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Lunge 101 – Benefits, Muscles Worked, Variations, Sets and Reps

The lunge is a great incremental leg-builder exercise for you to add to your training routine.

If you are looking to build serious power on your lower body, you should definitely be doing squats. However, the lunge is a great exercise that will add muscle to your body that the squat simply cannot compensate for. This is lunge 101 so beginners and advanced athletes can all benefit from this versatile leg exercise.

This exercise can help build strength, prevent future injuries and is often prescribed for people who have recently healed from an injury. Lunges also translate to better movement and athleticism for you, making it an indispensable functional fitness exercise.

How to Properly Do Lunges

Follow these guidelines to do a proper lunge:

  • Stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Step forward, no longer than a walking stride, so that both your legs are in the shape of a triangle. Place the front foot flat on the ground and the back foot will have the heels slightly off the ground.
  • For beginners, this is the initial position.
  • Bend both your knees to approximately 90 degrees as your body is lowered.
  • Keep your spine upright at all times and brace your core.
  • Don’t let your back knee touch the ground as you lower your body.
  • Hold position at the bottom of the movement for a second.
  • Push your body up utilising the heel of your front leg and return to initial position.
  • That is one rep.

The exercise above is designed for beginners who might have trouble with balancing – that is why the movement is performed in a staled position simply moving the body up and down with the strength of the front leg and foot.

If that is not the case, you can perform lunges moving front and backwards in each rep. In this case, the initial position is where you have both feet shoulder-width part and you would return to that position after each stride forward.

For a little bit more challenge, you can perform the traditional walking lunge.

Mistakes to Avoid

Although it might seem easy, as with any exercise, lunges can be tricky to perform correctly. Make sure you are not making any of these mistakes.

First of all, you need to make sure you are bending your knees to the appropriate depth. Cutting short how deep you are going will result in less muscle gain.

Source: Big Dodzy / Unsplash

Also, make sure you are consistent with your reps and not making one rep with a deep stretch on your legs and the next one halfway. The distance you take a step should be consistent, so don’t take too short or too long of a step when doing lunges.

Another mistake some people do when performing this exercise is losing control of the eccentric part, also known as the descent. “The eccentric phase of muscle contraction is very hypertrophic, it contributes to muscle group. The purpose of lunges for hypertrophy is not just to get reps done,” Dr Mike Israetel https://www.instagram.com/rpdrmike/?hl=en explains.

Muscles Worked

This exercise is a great lower body option for athletes of all levels. The muscles worked while doing lunges are:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Erector spinae
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Obliques

As you can see, not only does the lower part of your body works, but your abs and your back get a little bit of tension as well to complete this well-rounded movement.

Difference Between a Lunge and a Squat

If you had to choose between lunges and squats, which one should you pick? That is a silly question as you should be doing both as there are benefits from them that complement each other.

While a squat is great for muscle building (especially if you can load up with a heavy barbell), the lunges will work on your ankle mobility and will work each leg of your body separately.

Benefits of the Lunge

  • Versatile – you may add explosiveness, movement, or change the tempo
  • Easy to add progressive overload – hold dumbbells or a barbell to make it more challenging
  • Improve core stability
  • Ankle mobility is increased
  • Reveal strength imbalances between legs
  • Improves flexibility of the lower body
  • Activates the glutes in conjunction with your quads
  • Improves running capabilities
  • Prevent injuries
  • Often used in rehabilitation programs
  • Improves efficiency for a resistance program since opposing muscles of the leg are worked at the same time
Split Squats and Lunges Masterclass

“Nothing demands stability through the ankle, knee and hip like it,” Jeff Cavaliere said. “Glute medius stimulus is through the roof as well.”

Variations of  the Lunge; How to Progress

In the video at the beginning of the page, you saw how to perform lunges for beginners, simply by using your legs to descend and ascend your body in a fixed position.

For more experienced athletes, lunges can be done by stepping forward and backwards for each rep.

As you saw in the video below, you can also add resistance to the exercise by holding a pair of dumbbells next to your body, or even holding a barbell.

athlete performs Bulgarian Split SquatSource: Jonathan Borba on Pexels

Besides those options, here are other more demanding variations of the lunge.

Explosive/Jumping Lunge

This adds extra instability to the equation and is more demanding on your legs because you will be performing the exercise while jumping up and down.

Reverse Lunge

If you have knee pain or problems with that joint, the reverse lunge is the best way for you to keep working your lower body without having to sacrifice form, technique or cartilage.

Bulgarian Split Squat

athlete performs Bulgarian split squat with dumbbell

We go into detail about the Bulgarian split squat here. Just know that this is one of the best single-leg exercises all around, but it is recommended for more intermediate athletes.

Pistol Squat

efficient pistol squats with bad ankle mobility

Another demanding exercise you can do on one leg. This is even harder than the Bulgarian split squad and only elite athletes can do the traditional pistol squat.

How to Progress to Pistol Squats

How Many Sets and Reps Should You Do

As with anything, the number of sets and reps you should be doing depends on your goals and your current fitness level. The answer will also vary depending on which variation of the lunge you are doing. Below we are talking about the traditional lunge, mainly directed at beginners.

  • Sets = 2 to 4
  • Reps = 15 to 20

If you are holding a pair of dumbbells to do lunges, then aim to perform the same number of sets but a minimum of 12 reps on each leg.

Learn what type of squat is best for you depending on your abilities or try these excellent variations:

Landmine Squat
Jefferson Squat
Hack Squat
Front Squat
Prisoner Squats
Zercher Squat
Cossack Squat
Box Squat

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