Lunges are easily forgotten amidst other big-hitting lower body lifts like squats and deadlifts. Those two movements, though undeniably effective in building muscle mass and strength, have stolen the limelight from their brother. Although you won’t push the same impressive weight with a lunge as you will a squat, lunges offer countless benefits of their own. While actively working the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and gluteal muscles, they promote stability. If that’s not enough, any time you surprise your body with a new challenge, it shocks your muscles, forcing them to respond to the change in lifting stimulus.
No matter what type of lunge you do, there are several components to the movement that stay the same. First, keep your chest lifted, shoulders back, and abs braced. You want to maintain strong posture to both protect your back and keep the bulk of the work in your lower body. This is especially important when adding load by placing weight on your upper back. If your torso leans or contorts during the exercise, you can put unnecessary strain on your back, which we don’t want.
Next, aim for a 90-degree angle in both legs at the bottom of the lunge. Your toes should always point forward, with your knees moving in alignment with your toes. If someone walked by and looked at you from the side, they would see your front knee positioned straight up from your ankle.
To kick off 2019, I’m counting down my 10 favorite lunge variations. Try one or try all. So, if you’re ready to build strong legs, let’s do this!
9: Static Lunges
This is a great way to meet lunges for the first time. To do a static lunge, take a long step backwards with one foot, left that back heel off the ground, and you’re ready to go! Lower your back knee towards the floor, stopping two to three inches above the ground, then rise back up. Press through your front heel as you stand.
Amp it Up: Intensify this variation by holding dumbbells down to your sides or by placing a barbell on your back. Begin with body weight and consider implementing these options as you progress.
8: Step-Back Lunges
Performed exactly how it sounds, in this variation, you start with your feet together. Step back and lower your knee into a lunge, then drive through your front heel and bring your legs back together. Continue on the same leg until you have completed a full set of repetitions, then switch to the other leg.
The challenge in the step-back lunge is to avoid the temptation of momentum. Your body’s natural tendency may be to lean forward to help bring your back leg in. Resist! Keeping your torso upright, drive the force through your front heel and control the entire movement. This makes your lower body work harder to get the job done.
7: Walking Lunges
Find an open space, or head outside for walking lunges. Take a big step forward with your right foot while dropping your back knee towards the ground, then press through your front heel and bring the left leg in. Now, step forward with your left leg, drop your right knee down, and bring the right leg in. Continue alternating legs as you move forward.
6: Dumbbell Lunges with Bicep Curl
Looking for more bang for your buck? Hold two dumbbells during your walking lunge. Let them hang by your sides. Then, each time you step together after a lunge, do a bicep curl with both arms. Your pattern will be right lunge, curl, left lunge, curl, and so forth. If you want to target the biceps more intensely, you can do multiple curls in between lunges.
5: Walking Lunges with Knee Drive
This exercise comes in as my number 6 variation due to its usefulness in sports training. The difference between this, and a regular walking lunge, is an added knee drive when you bring your back leg in. Step forward with your right foot and lunge. Now, press through your right heel and drive the left knee in and up, as though you’re about to take off running. Keep the knee up and continue straight into your left-leg lunge.
If you’re looking to increase speed, this exercise can serve as a drill to help improve running form. Sprinters are taught to drive their knees as they run, which this movement can help train your body to do. Add to the effectiveness by moving your arms like a runner. You are now conditioning your arms to move the way you want them to on the track, creating muscle memory.
4: Propulsion Lunges
Number four is a variation that gets your explosive muscle fibers humming! To do a propulsion lunge, start with your feet together. Step back with your left foot, dropping your left knee two to three inches above the ground. Next, lift your left knee up and drive it forward as you press through your foot. Drive your knee all the way up until you shoot off the ground. Catch yourself by landing toe-to-heel on your right foot.
Complete a set of these going from one right into another. As soon as you land, take your left knee back down into the lunge, then drive up and jump again. When you have completed the full set on one side, switch to the other.
3: Jump Lunges
Coming in at number three is more explosive work for your legs. To perform jump lunges, start with your feet together. Then, jump into the bottom of a lunge by shooting your right leg forward and your left knee back and down. Next, switch the position of your feet in one, fluid motion. Now, the left leg should be forward and the right leg back.
Continue through your set by jumping from lunge to lunge, switching the lead leg each time. These are done in place, so your body shouldn’t travel during the set.
2: Pulsing Lunges
Pulses are great because you can add them to other types of lunges. Doing walking lunges? Maybe add two pulses at the bottom of each one. Working on step-back lunges? Change it up by adding five pulses to each repetition.
To perform pulsing lunges, position yourself for a static lunge. Then, lower your back knee down. Now, instead of rising all the way back up, rise up approximately three inches from the bottom position, then lower back down again. This is one pulse. To do ten pulses, complete all ten before rising all the way back up. It would sound something like this: down, rise three inches, down, rise three inches, down, rise three inches, etc. You don’t come all the way back up until your set of pulses is complete.
1: Overhead Lunges
Position your hands wide (at least outside your shoulders) on a short or long barbell. Holding the weight overhead, perform walking lunges. Not only does this variation work your lower body, but it engages some shoulder and back muscles as well.
The overhead lunge variation is advanced and can be dangerous if done incorrectly or with too much weight. Please make sure you are comfortable with lunges and have appropriate supervision before attempting this variation. It is better to start with light weight and work your way up, than to begin with something too heavy.
The start of a new year can be exciting! The days ahead are full of opportunity—opportunities to show love, make a difference, and grow. Determine now the kind of choices you will make and what your priorities will be. It is never too late to make a change.
With God, all things are possible.
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Which lunge variation is your favorite? Did I miss one that you like? Please share your thoughts in the comments! 🙂
***I recommend consulting a physician before starting a new exercise program. Do not attempt these exercises without proper medical clearance.***