How to Do Dumbbell Lunges: Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

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Also Known As: Dumbbell stepping lunge

Targets: Quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves

Equipment Needed: Dumbbells

Level: Beginner

The dumbbell lunge is basically a giant step forward. Although this exercise can be done without weights, using dumbbells provides additional work for the upper leg and buttock muscles. This functional exercise is a great addition to any lower body strength routine as well as circuit training workouts.

How to Do a Dumbbell Lunge

woman doing dumbbell lunge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

You will need an area where you can take one big step. Choose dumbbells of a weight that will enable you to complete the exercise sets you have chosen. If you're new to exercise, start with a light weight.

Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. Hang your arms at ​your sides. Palms face the thighs (hammer grip) and feet are a little less than shoulder-width apart.​

  1. Inhale and take a big step forward with your right leg, landing on the heel.
  2. Bend at the knee until the right thigh approaches parallel to the ground, but without letting the right knee go past the tip of the toes. The left leg is bent at the knee and balanced on the toes while in the lunge position.
  3. Step the right foot back on an exhale to return to the starting position.
  4. Repeat the motion with the left leg.

Lunges with weights require good balance. If you have issues keeping your balance, start off by doing the exercise without weights as you learn the proper form. Also, don't lift the rear foot too far onto the toes until you get a feel for this exercise. You'll get better as you practice.

Benefits of Dumbbell Lunges

The quadriceps muscles (front of the thigh) are the main target of the lunge. One of the four quad muscles—the rectus femoris—also acts as a hip flexor, drawing your torso toward your thigh.

You use your quads to straighten the knee from a bent position and help keep your kneecap in the proper position. Healthy quads improve balance and mobility. You use these muscles when cycling, climbing stairs, and walking (especially uphill).

As your balance is challenged during a lunge, stabilizer muscles of your back and legs also come into play. This compound exercise even employs the gluteus maximus of the buttocks, the adductor magnus of the inner thigh, and the soleus of the calf. Add this together and you get a much more functional exercise.

Athletes in sports that involve running need to strengthen the quads to balance them with the hamstrings. As a weight-bearing exercise, the lunge can help maintain bone health.

Other Variations of the Dumbbell Lunge

The dumbbell lunge can be done in different ways to make it more accessible for beginners or provide a way to progress as you become stronger.

No Weights for Beginners

Practice the stepping lunge without weights until you are able to do it with good form, especially if you have balance issues. Once you are able to do the move correctly with just your body weight, add light weights. You can increase the weight as you are able to do the exercise correctly.

Longer Steps

Taking shorter steps forward makes this primarily a quadriceps exercise while taking a longer step will also exercise the gluteus maximus. When taking longer steps, keep your upper body straight and core engaged.

Weight Placement Changes

The dumbbell lunge can also be performed with dumbbells held at the front of the shoulders or a barbell on the shoulders, behind the neck. These are more advanced versions and should only be done if you have no balance issues.

Dumbbell Walking Lunge

Another challenging variation is the walking lunge (pictured without dumbbells). Rather than returning to a standing position, you bring the rear leg forward into another lunge and continue this pattern as you move around the room.

Walking lunge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

 

Dumbbell Lunge With Biceps Curl

Make further use of the dumbbells by adding a biceps curl while in the lunge position. To do it, step forward into a lunge, hold the position while curling the weight up, lower the weight, then return to a standing position.

Common Mistakes

Be aware of these errors that can lead to injury or reduce the effectiveness of this exercise.

Knee Extending Past Toes

Be careful that the knee of the forward leg does not extend past the toes as you bend the leg. This can aggravate the knee joint and lead to an injury.

Leaning Forward

Keep your back straight and your torso upright as you lunge. If you find yourself leaning forward or rounding your back, draw in your abs before taking a step. Use a lighter weight or no weight until you are able to keep an upright form.

Knee Misalignment

The back knee should be in line with your body and pointed at the floor at the bottom of the lunge. If you have balance problems or lack flexibility in your hip flexors or quads, you might turn the knee outward or inward.

This can lead to knee pain. If you find you are doing this, shorten your stance until you are able to do the lunge with the correct form.

Improper Stance

If your feet are too close together, this places more of the force on your knees rather than your thighs. If they are too far apart, you won't be able to bend the rear leg as much and your lunge will be less stable. Adjust the width of your stance to find the right distance.

Safety and Precautions

Avoid the dumbbell lunge if you have pelvic instability problems or an ankle injury. If you have a knee or hip problem, do shallow lunges rather than deep lunges and use lighter weights. Keeping the knee from extending past the toes is critical to preventing injury.

If you feel any joint pain in your knee, hip, or ankle, end the exercise. Since the dumbbell lunge requires balance, you may wish to avoid it during the third trimester of pregnancy or do it with one hand in contact with a wall for stability.

If you are new to exercise, start slow and perform just a few reps until you build up strength in your quads. Then work your way up to two or three sets of eight to 12 lunges per set.

Try It Out

Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts:

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