Had Neil Armstrong spent a little more time down the NASA gym doing lunges he might well have been able to take more than a small step when he reached the Moon’s surface. How much further mankind would have advanced as a result, who knows, but it’s certainly worth avoiding Armstrong’s error by ensuring the lunge is a staple of your own exercise regime.
What Muscles Do Lunges Train?
Lunges are compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups at once. The movement works the muscles in the hips, glutes and legs to make them stronger, more balanced and more flexible in ways that are highly helpful in a variety of sports as well as everyday life.
Few lower-body exercises, if any, can match the lunge when it comes to functional benefits. When your powerful stride ensures you nab the last slice of cake ahead of your dumbfounded colleagues, tip your hat to the lunge.
How To Lunge
From a standing start, step forward with one leg and lower your hips until both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle. Keep your front knee above your ankle, rather than pushed out in front of it, and try to avoid your back knee touching the ground. As for your upper body, keep your back straight, your shoulders relaxed and your chin up. Make sure your core is engaged throughout the movement.
Then, when you’re pushing back up to the starting position, do so through your heels.
Aim for 20 lunges on both legs, or do them for a minute on each side, making sure the form on each and every lunge is perfect.
Like any exercise, the lunge will only make your body fitter and stronger if you perform it properly. It is a challenging exercise to get right – it requires balance, co-ordination and good posture, as well as muscle strength – so make sure you always keep to the following to keep each rep perfect.
Keep Your Chin Up
This will correct your posture so you don’t end up staring down at your leading foot, which makes balancing more difficult.
Keep Your Chest Up
This will ensure your upper body stays upright, which helps you lunge forwards and back smoothly, as well as keeping your spine in its natural alignment.
Brace Your Core
This will keep your upper body tight, improving your ability to lower into a lunge without falling over, and work your abs harder.
Tense Your Glutes
Do this just before you begin each rep to make sure you’re recruiting your buttocks and hamstrings, the two main muscle groups responsible for the movement.
Once you’ve mastered the classic lunge there are plenty of ways to vary the movement to make it trickier or target different muscles. If your favoured activity is all about forward steps (we’re looking at you, runners), ramp up the difficulty by holding weights while you lunge, whether it’s a dumbbell in each hand or a sandbell clutched to your chest.
For those who seek to move in new directions – rugby and football players – there’s both the side lunge and reverse lunge to try. These are no more difficult than classic lunges, but will target slightly different muscles to ensure you build well-rounded lower-body strength.
Once you’ve mastered forward, backward and sideways lunges you can combine them in the clock lunge. Simply lunge in different directions to sequentially hit the 12, 3, 6 and 9 hour marks on a clock.
If endlessly striding in different directions without actually going anywhere tests your patience, turn your lunge into a walking lunge by continuing forward rather than returning to your starting position. This has the added advantage of improving your core stability as you strive to stay balanced.
It’s also possible to build explosive power through your lunge routine. The jump lunge is a little more advanced, but still well within the scope of most people. To do jump lunges, start by stepping out into a classic forward lunge, then power into the air off your front foot and switch your legs around in midair so you land ready to lower into a lunge on the opposite leg.
For more on each of these, read our guides to each lunge variation.