6 Ways to Make Lunges More Effective

Lunges are one of the best body weight moves for your legs, especially when you know these six things to make them even more effective.
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I bet you’ve done a lunge. Rare is the person anymore who sneaks through their adult years without giving it a go – at least once. Lunges are the best all-around lower-body exercise you can do. You want better legs? Do lunges. A tighter behind? Do lunges. How about improving your running or biking efficiency. Yup, lunges.

With this in mind, why not take those lunges to the next level? Here is the reasoning behind the magic of the lunge along with six ways you can make every lunge you do more effective and as powerful as possible!

Why Lunges?

The lunge is a multitasker extraordinaire. It is not only a great way to strengthen multiple muscles in the leg and hips, but somewhere along the way it also torches a load of calories as well! Included in the primary muscles worked during a lunge are the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.

But it doesn’t stop there. In order to stabilize your body during a lunge, you also work the calves, abdominals, and back muscles. They keep your body strong while the other muscles do the work to move you. So it’s only natural when you use so many muscles, particularly the large ones, that your heart rate goes up and the calories burn off.

A Harvard Medical School study put the calorie burn of vigorous strength training in the 180-260 per hour range. But another study done by the University of Arizona claims those numbers could be double! Of course, no matter how many calories you burn while strength training, we know the true positive effect comes in the continued fat burn that happens after your session is finished.

So if the lunge is such a powerful tool, what else can you do to make them better?

1. Do Them Right

Done properly there is no better move for strengthening and toning your butt and your legs. Done improperly and you’ve got a hot mess on your hands. Improper lunges generally go straight to the knees. Here are the two most common form errors I see in lunges:

  1. Legs set too close together
  2. Moving forward and back rather than straight up and down

So how do you perform a proper stationary lunge? 

  1. Start in a split-stance position with your front foot pressed flat into the floor below your knee and your back foot resting on the ball of the foot with heel up. Your back leg should be long, though not completely straight.
  2. Slowly bend your back knee and lowering it until it almost touches the floor or at least until the front leg is at a 90 degree angle.
  3. Press yourself back up using the heel of the front foot. This will engage the glute.

If you have knee injuries or persistent knee pain, try these modifications to avoid knee pain.

2. Use Full Range of Motion 

While initially this might sound like it’s the same thing as using proper form, there is a difference. You can execute great form in a lunge and still short-change yourself on the range of motion. Why does this matter? Two words: your butt! When you initially begin to lower down, the front of the thighs are noticeably working.

However, when you truly get deep in a lunge you are definitely going to feel your glute pushing you up. And isn’t this what you are looking for? So let’s be clear, unless you have knee issues you should lower down as far as you can, until your back knee is hovering above or brushing the floor, before you push back up. Range of motion is more important that adding extra weight so work on this first.

3. Add Weight

Those 10 lb dumbbells might be working for your shoulder exercises, but they aren’t going to be enough for legs.  Your legs are stronger than your upper body. So when it comes to lunges, go for the big dogs!

Of course, if you are a beginner your body weight is going to be plenty to start with. It’s better to get a full range of motion with body weight alone than it is to add weight and only go half way (refer to the previous paragraph.

That being said, once you have the stamina, adding weight is a great way to build more strength. Just grab a set of dumbbells in your hands and hold them next to the sides of your legs with arms long. (Trainers Tip: Hold lightly! Don’t grip dumbbells too tightly.) If heavier dumbbells are hard for you to hold onto, try putting a barbell on your shoulders. If for some reason you can’t use weight or don’t have access to them, try using a resistance band for lunges.​

4. Add Motion

Stationary lunges are the best way to learn the proper form for a lunge. Once you conquer these you can add weight to them for added benefit. What’s next? Adding movement. Forward lunges, backward lunges, walking lunges, kick through lunges, these are all great options that take a basic lunge to the next level.

Adding motion engages more stabilizers and surrounding muscle fibers as well as raise the heart rate higher to burn more calories. And by the way, the same rule about adding extra weight applies to these movement-based lunges. Once you conquer great form and deep range of motion, grab some dumbbells and add extra weight for extra results!

5. Add Elevation

When you perform a standard lunge, the weight of the lunges is, for the most part, equal between your two legs. One way to increase intensity is to add elevation to your back leg. This puts more work on the front leg and, in a sense, turns this exercise into a single leg squat. By elevating the back leg you increase intensity and weight resistance into the front leg without adding extra weight. As usual, once your form is perfected, adding extra weight will put you on another level! However, this stance is much more challenging, so make sure you work on getting a deep range of motion first. You can add extra weight once you know you’ve got this down.

6. Add Plyometrics

Lunges with your feet on the ground will always be great choices. But if you are really looking to take it up a notch or you are working on those last few stubborn pounds, plyometrics will do the trick. Split jumps are the plyometric version of a lunge. Do them as a stand-alone workout or add them to the end of a set of basic lunges for that an interval burst. Any way you do them, split jumps work!

Go forth and lunge, my friends. You have plenty of options here! Just remember to listen to your body and make the moves that are right for you. Mix and match moves to get the most out of every workout.

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