By Matt Evans
If you’re looking for an exercise to help you lose fat and build muscle in your thighs and calves, the lunge is a simple move that can be done lots of different ways. You can do side lunges, forward lunges, static moves or dynamic split jumps, and they’re all very easy moves to learn.
Research scientists in Stockholm found an exercise programme including forward lunges improved running speed in young football players. If you’re a keen runner – for example, if you’ve just started a Couch to 5K programme – you’ll see lots of benefits if you incorporate lunges into your routine.
Even if your goal is to get stronger, not run faster, it’s worth trying the lunges below. A study published in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation shows lunging exercises work the hip muscles, increasing flexibility, in addition to strengthening your legs, glutes and core.
Having a strong and mobile lower body is one of the most important factors in staying active: whether you’re getting back into weightlifting at the gym, you’re taking up yoga or you simply want to keep up with your dog on long walks. Hip mobility will also help in life: as one of the body’s key “hinges” which works every time you sit down and stand up, strong and supple hips will keep you healthy even into old age.
Lunges really are for everyone. Below you can find some tips on how to do a lunge effectively, as well as some form tips, common mistakes and variations to hit different muscle groups. Happy lunging.
How to do lunges
The bodyweight lunge is a classic exercise that provides a good workout for the quads and calves. This simple exercise loosens your groin and glutes, and promotes hip mobility.
- Get your left leg slightly forward and your right leg slightly back. Then place your hands behind your head, your shoulders back and keep your core braced.
- This exercise can also be performed with your hands on your hips, or with your arms crossed across your chest.
- Next, step forward with your left leg, slowly lowering your body until your right knee is almost touching the floor. Then pause for a few seconds.
- Quickly push yourself back to the starting position. That’s one repetition. Remember to alter the leading leg during the workouts.
How to do lunges: Form tips and common lunge mistakes
Lunges can sometimes be tricky to balance effectively, so you need to make sure your form matches the diagrams above to perform the move in a safe, functional way. Keep your head up and shoulders back throughout the movement, as this will keep your back straight and your centre of gravity in the right place.
If you suffer from existing mobility issues or joint pain, consult a professional, such as a personal trainer or a doctor, before trying the lunge. Otherwise, don’t try and lunge lower than your knees and hips will allow: just go as far as you’re able to without causing yourself discomfort. In addition, always warm up before trying this exercise.
Variation: Low side-to-side lunge
This simple exercise loosens your groin and glutes, and promotes hip mobility.
- Stand up tall, with your feet roughly twice shoulder-width apart, and your hands clasped in front of your chest.
- Bend your right knee and use it to lower your body towards the ground. Your left leg should be as straight as possible, and your upper body should be still.
- Without returning to the starting position, reverse the movement, shifting your weight to your left leg, which should now be bent at the knee, with your right leg straightened. Keep this going for at least 30 seconds.
Variation: Dumbbell lunge
This variant on the bodyweight lunge adds weights, to provide a workout for your arms, quads and calves.
- Start by standing up tall, with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Keeping your upper body and arms in the same position, lunge forward with your left leg. At the lowest position, your right knee should almost touch the floor.
- Pause for a few seconds, then return to the starting position. Reverse the movement, lunging forward with your right leg.
Variation: Split jump
The split jump offers a more dynamic, energetic take on the classic lunge.
- Crouch down in a lunge position, with your left foot forward (bent at the knee), and your right foot back. Make sure your hands remain down by your sides.
- Without significantly moving your upper body, jump upwards and forwards. As you jump, scissor-kick your legs, so that your right foot comes forward and your left foot goes
- Land and go back down into the lunge position. Your right foot should be forward, and your left foot back.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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