17 Lunge Variations To Build Stronger Legs and Hips
The lunge is an essential exercise to develop strength and power for the muscles of the lower body. In this post I will cover lunges using different strength training tools. Some lunge variations are for the novice and some will be more challenging and appropriate for those that have more experience.
The lunge targets your quadriceps as well as your glutes, hamstrings and hips. To do them well you need strength, stability, mobility and flexibility. Some lunges even require a bit of coordination.
Why would you want to learn different lunge variations?
1. So you won’t get bored doing the same ones over and over again.
2. You can introduce new stimulus to your legs. How do you progress your current lunge exercise? Do you simply pick up heavier weights? You can. But you can also progress the lunge by increasing its complexity.
3. Different lower body exercises target different areas of your lower body. As you will soon learn in comparing the Curtsy Lunge to the Side Lunge.
4. Maybe you are training somewhere different and you find yourself without your favorite strength training equipment. In this post you will learn how to lunge using dumbbells, kettlebells and a barbell.
Walking Lunges VS Stationary Lunge
As the name implies, a stationary lunge is a lunge where you stay in place. I believe one should focus in learning the stationary lunge before integrating walking lunges into their strength training routines. A walking lunge is basically a lunge with locomotion.
Walking lunges burn more calories than stationary lunges. Keep that in mind if you are aiming to get more of a metabolic workout. The continuous motion of walking and carrying weights at the same time will challenge your cardiovascular fitness.
Things To Consider When Performing Lunges
- Pause for one second at the bottom position of a lunge to make your exercise more demanding. You can apply this to any variation listed below.
- If you’re having trouble with forward lunges try reverse lunges. Forward lunges are more difficult as they require a bit of deceleration. Forward lunges also make your VMO (we will take a look at this important muscle shortly) muscle work harder.
- Placing the weights in front of your torso will challenge your core more. As opposed to placing the weights behind you or to your sides.
- To build lower body mass, use barbells. Barbells are the ideal choice if this is your goal because you are able overload your muscles with a lot of weight. It’s easier to carry 200 lbs on your back than it is to carry it using dumbbells or kettlebells.
- If you have good ankle and hip mobility, you can do a shorter lunge. By shorter I mean you deliberately under extend your leg when you shoot your leg forward or backward. This will work your quadriceps more. If you want to focus more on your gluteus maximus, then go for a longer lunge or overextend the moving leg.
1. Dumbbell Reverse Lunges
Grab a pair of dumbbells and carry them on the sides of your torso. Step back with one leg. You want to make sure you step back enough where you will give the back knee some room to flex. Your knee should come close to the floor. Drive back to the starting position. Complete both sides for one repetition.
2. Dumbbell Lunges (dumbbells at the shoulders)
This lunge is similar to the previous one. However, we will be placing the dumbbells in front of our shoulders. This modification can make your lunges significantly more difficult without the need of grabbing heavier weights. You can rest the dumbbells on your shoulders but if you want to make your abs work harder then slightly push them away from your body. This version will also help keep your posture upright.
3. Dumbbell Curtsy Lunge
The Curtsy Lunge is particularly unique where it targets the outer hip of the forward leg (the leg that doesn’t come off the ground). As you can see from the animated image above, the forward knee flexes excessively, enough to lean a bit forward, and that is totally fine if you have healthy knees.
4. Dumbbell Side Lunge
The Dumbbell Side Lunge targets your adductors (inner thigh muscles) more than any other lunge variation. The adductors are often overlooked in strength training routines and this lack of attention can create muscle imbalances in the lower body.
5. Dumbbell Overhead Lunge
The Dumbbell Overhead Lunge will mainly challenge stability at the core and at the shoulders. Use a load that can you manage to press over your head. Try to keep your working arm close to your head to keep better control of the dumbbell.
6. Walking Double Lunge
What do you do if you don’t have enough space to do walking lunges? You do a double lunge. This is another great alternative to progress your current walking lunge without adding more weight.
7. Dumbbell Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
The Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS) is one of my favorite lunge variations. There was a time where I was experiencing lower back pain and couldn’t put a barbell on my back to squat. During that period I opted for heavy RFESS to keep my lower body strength. It worked wonders. This version is not for everyone. It is a very advanced lower body exercise.
