butt
2. Correcting Imbalances
Lunges are also excellent for correcting muscle imbalances in one or both legs, since you are able to isolate each leg. This gives you the ability to balance out your strength in both legs, which can aid in spinal alignment and possibly help with low back pain.
3. Huge Variety
It’s no surprise that lunges offer more variations than the squat, giving us the opportunity to reach more muscle groups with one type of movement.
As you’ll see below, lunges aren’t limited to standard forward lunges, but can also include lateral lunges and curtsy lunges, both of which target more of the outer and inner thigh muscles.
Top 10 Lunge Variations
So, we know that lunges trump squats when it comes to variations, but this list below will surprise you with just how many kinds of lunges there actually are.
These lunge variations are listed from least difficult to most difficult, so choose based on your fitness level. Add several into your lower body routine 2 to 3 times per week to start sculpting lean stems.
1. Forward Lunge
The forward lunge is an excellent starting point for building up the leg strength required to perform the more difficult variations. It will engage your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, tying them all together to create sculpted, lean legs.
- Begin standing tall, avoiding rounding your shoulders.
- Extend your right leg in front of you and lower into a lunge until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Make sure your knee is behind your toes at all times.
- Push back to standing through your heel, engaging your glutes.
- Repeat on your left leg and alternate for 10 to 15 reps on each leg.
2. Lateral Lunge
Lateral lunges get your inner and outer thighs involved in the lunge game, so you can be assured your entire leg and hips are getting their share of burn.
- Begin by standing with feet hip-width apart. Making sure to point your knee in the same direction as your foot, take a large step to the right, pushing your hips back.
- Lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping your knees behind your toes and your spine straight.
- Return to your starting position by pushing through your heels.
- Repeat, alternating sides, for 10 to 15 reps on each leg.
3. Curtsy Lunge
Once a way to show respect to kings and rulers, now an epic glute-targeting exercise.
- Begin standing tall (avoid leaning forward during this exercise).
- Cross your right foot behind your left and lower into a lunge. You should feel your left outer hip and glute engaging.
- Return to standing, alternating legs, for 10 to 15 reps on each leg.
4. Reverse Lunge
The reverse lunge puts more emphasis on the glutes as opposed the the forward lunge, which hits the quads harder.
- Keeping your spine straight, extend your right leg behind you while lowering into a lunge with your left leg.
- Push to standing through your left glute.
- Repeat, alternating legs, for 10 to 15 reps on each leg.
5. Walking Lunge
Walking lunges are a great way to get in all of the benefits of the stationary lunge, while also working your stabilizer and core muscles. You’ll also get a nice boost to your heart rate, making these a great addition to a fat-burning high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout.
- Standing tall, lunge your right foot forward and lower into a lunge.
- Push forward off your right heel and lunge forward with your left leg.
- Continue lunge-walking for a total of 20 to 30 reps, being sure to keep your knees behind your toes with every lunge.
6. Swing Lunge
The swing lunge is essentially a standard forward lunge combined with a reverse lunge. With its continuous movement, you’ll really feel the burn in your gluten and quads.
- Begin by standing tall (you can hold dumbbells if you’re looking for an extra challenge).
- Lunge forward on your right leg, making sure your knee stays behind your toes.
- Return to standing, pushing through your heel. Now, instead of stopping here, extend the same leg behind you into a reverse lunge.
- Repeat for a total of 10 to 12 reps, then switch to the other leg.
7. Stationary Lunges
Stationary lunges challenge your entire working leg, sculpting the hips, glutes, and quads in a single-leg fashion.
- Begin with your feet hip-width apart. Extend you right leg forward and lower into a lunge (thigh parallel to the ground).
- Instead of pushing back to standing, simply push through your glute to straighten you right leg, then lower once again.
- Repeat for 10 to 15 reps, then switch legs.
8. Bulgarian Split Squats
Bulgarian split squats are excellent for single-leg isolation — great for if you’re trying to correct muscle imbalances. They’re also good for engaging and strengthening the stabilizer muscles due to the balance required to lunge on one leg.
- Begin by placing yourself in a staggered stance (one foot forward) with one foot propped behind you on a bench or box.
- Lower into a lunge by bending your knee, being sure to keep your spine straight. Lower until your thigh is parallel to the ground.
- Push through your heel to return to your starting position and repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
9. Weighted Lunge
For weighted lunges, you’ll need either a barbell or dumbbells of a challenging weight.
- Assuming you’re using dumbbells, grab a dumbbell in each hand, resting them at your sides.
- When you’re ready, lunge forward on your right leg, lowering to parallel.
- Push back to standing through your heel, then repeat on your other leg.
- Alternate sides for a total of 8 to 10 reps per leg.
10. Switch Lunge
Switch lunges are a heart-pounding, total-leg burning lunge variations that work well in HIIT workouts.
- Begin standing tall. Lower into a lunge by extending your right leg behind you.
- Now, instead of slowly returning to standing as you would during a regular lunge, explode up, switching your legs so that you come down into a lunge on your right leg.
- Repeat for 8 to 10 reps (or more, if you’re up for it!).
If You Have Knee Pain
If your knees are cranky and you can’t perform lunges, there are still a few alternatives that can still get your legs toned.
Extend your legs in front of you, keeping your back flat against a wall. Lower into your thighs are parallel to the floor, knees at a 90-degree angle, and hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
Shallow Stationary Lunges
Stagger your legs so that one is in front of the other, feet about hip-width apart for balance. Slowly lower into a mini-lunge (about 3 to 4 inches) and pulse for 10 to 20 reps. Repeat on your other leg.
Begin with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent.
Hinge forward at your hips and grasp either your barbell or a pair of dumbbells. Keeping your spine straight, chest up, and weight close to your shins, return to standing by engaging your glutes. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
Begin lying on your back on the floor. With feet hip-width apart, push your hips skyward through your glutes and heels. Pause for 2 seconds at the height of the movement, then lower. Repeat for 10 to 15 reps.
Don’t Skip the Squats
A final word: just because lunges win this leg-sculpting battle, doesn’t mean you can’t get your squat on.
In fact, along with a wide variety of other leg exercises, you should include squats in your routine.
If you’re looking for a place to start that has plenty of options, check out this post.
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Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.