Lunges are one of the best leg exercises for strengthening the glutes and quadriceps. There are also a multitude of lunge variations that will work out various other muscle groups in your lower body. Understanding how exactly they use your body weight to work out the muscle groups in your lower body will enable you to add a few of these lunge variations into your routine so you can target new muscles.
Before we get into the variations, let’s talk a bit about the standard forward lunge.
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How to Perform a Forward Lunge With Proper Form
To get the best workout for your hamstrings, quads, and glutes with forward lunges and the variations to follow, it’s important to have the right form. Follow these steps to make sure you’re executing the basic forward lunge correctly:
- In the starting position for a forward lunge, you should have your feet shoulder-width apart. Your hands can be on your hips or down at your sides.
- Step forward one or two feet with your right foot, bending toward a 90° angle with the front knee.
- Your left knee (behind you) should bend toward 90° simultaneously with your right knee.
- Without extending your right knee further than your toes, continue lowering your body until your left knee is just above the ground. This is the full lunge position.
- Reverse from the lunge position until you’re back in the start position. That’s one forward lunge in the traditional sense.
You can alternate legs or do one leg at a time for between 10 and 15 reps. For some people with longer legs, the knee of the forward leg will pass the toes. Just make sure your back stays straight throughout the exercise and your feet aren’t too far apart.
Helpful Hint: If you find you can’t lower yourself all the way to the lunge position described, that’s ok! Your body will eventually build flexibility to do so. If you want to get more flexible, try our Joga Fitplan that’s specifically built for tight bodies and well-suited for beginners.
If you experience knee pain during this forward lunge, it may not be the right exercise for you, but try some of the lunge variations below and see if one of them will fix the problem.
The Simplest Lunge Variations
The ten lunge variations comprising our list below are new leg exercises in their own right, but you can also alter the forward lunge by engaging your core with flexion and extension. An extension is when you increase the angle between two body parts (so, leaning back) while flexion reduces the angle by leaning forward. The key is to make sure your back doesn’t bend while you’re engaging your core muscles this way. It’s a simple way to work your core muscles while you do your lower body exercises.
10 Best Lunge Variations
Give your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and other key lower body muscle groups a killer workout and build up your body’s ability to move in different directions with a few of these lunge variations.
1. Reverse Lunge
The reverse lunge is pretty much what it sounds like. The reverse lunge puts much less pressure on the knee because the glutes, hamstrings, and quads take more of the weight in the eccentric (downward) movement of the lunge. It can even help reduce minor existing knee and hip pain.
How to Do the Reverse Lunge:
- The starting position is the same as in the forward lunge: feet shoulder-width apart, hands by your side.
- Step backward with your right foot one or two feet. It should feel a bit longer than your normal stride length.
- Your right foot should land on the ground with the ball of your foot making contact and your heel up in the air.
- Now make the same eccentric motion as you lower your core toward the ground, both the left knee and right knee simultaneously bending toward 90°. Your front leg should again get close to 90° while the back leg will only get to about 45° or less.
- Push through your left foot, which should be in the front, to lift yourself up back to the starting position.
2. Walking Lunges
The main difference between a forward lunge and walking lunges is that the latter leg exercise will have you moving forward as you’re lunging rather than taking normal steps. Other than that, the execution of walking lunges is pretty much the same as a forward lunge, but the additional distance movement will work out your hamstrings, glutes, and quads that much more.
How to Do Walking Lunges:
- Execute a forward lunge as discussed at the beginning of this article, pausing at the lowest lunge position.
- At the point when you would normally move back into the starting position, move your left foot forward without moving your right foot at all.
- Repeat the forward lunge movement with your left leg out front.
- Swing your right foot forward the same way.
Each time you go into the lowest lunge position, that’s one rep. Try to do at least 10 on each leg. When you’re really comfortable, try walking lunges while holding a medicine ball, twisting your torso as you lower, or holding dumbbells.
3. Curtsy Lunge
Your inner thighs and glutes can be directly targeted with a curtsy lunge. Rather than the straight movement of a forward lunge, the curtsy lunge requires you to cross your legs as you are lunging.
How to Do the Curtsy Lunge:
- From the same starting position with your feet hip-width apart, take a long step back with your right foot, simultaneously crossing it behind your left leg. Remember that this first step should feel longer than a normal step.
