10 Different Style Lunges To Hit Your Legs
Leg day was always one of my favorites. And while I now opt for full body workout instead of targeting just one area (read more about my training split here), I still love leg exercises. And that most definitely includes lunge variations! Lunges are an awesome, unilateral exercise that can be tweaked to target multiple muscles of your lower body and boost strength. Even basic variations can be challenging and insanely effective.
In addition to squats and deadlifts, lunges are one of the main exercises to hit your legs. They help improve balance, strength and performance.
Truth be told, I adore squats and deadlifts (check out these fun squat variations) but lunges just kill me. I think it’s both the combination of them being a unilateral and challenging movement, but they’ve have always gotten my heart rate up in addition to killing my legs.
One of the reasons I love using lunge variations with clients is that they’re so effective. When activated properly, lunges targets far more than the quadriceps which is what most people think when they hear the word. They require a ton of stability through the glutes, (especially the medius and minimus) a great stretch on the hip flexors and depending on torso positioning they can place more emphasis on hamstrings and glutes versus totally quad dominant.
As I already mentioned, lunges are a unilateral exercise (read about other favorite unilateral exercises here) which means that they help improve core strength, boost performance, and help correct muscle imbalances.
Regardless of your goals, be it weight loss, strength, performance or maintenance, lunges can easily have a place in your training program.
That said, like most exercises; before you move onto any lunge variation you need to have mastered the basics. This means a basic stationary lunge and a reverse lunge. Not only do you need to be able to perform these exercises confidently, but you need to be able to stabilize the front knee and truly activate the muscles of the lower body (specifically the glutes) before progressing. Oh, and make sure you can perform multiple lunges without falling over- kind of crucial ?
Once you’ve mastered these basics- jump into some fun variations to switch it up and keep your muscles progressing!
Lunges With Parlof Press
This variation is a fun one but a deceptively hard one. It not only requires far more core strength to press the dumbbell away from your body, but you’ve also got to hold a static lunge to do so.
Instead of targeting your strength through movement, this lunge boosts your stability by having you hold the contraction during the hardest part of the lunge (the bottom). You’ll shake, vibrate and be fatigued after few reps. So, enjoy that ?
Training with pauses is a widely underused technique but a great one to improve form and boost strength. I love paused reps and you can read more about them here.
Quick tip: like everything else in exercise, not every variation is right for every person. If you need some help developing a program, hit up my online training programs for more customized help!
Barbell Reverse Lunges
Training with a barbell on your back is fun- but hard. Because the barbell extends so far from your body this lunge variation requires a lot of balance.
Since you’ll be stepping back with each lunge, work with a light load (just the bar) until you get used to the movement and firing your core muscles to stay upright with the bar.
The mechanical loading of the barbell is a great way to target the lower body but also prevent osteoporosis in the spine- double win.
This variation obviously hits your legs but also the rest of your body, specifically your core and shoulders! Placing the load in a different area requires a new type of stabilization.
And with this variation you’re unable to hinge forward (because the weight is overhead) so you develop much more core strength. Not to mention the contraction if continuously holding a weight overhead!
Oh, the burn you’ll feel with these beauties! Deficit lunges give you a larger range of motion and thus they’re much more challenging.
My tip with these lunges is to decrease the length in which you step back in order to increase the depth in which you move down. Using the strength of your front leg to pull your body up (versus pushing off the back foot) at a greater range than normal with be hard as hell… but worth it.
These lunges can be done with a regular stance or a curtsy one and I use them most for clients who are working out a home and don’t have a lot of options equipment wise.
For this type of exercise all you need is socks on a hard floor or a small towel. Sliding your leg backwards and having to pull it forward give a bit of resistance in your lunge and the pull hits your hamstrings nicely.
Front Loaded Barbell Lunges
This variation is for fitness junkies. For those of us who have mastered all other lunge variations and feel comfortable with a barbell.
Having a strong barbell reverse lunge is key.
Holding the barbell in front of the body and moving not only requires a lot more stability and glute strength but also mobility in the thoracic spine (you must keep the elbows up to keep the barbell in place) and more stress on the anterior core.
Out of the bunch, this is one of the hardest variations but it’s worth trying when you’re at that point. They feel awkward and wobbly the first time you do them- but with practice, focus and proper muscle contraction they progress you nicely through plateaus.
Lunge With Hop
This variation is an unloaded one (no weight) as it requires a plyometric component (the hop). It can be done strictly with a step back reverse lunge or a sliding lunge.
Adding the hop the front leg and driving the knee through is a nice way to train power and fluidity. It requires focus and balance. It’s also not a great option to start out with or as a new mom even though it’s a bodyweight exercise (read more about why you should avoid jumping as a new mom).
The truth is, you need to already be strong in order to jump. Otherwise you’ll just hurt your joints, you won’t be able to stabilize, and you’ll kill your knees.
Use this variation if you need to get your heart rate up, train more for performance or power and you’re already comfortable with heavy loaded lunges.
Barbell Curtsy Lunges
Curtsy lunges target the glutes more than anything else, but they also require you to pay a lot of attention to your front knee and stabilizing it.
Loading up with a barbell is an awesome way to really hit the glutes and challenge stability given you need to step back slightly sideways to hit them properly.
This type of lunge variation can be done a few different ways. Regardless of the placement you chose it’s a great option to train through instability.
When training with only one weight you challenge your body to hold you upright and not give in to one side (anti-lateral flexion).
You can hold the weight down like you would dumbbells, rack a kettlebell on your arm and hold at shoulder height or for the toughest lunge variation you can opt for one weight overhead.
Yes, your legs are worked in this variation but so are your core muscles- intensely.
Don’t forget to pin these awesome lunge variations!
If your training is feeling s bit stagnant or your legs have hit a plateau, switching up your lunges can have great results (and here’s a few tips on how to make exercise and consistency easier in general!). Ensure your basic stance is solid, strong and you’re able to engage all necessary muscles and then start playing with new options! Changing your style of lunge helps not only target the legs in a new way and keep results going but you’ll also hit your core and other stabilizers in new ways. This helps boost results, performance and strength. Plus, it keeps you from getting bored in your workouts!