What is a Lunge?

Katie Schaefer

A lunge is a leg-strengthening exercise that targets the quadricep, hamstring, and gluteal muscles. To perform the exercise, a person begins with feet together or shoulder width apart and steps forward with one leg, landing on the heel of the front foot and bending the knee at a 90-degree angle to the toes. The motion is completed by the person returning to a standing position and can be repeated several times, either on one leg or by alternating legs.

A woman doing a lunge.
A woman doing a lunge.

There are many variations of the basic lunge. A longer version, in which the knee of the back leg touches the floor and the knee of the front leg bends at an angle less than 90 degrees, focuses on the gluteal muscles; a shortened version focuses more on the quadriceps. The shorter motion, however, places unnecessary strain on the knee and is not recommended by the majority of health professionals.

Barbell lunges work several lower-body muscles while adding extra resistance.
Barbell lunges work several lower-body muscles while adding extra resistance.

Perhaps the most popular variation is the walking lunge in which a person begins with the basic motion and continues through for several paces until the muscles of both legs are exhausted. There is also the forward version – performed like the walking version but with the knee brought parallel to the hip between motions – and the reverse version, performed like the walking one only backward.

Further variations include the rotational version, a combination of the forward motion and torso rotation; the drop version, beginning with feet shoulder width apart and crossing one leg behind the other as the hips drop; and the knee-hug version, similar to the forward motion, in which the person performs a walking lunge with hands on the hips and hugs the lunging knee to the chest between lunges. In addition, the sideways version can be an excellent stretching variation. The sideways lunge is performed by stepping out from a standing position, turning the heel out and bracing the knee – again at a 90-degree angle above the foot – with the shoulder or elbow. For increased flexibility and range of motion, the sideways motion should be held a minimum of 20 seconds and then repeat on the opposite leg.

While a person's body weight is efficient resistance for the beginner, the advanced or intermediate lunger may choose to hold dumbbells in either hand or a weighted barbell on top of the shoulders for added resistance. The most important thing, however, is to maintain form and proper contraction of the gluteal muscles. This is true of the basic lunge and all variations of the lunge, to include walking and barbell lunges. Added contraction of the abdominal muscles during a lunge can help maintain form and further condition the body's core.

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