How to Do Walking Lunges

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

walking lunge
Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Targets: Quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, calves, core

Level: Intermediate

Walking lunges function as an excellent exercise to target all the major muscle groups of your lower body while simultaneously improving your balance and core strength. This movement is familiar to most people—it involves taking wide forward steps, bending both knees, and lowering your back knee to the floor while keeping your torso upright and tall.

Unlike stationary lunges, walking lunges present an added challenge: You have to maintain your balance while stepping forward between each lunge, shifting your weight and body position while temporarily standing on one leg.

Considering how important balance and stability are for functional fitness, this type of added challenge is particularly helpful for preventing falls and fall-related injuries.

Generally speaking, walking lunges are a strength-training exercise for the lower body, and as such should be included in strength training routines. That said, because they engage multiple muscle groups and joints, when walking lunges are performed for high reps or time, they can also send your heart rate soaring. This makes them a good option to incorporate into circuit training or high-intensity interval training routines designed to do double-duty for strength and cardiovascular benefits.

Benefits

Walking lunges challenge your entire lower body and core, making them an excellent movement to incorporate into just about any workout, from warm-up to strength training routines. Specifically, you can expect to "feel the burn" in your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, while also feeling engagement through your abdominals and low back.

Any compound exercise that simultaneously works multiple muscle groups is considered a functional exercise that mimics movements of everyday life, making you stronger and better for the types of movements basic living requires. For instance, every time you're on the floor, you have to get up by using some variation of squat or lunge. Likewise, because walking lunges help you develop better balance, if you get bumped or knocked into, or if you trip and have to try to catch yourself, you'll be better prepared with the strength and body awareness required to reduce the likelihood of falls or injury as you take a "recovery step" (often a wide or long one) to catch yourself.

Finally, because walking lunges require very little equipment or space, you can incorporate them into just about any workout in any location. You can add a few sets while at the park. You can do them in your living room or hallway, or you can even do them in a hotel room or on a beach while traveling. They're a great way to develop lower body strength—no gym required.

Step-by-Step Instructions

As a bodyweight exercise, you need very little to get started with walking lunges. Most importantly, you need an open space where you can take at least 6 wide strides in succession. The more room you have, the more lunges you'll be able to take without having to turn around. Parks, gymnasiums, and open hallways are all good options, but even an open living room will suffice.

  1. Stand with your feet roughly hip-distance apart. Check your posture before starting—your torso should be upright and tall, core engaged, your shoulders back and chin lifted. Look straight ahead.
  2. Take a wide step forward with your right foot—plant it roughly two feet ahead, allowing your left heel to lift naturally as you step forward. You may want to put your hands on your hips, or you may want to swing your arms naturally—elbows bent at 90-degrees—as you take each step.
  3. Keep your core engaged and upright. Bend both knees and lower your back knee toward the floor. Stop just before it touches down. Breathe in during the lowering (or eccentric) phase of the exercise.
  4. Press firmly through your right heel and extend your right knee to rise to standing as you lift your left foot from the ground, swinging your left foot forward to plant it about two feet ahead of your right foot. Avoid leaning your torso forward from your hips as you take this step. Breathe out as you rise to standing (the concentric phase of the exercise).
  1. Continue stepping forward with each lunge, alternating sides as you do. If you find yourself losing balance as you walk, pause at the top of each lunge, when your feet are next to each other. Gather your balance, then continue.
  2. Finish your set by bringing your back foot to meet your front foot on the final lunge.

Common Mistakes

Compound exercises that use multiple muscle groups often come with pitfalls and common mistakes—mainly because there are so many joints involved, it's easy to slack off on form or not notice where you're getting something wrong. Lunges are one of the biggest culprits, and form tends to suffer most as you get tired.

Take your time and pay attention. If you can, perform the exercise in front of a mirror until you feel comfortable with it so you can catch mistakes as they happen.

Feet Too Close Together While Stepping

Pay attention to your foot placement as you take each forward step. You want your feet to remain roughly hip-distance apart (or slightly wider) to offer a good base of support for balance and stability.

If your feet are too close together, where the heel of your forward foot is aligned with the toes of your back foot, you're much more likely to lose your balance. As you walk forward, your stride width should feel natural—as though you were simply taking longer strides with your normal gait.

