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 numerous benefits of their own. They work the hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and gluteal muscles, and can also improve stability. If that’s not enough, any time you surprise your body with a new challenge, it shocks your muscles, forcing them to respond the change in lifting stimulus.
In these particular lunge variations, there are several components 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, such as holding dumbbells at your sides or placing weight on your upper back. Your feet should remain approximately hip-width apart, as though you’re standing on a set of narrow railroad tracks.
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.
For this week’s Top-Pick Tuesday, I’m counting down my 10 favorite lunge variations!
10: Step-Back Lunges
Performed exactly how they sound, in this variation, you start with your feet together. Step back and lower your knee into a lunge, then push through your front heel and bring your legs back together. Continue on the same leg until you’ve completed a full set of repetitions, then switch to the other leg.
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, lift that back heel off the ground, and you’re ready to go! Lower your back knee towards the floor, then push back up. Your feet stay in place the whole time. Finish one round of repetitions on the first side before switching legs.
8: Walking Lunges
Are you at home wondering how to work your legs? Find an open space, or head outside for walking lunges. Take a big step forward with your right foot, landing heel then toe. Drop 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.
7: 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.
6: 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, use this exercise as a drill to help improve running form. Sprinters are taught to drive their knees as they run, which this movement helps train your body to do. Add to the effectiveness by moving your arms like a runner. You are now teaching your arms to move the way you want them to on the track.
5: Propulsion Lunges
Propulsion lunges require balance, stability, and explosiveness. By doing them, you practice and develop these skills. The explosiveness comes from jumping off your front foot into the air. This variation engages your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are used during quick bursts of movement.
After you jump off your front foot, go straight back into a lunge. The knee you drove up goes back down to the ground behind you. Finish a set of repetitions on one side before switching to the other.
4: Jump Lunges
Jump lunges are another great variation to develop explosiveness in your legs. Start with your feet together. Then, jump into the bottom of a lunge position with your right leg forward. Next, jump, switch your lead leg, and land in a lunge with your left leg forward. The pattern will be jump into right lunge, jump into left lunge, jump into right lunge, and so forth.
In the middle picture, both feet are off the ground.
3: Pulsing Lunges
Do to a pulsing lunge, lower your back knee into a lunge position. Now, instead of performing the full movement, press through your front heel and lift your back knee two to three inches up, then lower it back down. That is one pulse. You can do one, then press all the way up, two, three, etc. If you’re doing two pulses, the rhythm will be like this: knee down for lunge, lift two or three inches (pulse one), knee down, lift two to three inches (pulse two), knee down, press all the way up.
Pulsing lunges are great because they can be used to intensify almost any other variation. They can be done anywhere, with or without added weights. Are your walking lunges feeling easy? Add a pulse at the bottom. Are you bored with your step-back lunges? Add a pulse before bringing your back leg in. Keep pulses in your toolbox and use them to build on to other lunge variations if needed.
2: Overhead Lunges
Arriving at the number two spot are overhead lunges. Using a barbell or EZ-Curl Bar, position your hands wide. Depending on the weight selected, either jerk or press the bar overhead. Your arms should be extended straight, forming a “V” with your shoulders. While keeping the bar securely overhead, perform a lunge. I prefer to do this as a walking lunge, but it can also be done in place (as a forward lunge). Step forward into a lunge with your right leg, press through your front foot and push your right leg back up, then step into a forward lunge with your left leg. The pattern becomes step forward right lunge, push back to start, step forward left lunge, push back to start. Doing this, you should always come back to the same starting position.
I like this as an advanced variation due to the added challenges it presents. Holding the weight overhead engages your shoulders and upper back. You must keep the bar balanced through the movement and maintain a strong core. All of this is happening while still strengthening your legs through the lunge.
1: Weighted Lunges
My favorite type of lunge are weighted lunges. Weighted lunges are performed while holding dumbbells at your side or by placing a barbell on your upper back. They can be done in the form of a static lunge, step-back lunge, forward lunge, or walking lunge. My favorite weighted lunges are walking lunges with weight on my upper back. Typically, I will use an EZ-Curl Bar because it’s shorter than a regular barbell, making it easier to move through the gym.
If you’re new to lunges, start with a variation that uses body weight. The static lunge is a great option. Focus on mastering the basics before moving to more complex exercises. As you build strength and get more comfortable with the movement, consider adding other variations to your workout. You may decide to use one type of lunge per lower-body workout, mixing it in with other exercises. In that case, knowing different variations gives you variety to shake-up your workouts and challenge your lower body in slightly different ways.
If you have any questions or comments, feel free to respond below. You are strong and talented. Keep taking steps forward, and know that nothing is impossible.
Lift Smart. Love Hard. Stay Positive.