Lunges are one of the best lower-body, body-weight exercises you can do because they target your quads, hamstrings and glutes simultaneously. But constant repetitions of the same standard lunges get boring. And what’s worse, your body adjusts to the same movement pattern and you stop seeing results. The best way to prevent that? These lunge variations, of course! Whether you want to add weights, incorporate steps or simply stick with body-weight versions, there’s bound to be a variation that’s perfect for your next workout.
1. Standard Lunge
Let’s start with the basics. It’s important to master the proper form of a standard lunge before moving on to more complicated variations. HOW TO DO IT: Start standing up tall, and then step a few feet forward with your left foot. Bend both knees to 90 degrees, with your back knee hovering just above the ground and your front knee either over your ankle or (if you have healthy knees) over the flat part of your foot (but not past your toes). You can keep your hands on your hips or hanging by your sides. Hold for a beat before pushing off your front foot, returning back to standing and repeating on the other side.
2. Weighted Lunge
The easiest way to add variety to your lunges is to hold a dumbbell in each hand. Start with a weight that’s manageable and gradually increase the amount as you get stronger. HOW TO DO IT: Keep everything the exact same as a standard lunge, but hold a dumbbell in each hand. Make sure that the weights aren’t pulling you out of alignment: Keep your back straight and your front knee tracking over your front foot. Then repeat on the other leg.
3. Walking Lunge
The walking lunge is a perfect variation for building functional strength. You’ll naturally switch leading legs as you move forward without having to return to a starting position. You can walk the length of a room or take them outdoors to your favorite trail. HOW TO DO IT: Complete one standard lunge, but instead of pushing off the front foot, push off your back foot and take another step forward. Continue walking forward, alternating which leg you’re lunging with. Aim for 15 to 20 reps.
4. Reverse Lunge
While standard forward-moving lunges focus mostly on the quads, reverse lunges help you strengthen your hamstrings even more than a standard lunge. HOW TO DO IT: Stand up tall with your back straight and hands on hips for stability. Step back a few feet onto the ball of your left foot, keeping the right leg planted. Hold for a second before pushing off your back foot and returning to standing. Repeat on the right leg. Feel free to add weights if this version is too easy.
5. Lateral Lunge
Though this movement pattern is a little unusual, this variation really hits the hip flexors and inner thighs. However, be very careful not to overextend your knees on this version. HOW TO DO IT: From standing, root your right foot into the ground and step your left foot out to the side. As you do, bend your left knee, keeping it in line with your left foot. You can have your hands on your hips or hanging on either side of the bent leg. Push off your left leg and return to standing. Do all your reps on the left leg before doing the same number of reps on the right leg. Just like a standard lunge, you can try adding weights to this variation too.
6. Lateral Lunge Switch-Off
While this variation is very similar to the lateral lunge, this time your inside leg will be the bent one while the leg that steps out is kept straight. It’s a drill that not only strengthens your lower body, but it also gives you a great cardio workout and challenges your agility. HOW TO DO IT: Start with knees slightly bent and your chest tilted forward a little bit. Reach your left hand down to your right foot as you step your left foot out to the left side. Your left leg is straight and your right leg is bent. Quickly step your left leg in to meet the right and step the right leg out to the side, switching the hand reaching for the floor. Continue alternating legs and arms to really feel the burn in your quads.
7. Lateral Lunge With Leg Raise
For an even greater hip-flexor strengthener, try this version, which also challenges your balance and core stability. HOW TO DO IT: From standing, step out to the left side just like a lateral lunge. But before returning to the start, put even more weight onto your left leg and raise your right foot off the floor several inches. Keep your back flat and your hips as level as possible. Hold for a beat before setting it down and stepping your left foot back to the center.
8. Curtsy Lunge
Just like the name implies, this variation looks exactly like an exaggerated curtsy and works the glutes, hamstrings and quads. HOW TO DO IT: Start standing with your hands on your hips. Put your weight onto your left leg and step back and to the side with your right foot. Bend both knees into a curtsy. Hold for a second before returning to the start and repeating on the other leg.