If you perform this version and you are leaning forward excessively or if your lower back has a pronounced arch, then this exercise isn’t for you. There is a balance factor to this exercise that also makes it difficult.
A common mistake is keeping the forward leg too close to the bench and lifting that heel of the ground as you flex the back knee. You want to be as stable as possible and lifting the heel the off the ground can throw your movement off.
8. Dumbbell Lunge with a Forward Lean
Should your feet go over your toes when you lunge? You will find this is a constant debate among many fitness enthusiasts. You can even overhear trainers sometimes tell their clients not to let their knees go over there toes.
Here’s the thing, when someone is learning how to lunge they should probably have some sort of structure, a good form to their movement. So not letting your knees go over your toes isn’t such a bad idea- in the beginning.
Once you are comfortable and you have the strength to learn other variations then you should try to add this one to your training toolbox. This variation specifically makes your VMO (Vastus Medialis Oblique) muscle work a bit harder. Training the VMO muscle is important due to it’s significant role in knee stability. And it really doesn’t matter how old you are, your fitness goals or what sport you play, anyone can benefit from more stable knees.
9. Jumping Split Squats
In this version we are adding a jump to our split squat. This exercise is more suitable for an advanced person. Start in a split squat position where your back heel is off the ground. You’re going to push away from the ground with your front leg and jump in the air to switch legs. Both of your feet should land around the same time. As soon as you land you want to initiate the jump again. This exercise should be done in a continuous motion.
You want to land softly and with an upright torso. If your torso is bending too forward then you might not have the strength and/or flexibility to do this exercise yet.
10. Kettlebell Lunge (Goblet Hold)
In this example I am grabbing the kettlebells by the handles and keeping it close to my torso, about chest height. You can perform this lunge placing the same leg back or you can alternate sides like I am doing in the image above.
11. Double Kettlebell Lunge (Rack Position)
I really enjoy this lunge. They are deceivingly difficult to do. In this variation we are going to hold the kettlebells with a rack position. The kettlebell rack position is where we hold the kettlebell close to our chest with our elbows close to our torso (I have my elbows flared out in the image above but that’s ok too). You want your wrists to be straight, you don’t want bent wrists while holding the kettlebell in this position.
12. Kettlebell Split Squat
This exercise is very similar to the previous one where we are implementing the rack position. However, you will be using only one kettlebell. This is a unilateral (one side) exercise where you will carry the kettlebell using only one arm. This approach will challenge you core stability.
Notice how this exercise is a split squat and not a lunge. We don’t lift our feet off the ground in a split squat.
13. Kettlebell Overhead Lunge
This exercise is very similar to the Dumbbell Overhead Lunge (#5 in this list). The only difference is that I am using a kettlebell to execute the lunge. As you can see in the image above, the mass of the kettlebell is behind the wrist. This placement of the weight will greatly challenge your shoulder’s stability. The kettlebell is essentially pulling your arm back, to counterbalance this shift, your shoulder’s stabilizers will work extra hard to keep your arm in it’s socket.
14. Kettlebell Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
Here’s another exercise were we place the kettlebells at the rack position. Like exercise #7 on this list, placing the foot on an elevated surface increases the range of motion of the back leg. At first it will take a bit of practice in getting into this position while holding the kettlebells in front of you.
Placing the kettlebells in front of your body really makes the quadriceps of the front leg work really hard, while the hip flexors of the back leg get a nice deep stretch.
15. Barbell Forward Lunge
As I mentioned earlier, using barbells are the preferred choice for building lower body mass. The Barbell Forward Lunge is definitely an advanced exercise, as are the other barbell exercises you will shortly see. In the image above you can see me alternating legs. I do this because this distributes the stress evenly through out the set, as opposed to continuously lunging with the same leg (which you can also do if you want).
16. Barbell Reverse Lunge
Easier than the Barbell Forward Lunge, the reverse lunge is another great option. You want to make sure you place the bar on your shoulders and not on your neck.
17. Front Rack Barbell Lunge
Another favorite of mine, the Front Rack Barbell Lunge is a great option if you want to place less stress on your spine and if you want your core to work harder. You want to make sure you keep your elbows up throughout the movement. This will help you stay upright.