Lunges are a highly effective, functional exercise for strengthening your legs and hips, whilst challenging your balance and stability due to their single-leg nature.
But how do you do them properly, with good technique?
Here’s how to do lunges:
- Stand in a natural stance with your feet hip-width apart, facing forward, and your arms by your side.
- Take a big stride directly forward with one leg, exerting even pressure between your toes and heel when you strike the ground.
- Steadily descent until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and shin is relatively vertical, ensuring you keep an upright chest and torso.
- Press into the floor and return back to a standing position.
Today, we’ll teach you how to do lunges most effectively, how you can progress the exercise, and the many benefits they offer.
Let’s dive in.
How to do Lunges
Stand in a natural stance with your feet hip-width apart, facing forward, and your arms by your side.
Take a big stride directly forward with one leg, exerting even pressure between your toes and heel when you strike the ground.
Descend in a controlled manner until your front thigh is parallel to the ground and shin is relatively vertical, ensuring you keep an upright chest and torso. Press into the floor with your foot and return back to a standing position.
Sets and Reps
Repeat the movement at least 10 times on each leg, rest for 30 to 60 seconds, and perform again for 2-4 total sets on each side.
It is vital that you prioritise your technique when performing the lunge, as it is easy to develop some poor movement habits if not done correctly.
The technique fundamentals for the lunge, in order of importance, are:
Symmetry / In Line
As you move throughout the lunge range, keep each hip, knee and foot tracking in one straight line.
Similar to squat, also ensure that the level of your hips stays relatively straight – it is common to find that one side will drop lower than the other. It may be helpful to look at yourself in a mirror from the front in order to improve this.
Control & Coordination
Due to the split stance nature of the lunge, it can often be difficult to ensure that the movement stays smooth.
Avoid jerky movements, ensuring that the speed at which you execute the movement stays the same throughout range.
Once you have mastered the technique fundamentals above, you might like to have someone video your technique from the side.
This will help you to see if you are maintaining a neutral-S with your spine, as well as keeping your shoulder blades back and together. A common error is excessive arching of the lower back, or shoulders falling forward.
What are the benefits of Lunges?
Lunges use many muscles and joints
Lunging uses many muscles and joints at the same time, including those controlling our ankle, knee and hip.
Lunges work our calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes. Due to their single-leg nature, they also require large contributions from your core muscles.
In contrast, an exercise such as a bicep curl is only using one joint and a small number of muscles at any time, limiting the benefits we are getting in terms of calories burnt and the amount of functional strength we can build.
Lunges challenge your balance and stability
The unique aspect of the lunge is that it requires a large degree of balance and core stability due to its’ split stance nature. It requires us to recruit muscles such as our Gluteus Medius (the sides of our bum) and Obliques (the sides of our tummy) to a greater degree.
We have no option but to use these muscles to maintain our balance when lunging. This is quite unique to the lunge and other single leg exercises, as opposed to squat, which balances the load between left and right sides.
Lunges help build lower body strength and tone
Lunges help to build muscular strength and tone, particularly in the thighs and glutes. Our lower body muscles are some of the biggest and strongest in our entire body. You can hold some weights, or place a bar on your back when lunging build further strength and lean muscle.
Not only does lean muscle burn calories, but it also makes us look great! Remember, adding muscle to our body doesn’t make us look bulky, it can only make us look better, increasing tone and decreasing fat mass and an increased metabolism.
Lunges are a highly functional exercise
Lunging is a highly functional activity – this means it forms the basis of many activities of daily living such as kneeling down to tie your shoes, climbing a flight of stairs, or even walking. Getting stronger in our lunge movement pattern will translate into better outcomes in life, enabling us to do daily tasks more easily, without fatiguing to the same degree.
Functional movements are like the foundation of a house – they’re strong, reliable, and help everything atop stay in good health. They ensure that we have an even balance of muscular strength throughout our entire body.
How to make lunges easier (regression)
Split Squat / Static Lunge
The static lunge, also known as a split squat, is a great way to make the lunge a little easier.
Assume a kneeling position, with one knee firmly on the ground underneath you and the other leg in front of you. Ensure that both knees are at approximately 90 degrees and that your torso is relatively upright.
Hang your arms by your sides.
Keeping most of the pressure in your front foot but using the back foot to balance yourself, smoothly lift yourself up until your knees straighten, before returning back down to the ground.
How to make it harder (progression)
If you are able to perform the static lunge while keeping good technique, it’s time to start progressing the exercise. Here are three ways you can progress the static lunge.
Add sets and reps
Once you have mastered 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps each side, it’s time to increase the volume. Work your way up to 4 sets of 20-25 reps. After this, it’s time to make the exercise more difficult – see below.
Perform other lunge variations
Lunges come in all shapes and sizes. You can try reverse lunges, lateral lunges, or even a walking lunge.
Try holding some dumbbells or kettlebells by your sides for an extra challenge.
If you’re performing the movement at home and have limited equipment, try filling a backpack with books and water bottles. Wear it on your back when you perform the lunges for more of a burn.
What are some other variations / similar movements?
Here are some other variations to try, which adopt a similar movement pattern and recruit similar muscles groups.
Single Leg Squat to a box
Once you’ve gained confidence in the lunging movement, it’s time to start single leg squatting. This is a very challenging movement, so it’s best to start it with a box.
Step-Ups are another lunge variation that utilizes similar muscles. They require limited equipment – you’ll only need a box or chair to perform them.
Some Frequently Asked Questions about Lunges
Why do my hips feel tight when I lunge?
Many people find that the front section of their back leg (hip flexors) becomes tight when performing the lunge. This often goes hand in hand with an excessive arch in the lower back. Try allowing yourself greater lean in your torso or try some of these hip mobility drills.
Why do my knees hurt when I lunge?
There can be many reasons for knees hurting during a lunge. The most common reasons are having weak glutes or inner thigh muscles, having tight quads or ITB, or a combination of the two. If addressing these issues gives you no relief, it’s time to see a physiotherapist.
Lunging is a great addition to any workout regime, but like with anything, it’s going to take consistency in order to see results. Keep practising this one from anywhere, including your own living room in order to build confidence and strength.
If you’re interested in becoming a confident gym goer and performing the lunge at your very first gym, be sure to check out our gym review page or get in contact with us.
You can also get started with our 6 week home workout series for beginners.