9. Reverse Lunge With Kick
Nothing intensifies a lunge like a little kickboxing action. In addition to targeting your lower-body muscles, this version will amp up your heart rate and increase hip flexibility and lower-body power. HOW TO DO IT: Just like a regular reverse lunge, start from standing and then step back with your right foot. Keep your hands on your hips or hold them in front of you as if you were a boxer. Explosively push off your back foot and swing it forward into the front kick at about hip-height (or higher if flexibility allows). Step back into a reverse lunge and complete all reps on your right leg before doing the same number of reps on the other side.
10. Lunge With High Knee
Incorporate those lower abs and core strength for a real mental and physical challenge. HOW TO DO IT: Start with a standard lunge, stepping forward on your right leg with your hands on your hips for balance (if needed). Push off your back leg, but instead of returning to standing, pull the back leg through to the front so that your knee is bent to 90 degrees in front of you with your thigh parallel to the floor. Set your foot back on the floor and repeat on the other leg. It might be easiest to perform these as a variation of walking lunges, or you can reverse the lunge if space is limited.
11. Lunge With Rear Leg Lift
Want to amp up the burn in your glutes? This variation will have your backside looking toned and tight. HOW TO DO IT: Step forward onto your left leg, both knees bent to 90 degrees. As you stand up, push off your back leg and, using only your glutes, lift it several inches off the floor. Try not to lean too far forward or arch your back. Swing the back foot forward. From here, you can either repeat on the other leg and continue walking forward or step your feet together and do the leg lifts with reverse lunges.
12. Medicine-Ball Rotational Lunge
Target your abdominal muscles — especially your obliques — with this variation that incorporates a medicine ball. To get the maximum benefit from this exercise, you’ll want to hold the medicine ball slightly away from your body (i.e., not resting against your stomach). HOW TO DO IT: Hold a medicine ball with both hands about level with your belly button. As you step forward into a standard lunge on your right leg, rotate your torso to the left (away from the leg that’s bent). Push off your front leg and return to start, unwinding your torso in the process. Step forward onto your left leg and twist to the right. Continue alternating sides.
13. Woodchop Lunge
Who says lunges can’t be full-body exercises? By holding a medicine ball or other weight and raising it over your head and lowering it across your body, you’ll feel this exercise in every major muscle group. HOW TO DO IT: Start standing holding a medicine ball with both hands over your head and slightly to the right. Plant your left foot and step forward on your right foot. As you step forward, bring your arms down and across your body so that you end up holding the medicine ball between your split legs. Push off your front leg and raise your arms back up over your head. Shift the ball slightly to the other side and repeat on the other leg.
14. Lunge Pulse
Lunge pulses are the perfect way to tone and strengthen your glutes when your space is limited but you need some variety in your routine. Plus, your muscles fatigue faster this way, meaning you’ll need fewer reps to start seeing results. HOW TO DO IT: Step forward into a standard lunge with both knees bent to 90 degrees. Straighten your legs slightly so that the knees are still bent, then fully bend them again. Keep pulsing in this way before switching legs and repeating on the other side.
15. Lunge Jump
If you have a solid strength base and no prior knee injuries, you’ll definitely want to give this plyometric lunge variation a try. It’s definitely a challenging one, but it’s a proven lower-body builder. HOW TO DO IT: Step forward into a standard lunge, making sure you’re alignment is correct. Raise your arms slightly behind you to gain momentum, then swing them forward as you explode out of the lunge and off your feet. Switch your feet in midair so that you land with the opposite foot in front. With each rep, switch which leg is leading.
16. Lunge With Biceps Curl
There are any number of upper-body exercises you can combine with lunges to make it more of a full-body exercise. This is just one option, and it incorporates your upper arms. HOW TO DO IT: Hold a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. As you step forward into a lunge, curl the dumbbells up to shoulder height with your palms facing your chest. Push off your front foot and return to standing, lowering the dumbbells back to your sides as you do. Step forward again, this time on the opposite leg. Keep alternating which leg you step forward with, while also performing biceps curls with each rep.
