Lunges: The Ultimate Leg Exercise
The secret to great legs is consistently mixing up your lower-body routine. Lunges make for the perfect exercise because they target the quads, hamstrings, glutes and even the calf muscle. But typically you only see people doing the standard front lunge. Here are several lunge variations that will challenge you, increase your strength and help you get great looking legs.
Split Squat Lunge
The great thing about the split squat lunge is you improve your balance and coordination, all while working on your muscle imbalances since you work one leg at a time. Perform this move by facing away from a bench. Then, put one foot on the top of a bench behind you. Make sure the front leg is far enough out that when you lower down, your front knee does not extend past your toes. Move up and down, like you would in a squat.
- If you find your front knee crossing over your front toes, move the front leg forward more
- Keep your chest pointed up
- Imagine you have a pole going right down the middle of you and you have to move up and down it
- Once you've progressed and feel this is an easy move, hold dumbbells in each hand
Just by simply changing which way you step, you can improve your strength and improve muscle coordination. Instead of stepping forward, you will step directly behind you. Then, lower down into a lunge position. Rise back up and step behind the body with the opposite leg. By stepping back, you target more quad and less hamstring.
- Don't perform this move until you are comfortable with a forward lunge.
- If you feel your balance is not coordinated enough to do this variation without falling, gently hold onto a pole or a wall. Slowly progress to not holding onto anything.
- You will need to move slowly through this move in order to perform in the correct form.
- Hold dumbbells, a weighted ball or a kettlebell once you have progressed.
The opposite of a split squat lunge, you will place your front foot on a raised platform, only about four to six inches off the ground. Lower down, keeping the front knee in-line with the ankle and toes pointed forward. By raising the front leg off the ground, your hamstrings will be doing more work than other muscles.
- This variation is a good one to progress to right after the standard front lunge.
- For balance, you can take your arms straight out to the sides and find a focus point to focus on.
- Step back with the back leg to keep proper alignment.
- As you progress, add resistance or take the step higher.
A lateral lunge is a tricky variation because it takes coordination and also takes proper form to do right. Stand straight up with legs together. Then, take a large step to one side with the left leg. Press your glutes out the back wall and lower down into a lunge. You must be careful to keep both feet pointed forward and your knee in-line with your ankle.
- Make sure you have enough leg strength to come back up. This move targets the inner thigh and if you move too quickly, you could injury yourself.
- Always look forward and chest up.
- Keep your weight in your heels to make sure your glutes take the pressure and not your knees.
- As you progress, hold a kettlebell in front of the body.
Lunge Combo Moves
Now that you've conquered the lunge and added variations of lunges to your workout, you want to minimize the time that you spend in the gym. The best way to do this is to combine exercises into one move. You can get creative and experiment with what works best for you but by adding moves together you can improve your stabilizer muscles, increase strength and body coordination.
In lunge combo moves you can try adding a bicep curl to a standard front lunge. You can add shoulder presses to reverse lunges or to front raise with lateral lunge. With each of these combo moves, to start with, perform the lunge first and then hold the lunges while you perform the extra upper-body move. As you get stronger and more coordinated, perform the lunge and upper body move at the same time. My favorite is a split squat with a barbell overhead press. In this move, as you lower down into a lunge, you press a barbell straight up towards the ceiling.
Variety is Key
One of the things I notice the most in gyms, is people are creatures of habit and they come in and do the same thing day after day. Sadly, they come to me and say they're not seeing results anymore. The truth is that they're body has become accustomed to everything they're doing in the gym. Yes, you're still burning calories and yes, you're still making a difference in your health but no, you won't continue to lose weight or build muscle. You have to challenge your muscles in order to continue see improvements. Plus, variety helps keep you motivated and coming back for more.