Lunge Variations: Targeting Muscles with Lunge Variations

Lunge Variations: Targeting Muscles with Lunge Variations

(Last Updated On: March 29, 2019)

Lunge Variations: Targeting Muscles with Lunge Variations

Two of the most effective exercises for working the lower body are squats and lunges. Despite the benefits squats offer, in many ways, lunges are a more versatile lower body exercise when you consider how many ways there are to do this exercise. The list of lunge variations includes front lunges, back lunges, side lunges, curtsey lunges, diagonal lunges, lateral lunges, switch lunges, long lunges, walking lunges, among others. With so many lunge variations, boredom should never be an issue.

You might be convinced that squats are better than lunges. Don’t be too sure! A small study using EMG to measure muscle activation showed lunges activates lower body muscles more than the squat. Another benefit – the lunge is a more sports specific movement compared to the squat. Needless to say, lunges and lunge variations are exercises you need to have in your fitness routine, especially if you play sports. It’s also the ultimate functional exercise for the lower body.

 Lunge Variations: Benefits of Doing Lunges

Lunges effectively strengthen and tone the muscles in thighs (hamstrings and quadriceps) as well as the glutes, but you can place more emphasis on your hamstrings or your quadriceps with different squat variations. Think squats are only for your lower thighs and buttocks? Squats also work your core and abs as well as your hip flexors. Goblet reverse lunges holding a dumbbell are particularly effective for working your ab muscles, as long as you use good form.

Lunges are a compound exercise, meaning they work more than one muscle group at a time. Working multiple muscle groups increases the number of calories you burn and saves time. Lunges have another benefit too.  Doing lunges creates a “balance challenge” that helps improve your balance skills. Reverse lungs are easier from a balance standpoint since your front leg stays planted on the floor to help maintain balance. Another advantage of lunges is you can use them to correct lower body muscle imbalances since they’re a unilateral exercise.

 Lunge Variations: Targeting Muscles in Your Lower Body with Lunges

The primary muscle group worked with a standard lunge is the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh. Your hamstrings and glutes also get a workout. One way to better target your hamstrings and glutes when you forward lunge is to lean forward slightly from your torso as you lunge. When you’re in an upright position, lunging forward mainly targets your quadriceps. Hamstring and glute work is especially important for women since women tend to have stronger quadriceps relative to hamstrings. Weak hamstrings and glutes create a muscle imbalance that increases the risk of knee injuries.

Another way to place more emphasis on your hamstring muscles is to do walking lunges. In one study, researchers asked a group of competitive soccer players to do 4 sets of walking lunges (12 reps for each set) twice weekly for 6 weeks. At the beginning of the study and after 6 weeks, they tested the players’ lower body strength. The strength in their hamstrings had increased by 38% whereas their quadriceps strength was unchanged. The conclusion? Walking lunges are an effective way to target your hamstrings.

Yet another way to target your hamstrings and glutes more when you lunge is to so reverse lunges while standing on a step platform. Stand on the platform holding dumbbells or do the exercise without dumbbells if you’re a beginner. Lunge backwards off the platform, placing your foot firmly on the floor using good form. Then reverse the movement by stepping back onto the platform and repeat. You should feel the movement more in your hamstrings and glutes.

The stride you take also affects which muscles you target. To place more emphasis on your hamstrings and glutes, step forward with a long stride. Want to emphasize the quads more? Use a shorter stride.

Lunge Variations: Increase the Calorie Burn

If your objective is to burn more calories, incorporate plyometric switch lunges into your routine. To do them, jump explosively between lunge positions, taking care to land softly using good form. This is a move that builds lower body power and functional strength while boosting calorie burn. Plyometric switch lunges are an ideal circuit training exercise for the lower body. Do this exercise without holding dumbbells initially to master form. Later, hold light dumbbells to increase the challenge.

Lunge Variations: What about Side Lunges?

Side lunges target your outer and inner thighs, glutes as well as your quadriceps. A longer step to the side places more emphasis on the glutes whereas a shorter step to the side places more emphasis on the quadriceps muscles. Avoid stepping too wide since this can be hard on your knees. Always keep both heels firmly planted on the floor to reduce stress on your knees. Side lunges are especially beneficial if you play sports that involve lateral movements.

Lunge Variations: Tips for Getting the Most Out of Lunges

When you try a new lunge variation, begin with no weight at first to get the form right. For example, side lunges place stress on the groin area so you want to do this exercise in a controlled manner using good form. Lower your leg a full 90 degrees when doing front squats but not below this level. Lowering below 90 degrees places added stress on the knees. Your knee should also be over your foot and pointing in the same direction as your foot.  Always warm up before a lunge workout to get the blood flowing and begin with reverse lunges. Reverse lunges place less stress on your knees relative to forward lunges.

The Bottom Line?

Lunges and their variations are a compound exercise that targets all the muscles in your thigh as well as your hip flexors and core. By altering the length of your stride and doing variations like side lunges, you can change which muscles you target. You can also take advantage of the many ways you can “tweak” lunges to build strength achieve your fitness goals.



Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(3): 972-978, 2009.

Strength and Conditioning Research. “How does load change the effect of lunges?” September 2012.

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 23(3): 972-978, 2009.

FitnessRX for Women. “Lunges for Better Legs and Glutes”


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More Than a Leg Exercise: 5 Reasons to Love Lunges

Low Impact Series: Joint-Friendly Training Tips and Alternatives to Squats and Lunges


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