If you take steps forward as if walking on a tightrope, with one foot aligned directly in front of the other, you're going to make the exercise even more challenging to perform, and you're altering your gait in a way that makes it harder to maintain proper alignment.

Taking Steps That Are Too Long

Another common mistake is overstriding. Yes, during lunges, your steps should be longer than usual, but they shouldn't be so long that you create an uncomfortable stretch through your groin as you lower your back knee to the floor.

Rather, take long steps, but plant your front foot just about two or two-and-a-half feet in front of your back foot. When you perform the lunge, both knees should be able to form roughly 90-degree angles at the bottom of the movement.

Leaning Forward From the Hips

During walking lunges, you're constantly moving forward, and there's a strong tendency for your torso to start leaning forward to "help" you shift as you lunge. This typically happens when you're trying to speed through a set and you use the momentum of a forward lean to help you drive into each lunge. It also happens frequently if you're overstriding—taking longer steps than necessary for each lunge.

The problem is that you disengage your core and could end up hurting your low back if you're not careful. Slow down and pay close attention to your chest as you walk—it shouldn't start leaning toward the ground. Keep your abdominals and core muscles engaged and try to keep your torso roughly perpendicular to the floor throughout each lunge. Looking forward, with your eyes on the wall in front of you, can also help.

Lifting the Front Heel While Lunging

Another common misstep (pun intended) when you get moving too fast through walking lunges is the tendency to lift your front heel from the floor as you bend your knees and lower yourself toward the floor. The problem is that this throws the alignment of your front leg out of whack, placing more strain on your knee.

You want to keep your front heel planted throughout the entirety of the lunge itself—your lower leg roughly perpendicular to the floor, your knee aligned over your heel—only allowing your front heel to lift after you've stepped your back leg forward for the next repetition.

Slow down and check your form at the bottom and top of each lunge—ask yourself if your heel is still engaged with the floor—and check to make sure your front knee isn't extending over your toes. Paying close attention and taking your time are the best ways to identify and solve this problem.

Front Knee Alignment

One final mistake that's common for all forms of lunges is the alignment of the front knee as you perform the lunge. The knee should remain in alignment with the toes throughout the exercise. Some people have a tendency for their knees to "cave" inward (known as knee valgus), toward the body's midline, increasing the likelihood of knee pain or injury.

Slow and steady wins this race. Take your time as you lower your back knee to the ground and watch your front knee as you lower and stand. If you notice your knee shifting inward, try to engage the muscles of your hips and glutes to draw the knee into alignment with your toes.

Modifications and Variations

There are almost endless opportunities for modifications and variations when performing walking lunges. Start with these options.

Need a Modification?

If you want to try a walking lunge, but your balance is a little iffy, pause with your feet together between each forward stride. In other words, after taking one forward lunge with your right foot, as you rise to standing, bring your left foot forward and plant it on the ground hip-distance from your right foot. Pause here, making sure you're well-balanced, then continue by stepping your left foot forward to perform a lunge on the opposite side. Think of it as the "bridal walk" of walking lunges.

Up for a Challenge?

The easiest way to make walking lunges more challenging is to add weights to the exercise. Simply grab a set of dumbbells, or a couple of kettlebells, and carry one in each hand while performing the movement. Take your time and move with precision to ensure you're maintaining perfect form while taking on this added challenge.

If you feel like you need an even greater challenge, hold a dumbbell in each hand, with your arms extended straight overhead for the entirety of each set. This overhead walking lunge variation requires even greater core engagement while also torching your shoulders and arms in the process.

Safety and Precautions

As a bodyweight exercise, as long as you're paying close attention to your form, the walking lunge should be fairly safe for most people. Remember to keep your abdominals and lower back engaged—this will help with balance while reducing the likelihood of tipping over.

It's fairly common for people with knee pain to struggle with lunges. Consider trying the exercise with a smaller range of motion—only lowering a few inches with each lunge—if deeper lunges cause pain. You can also try step ups as a modification. Step ups tend to be easier on the knees while targeting the same muscle groups due to the change of angle of the motion (stepping up and lifting your body to meet the first leg, rather than stepping forward and lowering the body into a lunge).

Lunges are an excellent lower-body exercise that will definitely cause a natural "burning" sensation in your working muscles as your muscles fatigue. This is normal. What's not normal is any sharp or shooting pain. If you experience a sudden feeling of pain that's not associated with normal, working muscles, stop the exercise.

Try It Out

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

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