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

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Lunges are a powerful exercise, allowing you to shape and strengthen almost every muscle in the lower body. Learn to do them with good form and this exercise can become a valuable part of a strength training or circuit training workout.

Targets: Quads, hamstrings, glutes, hips, and calves

Level: Beginner

How to Do a Lunge

Lunge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Stand in a split stance with the right foot roughly 2 to 3 feet in front of the left foot. Your torso is straight, the shoulders are back and down, your core is engaged, and your hands are resting on your hips.

  1. Bend the knees and lower your body until the back knee is a few inches from the floor. At the bottom of the movement, the front thigh is parallel to the ground, the back knee points toward the floor, and your weight is evenly distributed between both legs.
  2. Push back up to the starting position, keeping your weight on the heel of the front foot.

Benefits of Lunges

The lunge is a multi-joint exercise that can help tone and strengthen many muscles in the lower body. This includes the quads (front of the thighs), hamstrings (back of the thighs), glutes (buttocks), and calves (back of the lower leg).

Your hip flexors are stretched during the lunge. This improves their flexibility and counteracts the shortening and tightening that can happen when you sit for long periods. You also engage your core muscles for stability, which can help you maintain balance and prevent injuries.

Another benefit of lunges is that they are a functional exercise. This means that they mimic actions you take throughout daily life, such as when picking something up from the floor. Since lunges work large lower-body muscle groups, it may even improve your metabolism.

When compared to other lower-body exercises such as squats, the split stance used in lunges changes the load on your body, allowing you to work each leg more independently.

Other Variations of the Lunge

The lunge has many variations, enabling beginning exercisers to make it more accessible and advanced exercisers to increase the challenge.

Assisted Lunge

With this lunge variation, you hold a stationary object like a wall or chair for better balance. This allows you to focus on form without worrying about tipping to one side or the other. Place the palm of your hand on the object to steady yourself as you lower down and raise back up.

Stand so that the wall or chair is beside you and closest to the leg that is farther back.

Half Lunge

This variation involves a smaller range of motion because you only lower down half as far as in a standard lunge, stopping well before your front knee is at a 90-degree angle. This can help you keep good form without placing as much stress on the knee joints.

Front Foot Elevated Lunge

Placing your front foot on a step or small platform is another modification to try if regular lunges make your knees ache. Make sure your entire front foot is on the step or platform and lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor.

Dumbbell Lunge

You can add intensity to your lunge by holding dumbbells during the move. A dumbbell lunge follows the same basic steps except that you're holding a weight in each hand and your arms are hanging at your sides versus resting on your hips.

Start with light weights and progress when you are able to do the required reps with good form.

Dumbbell Lunge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Barbell Lunge

A barbell allows you to use heavier weights when lunging since the weight is more evenly distributed over the body. It's important to have good balance before trying this version. Hold the barbell across the top of your shoulders when doing these lunges.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Forward Lunge

In this moving lunge variation, start by standing upright with your feet slightly apart, then take a large step forward. Lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor. Your front knee stays over your toes. Next, press up through your front heel to return to a standing position.

You can also do this lunge with dumbbells in each hand as you progress (as shown below). Because this variation requires more balance, it should only be attempted after you're able to master a basic lunge.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Forward Lunge With Reach

This move is great for the entire body and will challenge your balance and core strength. Step into a forward lunge position and fully extend your arms forward, as if pointing the tips of your fingers toward a spot that is a few feet in front of you. Return the hands to your hips when standing back up.

Sliding Lunge

If you want a lunge variation that is even more challenging to your core and quads, the sliding lunge delivers. Get into a split stance position with a paper plate under the back foot. Slide the back foot farther back as you lower into a lunge position, pulling it back in as you return to standing.

Side Lunge

The side lunge emphasizes the inner thighs, along with the hips and glutes. Stand with your feet together, then take a wide step out to the right (feet are pointed forward).

Bend the right knee and lower your body down, making sure your front knee doesn't extend past your toes. Straighten the right leg and step back in, returning to the starting position.

Adding a paper plate to the side lunge turns it into a sliding side lunge and creates even more challenge for the inner thighs.

Rear Leg Elevated Lunge

Elevating the back leg makes the traditional lunge more advanced and puts more emphasis on the quadriceps muscle of the back leg.

Rest the top of the back foot on a bench or exercise ball and do your lunges in this position. Hold dumbbells and extend them in front of you as you lower down for even more challenge, as pictured.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Low Lunge

Unlike a traditional lunge, this variation requires a tighter, smaller move. This really challenges the glutes and thighs of the front leg while engaging the core.

To do it, step as far back as you can with the back foot and bend your front knee to lower your body while keeping the back leg straight. Then straighten your front leg to return to the starting position.

Lunge

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Lunge Deadlift

This advanced exercise engages the hamstrings and glutes of the front leg in a more focused way. Step forward into a lunge and hinge forward at the hips while moving the dumbbells toward your front ankle. Return your torso to an upright position and stand up as you bring your front leg back.

Verywell / Ben Goldstein

Common Mistakes

Avoid these errors that can reduce the effectiveness of the lunge or even lead to strain or injury.

Lunging Too Far Forward

During lunges, it's easy to put too much stress on the knees by allowing this joint to extend past the toes. While your knee may come forward a bit, focus on taking the body down as you lunge rather than taking it forward.

Another key point is to keep the front knee in line with your second toe throughout the lunge. It may help to tuck the hips a bit during the movement and check your form in a mirror.

Externally Rotating the Back Knee

Because lunges can compromise your balance, you may externally rotate the back knee in an attempt to find stability. Some people may even naturally rotate the back knee due to different biomechanics or ingrained habits they've picked up over the years.

Twisting the knee out or in during a lunge can lead to pain and injury. If you feel pain in the back knee, check your alignment in a mirror to make sure you're not rotating the knee in or out without being aware of it.

The back knee should point to the floor at the bottom of the lunge.

Stance Too Close or Wide

Each person has a different stance based on height, leg length, and what feels comfortable. However, keeping the feet too close together puts much of the force on the knees while taking them too far apart can compromise flexibility in the back leg and add to an already unstable position.

Check your stance by getting into a lunge position. Lower all the way down, resting the back knee on the floor (make sure you're on a mat or other padded surface). Doing this allows you to see if you have a 90-degree angle in both knees. If you don't, adjust your stance.

Safety and Precautions

If you have a knee injury or condition, talk to your doctor or physical therapist to see if the lunge should be avoided or modified. (Keep in mind that even modifications may not work for everyone.) If you are pregnant, limit yourself to only static lunges during the third trimester.

Another factor to be aware of is the flexibility of your quads and hip flexors. If these areas are tight, your form might be compromised and you may even feel a pulling sensation on the kneecap.

Avoid this by either shortening your range of motion and/or stretching the quads before your lunges. If you feel pain at all during the lunge, end the exercise immediately.

Beginners can start with one exercise (such as a basic lunge) and do one to two sets of 10 to 16 reps, adding weight when you feel comfortable. Intermediate and advanced exercisers might choose one to three lunge variations for each workout, performing one to three sets of 10 to 16 reps.

Repeat all of the reps with one leg before switching sides (right-right-right, left-left-left). Though, if you do forward lunges, you may wish to alternate your legs (right-left-right-left).

Try It Out

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

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4 Sources
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