The Benefits of Lunges

What does your leg day look like at the gym?

Plenty of squats and deadlifts?

Well, what about lunges?

If you’re not doing them at least once a week, you’re missing out on a long list of lower body benefits. They are a crucial exercise for building strength and size — and while challenging — are worth it if you want to see results fast.

Read on to learn about all the benefits of lunges and how to perform them with perfect form.

2 guys performing lunges

What Are Lunges?

The exercise is a must for any intense muscle-building program as it’s a lower-body staple that offers the right amount of challenge and intensity. The motion is similar to a one-legged squat. One leg bends at the knee joint, while the other remains stationary. It works a variety of muscles in the leg, but mainly the quadriceps.

Try this exercise with various forms of resistance — dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, or simply your bodyweight if you’re new to weightlifting.

There are also several categories of this exercise — each one varies in difficulty and targets the leg differently.

Types of Lunge

Stationary

There are many variations; however, the most standard is a stationary lunge. To perform this exercise, step forward with one foot and bend the knee — make sure it doesn’t go over your toes. Take the leg back to a stationary position. Switch feet and repeat with your opposite leg.

Reverse

Like the stationary lunge, start by facing forward. However, this time, take a step backward instead of forward. This variation is a slight progression from the stationary lunge since it requires more balance and coordination. Try this, only after you’ve mastered the former and need a challenge.

Twist

Another progression you can try is the twist lunge. This exercise also works the trunk of your body, making it the perfect movement for anyone wanting to strengthen their core. Step forward, as you would in a lunge, then rotate your body laterally, so you’re facing the side. Switch sides and legs with every rep.

Use a medicine ball or weighted plate for additional resistance, and remember to keep your abdominal muscles tight throughout the entire movement.

Curtsy

The curtsy lunge targets the outer area of the glutes — also referred to as the gluteus minimus.

This muscle assists in medial rotation and hip abduction and is often neglected. To perform this variation, take one leg and step backward and at an angle. Note, you should be able to see your back leg in the mirror.

Bend your knee and get down as low as it feels comfortable. Bring that leg back beside you, and change legs. Do this for 8 to 15 reps.

If you’re struggling to remember the motion, just think of doing a curtsy, but with weights!

Side

To perform a side lunge, take a lateral step out to either your left or right side. Make sure to place your hands in front of you for balance. Move back towards the middle and alternate legs.

Performing side lunges in just as crucial as doing the stationary and reverse variations. We often exercise in the sagittal plane of motion. Walking, running, and biking, for example, all take place in this plane of motion. However, to experience a true full-body workout, working out in the frontal plane is just as significant — therefore, add some side lunges to give your legs a well-rounded workout.

Walking

Walking lunges are great for getting your heart rate up. This is also one of the most challenging variations, so make sure you’re comfortable with the regressions first.

Instead of standing in place, take a step forward every time you set your foot down. Alternate your legs after every step. Continue in a straight line.

Smith Machine

Lastly, a smith machine lunge is a decent variation for beginners who want to try weighted lunges.

Using a smith machine doesn’t require as much balance and coordination as using a barbell might.

Start with your feet facing forward.

Take your foot and place it behind you and bend until the knee makes a 90-degree angle.

Bring it back to the centre.

Finally, switch legs and repeat for 8 to 15 repetitions.

What Muscles Do They Work?

Lunges work nearly all of the muscles located in the leg — yes, that includes the quadriceps, the gluteus maximus, your hamstrings, and the gastrocnemius muscles. However, lunges are a quad-dominant exercise above all else, so if you’d rather target the glutes, try using bands or different foot placements to stimulate a different response.

The walking and twist variations target your core, so implement these if you’re aiming for a six-pack this summer.

What Are The Benefits?

So, why should you add this to your workout plan?

First, this should be a staple exercise on leg day because they work various muscle groups in the leg. They’re tough but effective.

You can build stronger legs by increasing the amount of weight when using the principle of progressive overload.

Adding this exercise into your routine creates a training program with more variety, so you don’t get bored with using the machines at the gym every day.

Also, adding walking lunges will help increase your stamina.