- Just as in the forward lunge, your right foot should contact the ground on the ball of your foot and your right heel should be off the ground.
- Lower yourself into the lowest lunge position by bending your knees until your right knee is as close as you can get it to a 90° angle.
- Return to the starting position by reversing the movement exactly. Then, you can continue doing reps on the same side or alternate legs until you’ve done about 10 reps on each side.
If you’re looking to add some plyometric movement to your leg exercises to get your heart rate up, the curtsy lunge is a great opportunity. Once you’re comfortable with executing the curtsy lunge, try exploding upward rather than slowly rising back to the starting position. Just remember that you shouldn’t be doing plyometric exercises every day of the week. Give your muscles time to rest.
4. Lateral Lunge
The lateral lunge, or side lunge, is a great way to get some sideways movement into your lower body workout. It’s kind of a strange movement, but once you get used to the lateral lunge they’re very simple to do.
How to Do the Lateral Lunge:
- From the starting position with your feet shoulder-width apart, step with your right foot out to your right side about the same distance a bit further than your average step would be.
- Lower your right knee until it’s as close to 90° as you can comfortably get it. The left leg should stay straight, with no bending in the back knee.
- Reverse the movement to return to the starting position.
Like other lune variations, the lateral lunge can be done with your core engaged. You can also do it with dumbbells, barbells, or a medicine ball. For a plyometric version, try the jumping lateral lunge by including an explosive leap to return to the starting position.
Helpful Hint: Prepare your body for sudden twists and turns with a transverse lunge, which entails twisting the leading foot and facing that direction at the eccentric stage of the lateral lunge. For more similar muscle preparation, try the HIIT workouts in our Body Elevate Fitplan.
5. Jump Lunge
The jump lunge is a great plyometric lunge variation that will work out your hip flexors and calves in addition to your hamstrings, glutes, and quads. If you want to add a bit of cardio to your leg exercises, this is a great option. Plus, the jump lunge results in sprint running improvements which makes it a nice way to improve your fast-twitch cardio.
How to Do the Jump Lunge:
- Engage your core in the starting position, feet shoulder-width apart.
- Take a big step forward with your right leg just like you would for the normal forward lunge.
- Go into the lowest lunge position, Once the knee of your front leg is almost at a 90° angle, you want to jump up explosively and make your legs swap places.
- You should land softly in the opposite lunge position as you started from, i.e. if you had your right leg out front before the jump, you should land with your left leg out front in the lowest squat position.
When you first start doing these jump lunges, try to do 10 reps. Make sure not to do them on consecutive days of the week, and take 2 days off from plyometric leg exercises to let your muscles heal if possible.
6. Kettlebell Lunge Press
Once you start getting more comfortable with these lunge variations, adding a kettlebell is a good way to keep challenging your body. Adding a kettlebell to the jump lunge will work your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, abdominal muscles, and upper back. However, the kettlebell lunge press is the best lunge variation for toning your upper body while you’re doing your leg exercises.
How to Do the Kettlebell Lunge Press:
- In the same starting position with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a kettlebell in one hand so that the kettlebell is in front of your chest.
- While lunging forward just as you would for the standard forward lunge, extend the arm holding the kettlebell overhead until it’s fully extended.
- Lower the kettlebell back to your chest while returning to the standard starting position.
The kettlebells will take a little more balance, but this is a simple and effective way to introduce them to your leg exercises. You can add them to basically any lunge, and you don’t always have to raise them above your head. Just holding them will help work your arms and glutes while you’re lunging.
Helpful Hint: Try our Kettlebell Power Fitplan for more intense kettlebell workouts.
7. Dumbbell Lunge Woodchop
Just like the kettlebell lunge press, the woodchopping motion with a dumbbell is this lunging exercise is a great way to build upper body strength.
How to Do a Dumbbell Lunge Woodchop:
- In the starting position with your feet shoulder-width apart, hold a dumbbell with both hands over your right shoulder.
- As you come down in the regular forward lunge, move the dumbbell across your chest until it’s near your left hip. You should be in the lowest lunge position when the dumbbell reaches the hip.
- Reverse the movement back into the starting position.