17. Lunge With Shoulder Press
Another option for incorporating upper-body work into your lunges is by adding an overhead shoulder press. And because you’re raising the dumbbells straight overhead, you’ll also need abdominal strength to keep your core tight and your torso upright. HOW TO DO IT: Begin holding a dumbbell in each hand at shoulder level with palms facing outward. Step forward into a standard lunge, knees bent to 90 degrees. At the same time you step forward, press the dumbbells over your head without hunching forward or allowing them to throw off your balance. Push off your front foot and return to the start, lowering the dumbbells back to your shoulders. Switch leading legs with each rep and continue to press and lower the dumbbells.
18. Elevated Split Squat
Technically, the word “lunge” isn’t in the name, but this exercise is definitely still a lunge variation that utilizes the lunge position and adds a challenge by elevating the rear leg. HOW TO DO IT: Stand a few feet in front of a bench or platform. Rest one of your feet on top of the bench so that your feet are staggered. Keep you hands on your hips to help you balance. Bend both knees to lower into a lunge. Your front knee will still be at a 90-degree angle, but your back knee will be pointing toward the ground. Straighten back to the start for one rep. Complete all reps on one leg before switching legs.
19. Runner’s Lunge
You can either use this variation as an exercise or as a static stretch. Either way, you’ll be targeting a lot more of your hips than you would with a standard lunge. HOW TO DO IT: Start standing, and then take a huge step forward. Bend your front knee to 90 degrees, keeping your knee over your front foot, and leave your back leg straight (or you can bend the knee slightly). For the stretch, support yourself by placing each hand on either side of your front foot. If you need to, drop your back knee to the floor. Hold here for 15 to 30 seconds (or longer if you’d like) before doing the same on the other side. As a lower-body exercise, push off your front foot, return to standing and change legs, alternating at a faster pace than stretching.
20. Mountain Climber
Again, it’s not technically a lunge in the traditional sense, but the same form is at play. You’ll just rely a little more heavily on your cardiovascular endurance with this one. HOW TO DO IT: Start in a plank position with your shoulders over your wrists and your body in one straight line from your head to your feet. Raise you hips, bend your right knee and bring your foot up to your hip (but resting on the ground). Quickly switch legs so that the left foot is at your hip and the right one is back to where it started. Continue switching legs while maintaining proper form.
21. Diagonal Lunge
You’ll need this variation (along with a few others in this series) to combine for the final variation on the next slide. But you can also use this variation by itself to target your hip, glute and quad muscles in a new way. HOW TO DO IT: Once again, start standing with your hands on your hips. Instead of stepping straight forward, step to the right at a 45-degree angle (as if you were aiming for the two on a clock). Try to keep both knees as close to 90 degrees as possible. Push off your right foot back to standing. Repeat on the left leg, this time aiming for 10 on the clock.
22. Around-the-Clock Lunge
This one takes several different lunge variations and combines them all into one super-variation for an exercise that hits every major lower-body muscle. By doing these lunges, you may experience soreness in places you didn’t even realize could be sore. HOW TO DO IT: Imagine yourself in the middle of a clock. With your right leg, step forward into a standard lunge so that your foot would be on the 12 of the clock. Step back to center and repeat around the clock, going for three, then six with your right leg, and then six again with your left leg. Then mirror this on the other side, going for nine and then 12 again. For an added challenge, hit every number on the clock or try mixing up the numbers. Go from two to seven to three to 10.
What Do YOU Think?
What’s your favorite lunge variation on this list? Did we miss any? Which ones? What other exercises do you combine with your lunges? Do you have any other exercises that you rely on to sculpt and tone your lower body? Share your thoughts, suggestions and questions in the comments section below!
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