How to Lunge

Proper Form, Variations, and Common Mistakes

Targets: Lower body

Level: Beginner

Lunges are a powerful exercise, allowing you to shape and strengthen almost every muscle in the lower body—the hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Lunges are tougher than squats because the split stance puts you in an unstable position, which challenges your balance. The stance also changes the load on your body, allowing you to work each leg more independently. Learning to do them with good form, you can make them a part of any strength workout or circuit training workout.

Benefits

The lunge is a multi-joint, functional exercise. It mimics actions you take throughout daily life as well as in athletic activities. As it works your large lower body muscle groups, it builds these muscles and improves your metabolism. You also engage your core muscles for stability, which can help you maintain balance and prevent injuries. Your hip flexors are stretched, improving their flexibility and counteracting the shortening and tightening that can happen when you sit for long periods.

Step-by-Step Instructions

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  1. Stand in a split stance with the right foot forward and the left leg back The feet should be about 2 to 3 feet apart, depending on your leg length. The split stance will require balance, so hold onto a wall or chair if you feel wobbly Before you lunge, make sure your torso is straight and that you’re up on the back toe.
  2. Bend the knees and lower the body down until the back knee is a few inches from the floor.
  3. At the bottom of the movement, the front thigh should be parallel to the floor and the back knee should point toward the floor. The weight should be evenly distributed between both legs.
  4. Push back up, keeping the weight in the heel of the front foot.
  5. Repeat for all reps before switching sides.

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 both squats and lunges, it's easy to put too much stress on the knees by going forward and allowing the knee to move too far over the toes. While your knee may come forward a bit, you should focus on taking the body down as you lunge rather than 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 as you lunge 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 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 is one move that can lead to pain and injury. The back knee should point to the floor at the bottom of the lunge. 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.

Another factor to be aware of is the flexibility of your quads and hip flexors. If these areas are tight, your form may be compromised and you may even feel a pulling sensation on the kneecap. You can avoid this by either shortening your range of motion and/or stretching the quads before your lunges.

Stance Too Close or Too Wide

Each person will have 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 rather than on the glutes, hamstrings, and quads, which is where it should be. Taking the feet too far apart may compromise flexibility in the back leg and add to an already unstable position.

You can avoid this by watching your form in a mirror or, if you don't have one available, 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 check and see if you have a 90-degree angle in both knees. If you don't, you can adjust your stance.

Modifications and Variations

The lunge has many popular variations. Beginners can make it more accessible as they develop strength and coordination. You can change it up to exercise your muscles in new ways as you progress.

Need a Modification?

If regular lunges bother you no matter which ones you do, below are a few modifications to try before you give up on them completely. Keep in mind that even modifications may not work for everyone. If you feel pain, skip the exercise and substitute a different version or try one of the alternatives listed below.

  • Assisted lunges: With this move, you use no weight and hold onto a wall or chair for balance. This allows you to focus on your form without other distractions.
  • Smaller range of motion: In this move, you only lower down halfway, which may help you keep good form without putting pressure on the knees.
  • Elevated front foot: Placing the front foot on a step or small platform may be another modification to try if regular lunges make your knees ache.

If lunges won't work for you, there are other exercises that will challenge and strengthen the lower body. Not all of these exercises will work for each person so, as with lunges, you should skip any exercises that cause pain.

Up for a Challenge?

You can add intensity to your static lunge by holding a dumbbell in each hand. Start with light weights and progress as you are able to do the required reps with good form.

Static lunges are great, but adding variety to your workouts will help you engage the glutes, hips, and thighs in different ways and add a whole new dimension to your training. Below are just a few examples of lunge variations:

  • Forward lunge: In this variation, you start each rep standing upright with feet slightly apart. You keep your torso upright as you take a large step forward, flexing the forward knee and taking the weight onto that leg. You slowly lower your hips till your thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee is almost touching the floor. Your front knee stays over your toes. You 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.
  • Barbell lunge: A barbell allows you to use heavier weights since the weight is more evenly distributed over the body. You should have experience and good balance before trying this version.
  • Sliding lunge: Using a paper plate under the back foot helps you engage more quads and work on balance and stability.
  • Side lunge: The side lunge emphasizes the inner thighs along with the hips and glutes.
  • Sliding side lunge: Adding a paper plate to the traditional side lunge creates more challenge for the inner thighs.
  • Split squat: Elevating the back leg makes the traditional lunge more advanced and puts more emphasis on the quad of the back leg.
  • Low lunge: This move offers a tight, small move that really challenges the glutes and thighs of the front leg while engaging the core.
  • Lunge deadlift: This advanced exercise engages the hamstrings and glutes of the front leg in a very focused way.
  • One-leg lunge with reach: This move is great for the overall body and will really challenge your balance and core strength.

If you're an intermediate or advanced exerciser, you can choose one to three different lunges (such as a static lunge, one-leg lunge with reach, and a sliding side lunge) for each workout, performing each for one to three sets of 10 to 16 reps. If you're a beginner, start with one exercise (such as basic static lunges) and do one to two sets of 10 to 16 reps, adding weight when you feel comfortable.

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. If you experience knee pain during lunges, end the exercise. Make sure you're using good form and modify it to eliminate this problem. If you have any balance issues, practice the lunge near a wall or bench where you can steady yourself. Do not attempt more advanced versions of the lunge until you have perfected your form with the static lunge. Have a friend or trainer watch you to correct your form. In pregnancy, limit yourself to only static lunges during the third trimester.

Try It Out

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

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