Alternate hands so that you work out both arms. This isn’t a plyometric exercise, so you can probably handle more than 10 reps.
8. Clock Lunge
In this mixture of the forward lunge, side lunge, and reverse lunge, you can target your outer and inner thigh muscles as well as your hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps.
How to Do a Clock Lunge with Perfect Form:
- From the forward lunge starting position, feet hip-width apart, execute the standard forward lunge with your right leg out in front.
- Return to the starting position and execute a side lunge, again with the right leg.
- Return to the starting position and execute a reverse lunge with the right leg.
- Repeat this process with the left leg to go the whole way ‘around the clock’.
The best lunge variation with this method is to add in diagonal motion with a curtsy lunge in between the forward lunge and the side lunge. If you can work out the spacing right, it’s possible to hit every hour on the clock for a well-rounded leg exercise that will hit all the muscle groups in your lower body.
9. Runner’s Lunge
The runner’s lunge might look like more of a stretch than a leg exercise, but it will really hit your hip flexors, legs, groin, and legs. This lunge variation is usually done in yoga routines but it makes a great warm-up stretch too.
How to Do a Runner’s Lunge:
- The starting position is more like a push-up; you should be in a plank position supporting your weight with your arms directly beneath your shoulders.
- Take a big step with your right leg so that it’s next to the small finger on your right hand.
- Relax your back and hips so that they sink closer to the ground. Hold this pose for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the left side.
Remember that this lunge variation doesn’t really engage the leg muscles on your rear leg. Don’t try to support the hips when you reach the lowest pose, just let it stretch out the muscles in your groin, inner thigh, and outer thigh.
10. Switch-Up Lunge
This is kind of like combining a jump lunge with the runner’s lunge. It’s a similar position but jumping to swap the leg positions may take a little getting used to.
How to Do a Switch-Up Lunge:
- Get into the starting position for a runner’s lunge and execute the runner’s lunge until you’re in the lowest position with your right foot next to your right hand.
- Next, explode with your left foot, kicking both feet up and exchanging their positions. Your left foot should end up next to the small finger of your left hand and your right foot should now be in the back.
- Repeat this process for about 10 reps on each side.
The Switch-up Lunge blends plyometric leg exercise with upper body strength and really opens up your outer- and inner-thigh muscles as well as your hips and hip flexors.
Helpful Hint: If you like the full-body workout of the switch-up lunge, you should try our Mobility Master Fitplan for more workouts with one of our personal trainers.
Lunge exercises are a great workout for your quadriceps, hamstrings, and the muscle group that makes up your glutes, including the gluteus medius, which is a hard muscle to target with any other leg exercises. There are more lunge variations that can target different muscle groups, but to get the greatest benefit you have to have the proper form.
Some of the appeal of lunging comes from the fact that you can do it anywhere and it doesn’t require weights. A few of these variations are more effective with barbells, kettlebells, or even with a medicine ball, but you can also do any one of them hands-free and see some benefit.
All of these variations are eccentric exercises, just like regular forward lunges. What’s meant by ‘eccentric’ is that they cause muscles such as the quadriceps to elongate while under tension, as Drs. Bubbico and Kravitz have explained. Eccentric movements are unique and tend to be how your muscles respond to pressure or resistance, such as gravity. Imagine how your bicep stretches out as you lower a barbell. That’s an example of eccentric motion and these lunge variations cause something similar to happen in your glutes, quadriceps, and other important components of your lower body’s muscle groups.
Not only will these variations help build muscle mass, but they also improve your muscles’ ability to perform eccentric motion, which means they’ll be less likely to be injured by such movement in the future. Variations such as the reverse lunge are also easier on the knees, making them a favorite lower body exercise for people with knee problems. Plyometric variations like the jump lunge are even more intense than standard forward lunges, but they take an additional toll on your body so they should be done more sparingly than non-plyometric variations.
Some lunge exercises start in a standing position but others are closer to the starting position of a push-up. Plyometric lunge variations can boost your heart rate and range of motion while including a dumbbell, kettlebell, or medicine ball will work your upper body as well as your lower body. Mix and match a few of these lunge variations with other strength training workouts and you’ll start to see improvements in no time.
(Note: Want our elite trainers to help you majorly tone your legs and glutes? Start your Fitplan free trial today!)