How to Do Side Lunges

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

woman performing a side lunge outside

Getty Images / undrey

Also Known As: Lateral lunges

Targets: Lower body (glutes, hamstrings, quads, and inner thigh muscles)

Level: Beginner

Lunges are an effective exercise that targets the lower body. Specifically, they work the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. A type of lunge that also incorporates the inner thigh muscle is the side lunge (also known as a lateral lunge).

If you have any imbalances in your legs, you may want to incorporate lunges. While exercises like squats work both legs at the same time, side lunges target the legs individually. This helps you strengthen your stabilizing muscles, improve your balance, and create symmetry on both legs. 

Side lunges may also be gentler on the lower back than squats, though they tend to be more difficult than squats since they require ample balance.

To get started, you will not need any special equipment because sIde lunges are bodyweight exercises. As you progress, you can add weights and therefore increase the difficulty of the movement. Add side lunges to your lower body workouts a couple of times per week to target those leg and glute muscles.

Benefits

Like regular lunges, side lunges are a lower-body exercise. They primarily target large muscle groups in the legs, such as the hamstrings and quads. Lateral lunges also work the inner thigh muscles like the adductors and the outer glutes.

Performing side lunges regularly can improve balance and stability, which is beneficial for day-to-day life activities. Having good balance makes it easier to go from sitting to standing, prevents falls, and contributes to improved form when exercising.

Building leg strength with side lunges can be especially helpful for people who like to ski. When skiing, the inner thigh muscles, like the adductors, are engaged. Since side lunges build strength in the outer and inner thighs, they are great movements to use to prepare for a ski trip or competition.

Step-by-Step Instructions

Side Lunge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

If you are familiar with lunges, learning side lunges is a natural progression. You will need plenty of space on either side of you. For beginners, no special equipment is required. As you build your strength, you may choose to add weight to this exercise (such as a kettlebell pictured above) or continue with bodyweight alone. Aside from equipment used during the exercise, a towel is optional, and a water bottle is strongly recommended.

When you are ready, here is how to safely and effectively perform side lunges:

1. Begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart.

2. Position your hands in front of your chest.

3. With your left leg, take a wide step to the side of you. Both your toes should be pointed in the same direction and your feet should be flat on the floor.

4. As you step outward, bend your left knee and keep your hips back.

5. Release the position by pushing off your left foot to return to the starting position.

6. Perform 10 side lunges on your left leg, then switch to your right leg. Repeat for additional sets.

Common Mistakes

Though side lunges are beginner-friendly, it is important to practice proper form to minimize the risks of injury. Avoiding these common mistakes will help you improve your form.

Lunging too shallow or too deep

Taking too small of a side step while lunging does not properly build strength and balance. On the other hand, taking too large of a side lunge can strain the inner thigh and loin area. Knowing how big of a step to take when performing a side lunge is not a perfect science, but it is an important factor to get right.

Your leading leg (or the leg you step out with) should be at a 90-degree angle as you bend your knee and your other knee should be straight out and just a few inches off the ground.

Leaning forward

In the deepest point of the side lunge, your leading leg knee is forward and your hips are back, so it may feel natural to lean your upper body forward. However, this will throw off your balance and may result in slouching and poor posture. Though the side lunge does not target the back, you want to keep your back as straight as possible since curving your back can cause strain.

Leading leg knee goes past the toes

There are many things that squats, regular lunges, and side lunges have in common. One common consideration is that your bent knee (the side you are lunging on) should not go past your toes. This places more of the weight on your quads and may be intensive on the knees.

Modifications and Variations

Side lunges are a beginner-friendly exercise, but people at different levels of experience with this movement may need modifications or more challenging variations.

Need a Modification?

Side lunges require good balance and coordination. If this is a challenge for you, start with a shallow version of the side lunge to understand the form. When you feel more confident in your ability to balance during the movement, you can try a full side lunge. Though a shallow lunge will not result in a deep stretch, and the muscles may not feel challenged, it is a good starting point for true beginners.

Having something in front of you, like a chair or sturdy piece of furniture, may also help with balance during this exercise. Just be careful not to lean too far forward if you need to hold onto something in front of you.

Up for a Challenge?

To add intensity to your side lunges, graduate from bodyweight only to holding dumbbells in each hand. Instead of positioning your hands in front of your chest, keep your arms at your sides. As you lunge to the side, the knee of your leading leg should be in-between your arms, each holding a weight.

Not only does adding weight make this exercise more advanced, but it also contributes to progressive overload. As you progress, you can continue to increase the weight of the dumbbells. This helps you increase your lower body strength and helps to build muscle over time. You can also use a kettlebell for an added challenge.

Safety and Precautions

Engaging in any type of exercise, whether it’s bodyweight or weighted side lunges, should be taken seriously to prevent injury or strain. 

People with existing knee injuries should be especially cautious. If you experience any knee pain or discomfort when performing side lunges, release the exercise immediately and speak with a health care professional. 

Side lunges are safe for most pregnant women during the first and second trimesters, but modifications may be necessary. 

Try It Out

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

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