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

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

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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. 

Also Known As: Lateral lunges

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

Level: Beginner

How to Do Side Lunges

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.

Begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Position your hands in front of your chest.

  1. Take a wide step with your left leg to the side of you. Both your toes should be pointed in the same direction and your feet should be flat on the floor.
  2. Bend your left knee as you step outward and keep your hips back. It should feel like you are trying to sit just one side of your lower body in a chair.
  3. Release the position by pushing off your left foot to return to the starting position.
  4. Perform one set of side lunges on your left leg, then switch to your right leg.
  5. Repeat for additional sets.

Benefits of the Side Lunge

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. 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.

Performing side lunges regularly can improve balance and stability (especially in the ankles and knees), 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.

Other Variations of the Side Lunge

You can perform this exercise in different ways to meet your skill level and goals.

Chair Balance Side Lunge

Having something in front of you, like a sturdy chair, may help with balance during this exercise. Just be careful not to lean too far forward if you are holding onto something in front of you. Hold on with your right hand when lunging to the left, and your left hand when lunging to the right.

Weighted Side Lunge

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.

Side Lunge With Upright Row

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Progress from holding weights stationary to an upright row. This adds a core challenge while also building strength in your shoulders.

  1. Begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart, holding a kettlebell with both hands in front of you.
  2. Take a wide step to the side with your left leg. Bend your left knee as you step outward.
  3. In the side-step position, lift the kettlebell straight up, flaring your elbows out and upward until your arms are parallel to the floor. Lower the kettlebell back down.
  4. Push off your left foot to return to the starting position.

Cossack Squat

The Cossack squat is similar to a side lunge, except you will go much deeper into the range of motion, turning your foot out at the bottom. This is a more advanced bodyweight movement.

  1. Begin as you would with a side lunge, stepping your left foot out the side.
  2. Once in the side-step position, continue to lower your glutes toward your left heel and turn your right foot out, pointing your toes toward the ceiling.
  3. Reverse to return to the starting position.

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 build strength and balance. On the other hand, taking too large of a side lunge can strain the inner thigh and groin 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. Using a mirror can be helpful to make sure your alignment stays on track.

Your leading leg (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.

Knee Going Past the Toes

Just as when you are doing squats and regular lunges, in side lunges 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 intense on the knee joint.

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 generally safe during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, but modifications may be necessary depending on fitness level.

Try It Out

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

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Riemann B, Congleton A, Ward R, Davies GJ. Biomechanical comparison of forward and lateral lunges at varying step lengths. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2013;53(2):130-138.

  2.  Melegati G. Musculoskeletal disorders among elite alpine skiing racers. In: Schoenhuber H, Panzeri A, Porcelli S, eds. Alpine Skiing Injuries. Springer International Publishing; 2018:91-102. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-61355-0_9

By Lacey Muinos
Lacey Muinos is a professional writer who specializes in fitness, nutrition, and health.