Lunges additionally don’t put as much pressure on the spine, which means if squats have been hurting your lower back, you can switch to these for some time.

Lastly, this exercise can help you build a stronger core when paired with the right training and diet plan.

How Often Should You Do Them?

This depends on your fitness goals. If you’re trying to build bigger legs through weightlifting, you want to hit a sweet spot. For example, if you over-train, you won’t see growth at all. But the same goes for under-training — if you don’t stimulate the muscle group often, your efforts won’t elicit a response.

Therefore, if you’re lifting heavy, aim for once or twice a week. Add a few days in between so your legs can recover.

FAQs

Can Lunges Build the Glutes?

Yes! Lunges are fantastic for building a stronger backside. However, much like squats, lunges are more quad dominant — so if you wish to target your glutes over your quads, here are a few ways you can modify the exercise. Place a resistance band around your thighs, or take a more narrow stance.

Can I Replace Squats With Lunges?

Yes and no. If you’re able to do squats — they don’t hurt aside from some normal muscle strain — then it’s best to leave both exercises in your plan. However, if squats put too much stress on your lower back, or feel incredibly uncomfortable, replace them with lunges.

Which Lunge Variation is Best?

You should give each variation a try to see which one you like best. You can add multiple versions of the same exercise into your regimen. For example, incorporate walking lunges into a HIIT circuit on a cardio-focused day. Add weighted reverse lunges on your leg days and twist lunges on your core-focused day.

What Are Some Common Mistakes I Should Watch Out For?

First, make sure you are bending down low enough to reap those awesome benefits. However, you also don’t want to go so low your knee hits the floor.

Another common mistake most make is they will not step out far enough. Make sure you can feel that burn in your leg and don’t cheat yourself.

If you notice your knee is caving in, or your ankle is coming off the ground, these are signs of a more significant issue. Massage your hip adductors — they are most likely tight — which can lead to this compromise in your form.

Are They Bad For the Knees?

This depends on a variety of factors. If you’ve suffered from a previous injury, they may not be the best exercise for you. Try assisted lunges, using a TRX band for extra stability instead. Or avoid them altogether if you find that bending at the knee is too painful.

However, if you’ve never experienced a severe injury, and are careful to keep a good form, lunges shouldn’t cause significant stress to the knees. But if you decide to add weight, don’t lift more than you can handle. Excess weight can cause your form to crumble and lead to injury.

Lastly, remember to be cautious, and don’t let your knee fall over your big toe. If you find that this is too difficult, poor flexibility could be the issue. Try stretching before performing the exercise, making sure to target the ankle joints.

Also, foam roll your calves, as they could be tight and cause the exercise to feel more difficult.

Can They Help Build Abs?

When combined with a consistent exercise and diet routine, yes, they can help build abs. However, there are a few additional rules for training the abdominal muscles if you want to sculpt a killer core.

Pay attention to your diet and make sure you are eating in a deficit

You want to make sure your body fat is low enough to see the definition in the stomach area.

Therefore, building abs isn’t just about how hard you’re training. This goal heavily centres on how clean you’re eating too. Calculate your total daily caloric expenditure, and make sure you’re eating healthy, fibrous foods.

Use core-focused exercises in tandem with squats and lunges

Unlike other muscle groups, you can train the abdominal muscles often without repercussions. They recover quite quickly. Superset some weighted twist lunges with an exercise that utilises the core as the main muscle group.

Like planks or hanging knee raises.

Learn how to brace the core to activate these muscles

However, sometimes people can do these exercises and find that they can’t even fire the correct group of muscles. Lie on the floor and practice bracing the core.

Draw your navel in towards your spine and hold it. You should feel your stomach tighten

To activate your core, try this when performing most of your exercises.

Lunges alone cannot build abs, but they can certainly help when paired with these tips.

Conclusion

There are many variations of lunges you can try. And why wouldn’t you implement this incredible exercise into your regimen? Yes, it’s tough, but can help you build the lower body of your dreams.

You can also use the exercise to help strengthen your core and improve your stability.

If you worry about your form being an issue, start with just your bodyweight and then work your way up to weighted lunges. You’ll soon realise that they are incredibly effective at strengthening and building up even the most stubborn legs.

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