How to Perfect Your Lunge

What if there was one simple exercise that could firm your butt, shape your legs, increase hip flexibility, add muscle strength, and promote balance?

There is! It’s called a lunge. The lunge is known as the perfect lower body exercise, and with that long list of benefits you can see why. So why don’t we take more advantage of such a great tool? Maybe it’s because “simple” doesn’t mean “easy." Or maybe it’s because when you do a “bad” lunge your knees or hips end up hurting and you assume lunges just don’t work for you. The truth is that when done properly on a healthy person, lunges actually strengthen all the muscles surrounding those achy joints, helping to prevent knee and hip injuries. Let’s look at the ways you can add this move to your life and perfect your lunge!

Benefits of Lunges

Learn how to perfect your lunge with these easy tips.

The list at the top would seem to cover most of what you need to know, but let’s look a little closer:

Glutes: Lunges target the glutes and help achieve a tighter, firmer, stronger backside when, in many other lower body moves, the quads take over and don’t allow the glutes to fire.

Legs: A simple forward lunge targets muscles not only in the abdomen, hips and glutes, but targets all legs muscles including quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.

Flexibility: The lunge helps increase flexibility in the hips and hip flexors because it uses such a big range of motion, stretching out those particular spots that usually end up being short and tight.

Increased Strength: The lunge utilizes the largest muscles in the body. This muscle increase will add to your overall fat burn, rate of metabolism and increase the daily caloric burn.

Core and Balance: It’s more than just engaging the core during a lunge—though that DOES take place. Lunges are a unilateral exercise, meaning they train each side independently so that the strength of the body is “evened out." Often when you stick to bilateral exercises—such as a squat—the strong side overcompensates for the weak side without you knowing or thinking about it. In addition, it teaches your body (particularly your core) to work out any balance issues.

Common Mistakes During Lunges

So now that we know the good stuff, let’s take a look at the ugly. Lunges can be the best exercise, or they can be the worst! Done improperly, a lunge can wreak havoc on your knees, ankles or hips. Here are some common mistakes seen when performing a lunge.

  • Leaning forward: Keep your spine tall and long. Imagine you have a bowl of water on your head and you don’t want to tip it.  
  • Rounded upper back: Keep your shoulders back and chest open.
  • Knees bowing in:: Keep your knees pointing the same direction as your toes.
  • Stiff bag leg: Your back knee bends at least 90 degrees, just as your front leg does. Both knees must bend.

Who Should (Or Shouldn't) Do Lunges?

As with most physical endeavors, different bodies experience different things. Not everyone can or should perform a lunge. If you have had knee surgery, hip surgery or any kind of injury that feels painful at the knee joint, avoid lunges and check with your doctor or physical therapist. If you have osteoarthritis in your knee, avoid any deep knee bends, including lunges. A good substitute would be a bridge pose or a wall squat using a stability ball from the American Council on Exercise.

Lunge Variations

Lunges come in as many varieties and flavors as apples, but before you branch out to all the options, take a look at how to perform a proper lunge. Once you get the basic lunge form down correctly, keep it consistent throughout all the lunge variations and have some fun! Remember—you can also add dumbbells, barbells, or other tools to make the lunge even more challenging.

Stationary Lunge

A) Stand tall with your feet hip distance apart then take a large step backward with one foot. This is your start position.

B) Lower the back knee to a 90 degree angle so both knees are bent then press up to start position and repeat.  After desired number of reps, switch legs.

Alternating Forward Lunge

A) Stand tall with your feet hip distance apart.

B) Take a large step forward and lower your body toward the floor.  Both legs should be bent at a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the lunge. Push off front leg to rise back up to start, and repeat on the other side.

Kick Through Lunge

A) Stand tall with your feet hip distance apart. Take a large step backward with the right foot and lower your body toward the floor. Both legs should be bent at a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the lunge.

B) Straighten your left leg and kick your right foot forward to hip height or higher if possible. Repeat for desired number of reps then switch legs.

Elevated Lunge

A) Begin by standing a few feet in front of a step and reach left foot back so toes are on the bench and heels lifted.

B) Bend the right knee, lowering your body toward the floor until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. If your right knee extends in front of your ankle when you lower, move your right foot farther forward.

C) Squeeze the glute as you press yourself back to start, keeping the weight in your right leg. Continue moving down and up for desired number of reps and switch sides.

Cross Behind Lunge

A) Begin standing with your feet hip distance apart.

B) Transfer your body weight onto your left leg and cross your right foot behind your left leg keeping your hips facing forward as you bend both knees and lower yourself toward the floor in a lunge. Keep your back straight and chest lifted to keep your weight in the front leg. Step back to start position and repeat on the other side.

Reverse Lunge

A) Stand tall with your feet hip distance apart.

B) Take a large step backward and lower your body toward the floor.  Both legs should be bent at a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the lunge.  Rise back to start and repeat.

Walking Lunge

A) Stand tall with your feet hip distance apart. Take a large step forward with right foot and lower your body toward the floor.  Both legs should be bent at a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the lunge.

B) Push off left foot (back foot) so the left knee lifts up and you land with left foot in front, same bent knee position. Now push off the right foot, lift the right knee, and land with right foot in front, same body position.  Continue to “walk” your lunge forward as far as you can go, then turn around and walk back.

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