If you’ve ever knelt down to tie your shoe or seen someone propose on bended knee, you're familiar with a lunge. A lunge is a single-leg bodyweight exercise that works your hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, and the hard-to-reach muscles of the inner thigh.
Lunges can help you develop lower-body strength and endurance, and unlike squats, they are highly effective at evening out muscle imbalances. They're also a great beginner move. Why? Because you pretty much do them daily (they mimic our walking pattern).
Ready to take the lunge? Master the move by following the steps below from personal trainer Greg Nieratka. Then keep reading to learn how to fix common mistakes and try some variations.
1. Stand tall with feet hip-width apart. Engage core.
2. Take a big step forward with right leg and start to shift weight forward so heel hits the floor first.
3. Lower body until right thigh is parallel to floor and right shin is vertical (it's okay if knee shifts forward a little as long as it doesn't go past right toe). If mobility allows, lightly tap left knee to ground while keeping weight in right heel.
4. Press into right heel to drive back up to starting position.
5. Repeat on the other side.
The Most Common Lunge Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
The Mistake: The Tightrope Lunge
Sure, lunges will challenge your balance, but there's no reason to make it extra hard on yourself by narrowing your stance. Avoid bringing front foot directly in line with back foot (as if you're walking on a tightrope). "This dramatically reduces stability," Nieratka explains.
The Fix: Start with feet hip-width apart and maintain that distance as you step.
The Mistake: The Heel Pop
We hate to break it to you, but "pop, lock, and drop it" should be reserved exclusively for the dance floor. When it comes to lunging, you want to step forward enough that your front heel won't pop off the floor. "If your step is too shallow, your knee will travel forward past your foot, which puts unnecessary stress and strain on the knee," Nieratka says.
The Fix: Take a larger step, plant heel, and drive into floor to return to starting position.
The Mistake: The Upper Body Drop
With a forward lunge, it's okay to, well, shift your weight forward. But beware of bending at the hip and letting your upper body drop, which will put added strain on your knee. "This is especially important if you are doing a lunge under load or with a weight," Nieratka says. If your chest falls, you run the risk of losing balance, falling, or even dropping the weight on yourself—ouch!
The Fix: Engage your core (think about pulling your belly button to your spine) and keep your eyes forward instead of looking down.
Take It to the Next Level
Once you master proper form, you can add weight to make it more challenging—and rewarding. “The weight can be a barbell, one or two dumbbells, a kettlebell, or really any object you have at home,” says Nieratka. Water bottles or a jug of laundry detergent totally counts too. Or try these lunge variations to switch up your routine.
Go easy on the knees with this lunge. Stand with feet hip-width apart, engage core, and take a big step backward. Engage glutes as you bend front knee to lower body so back knee lightly taps floor while keeping upper body upright. Drive front heel into floor to return to starting position. Repeat on the other side.
Perform a forward lunge—and walk it out! At the low point of the lunge, instead of returning to starting position, shift weight forward, drive front heel into floor, and rise up as you bring back foot forward to meet front foot. Reset feet to hip-width apart then repeat on the other side as you continue to move forward.
From starting position, take a big step to the right with right foot, keeping toes forward and feet flat on floor. Send hips back to shift weight into right heel as you extend arms in front of you for balance. Push off right heel to return to starting position then repeat on the other side.
With hands on hips and feet wider than hip width, step left leg behind right leg. Bend right knee, engage glutes, and lower body until right thigh is parallel to ground and left knee lightly taps floor. Drive right foot into ground to rise to starting position then repeat on the other side.
Lunge in all four directions on each side. Lunge forward with right foot, lunge laterally with right foot, reverse lunge on right foot, then curtsy lunge, bringing right foot behind you. Repeat on the other side.
Walking Lunge Stretch
Perform a walking lunge by stepping right foot forward. At the bottom of the movement, hover left knee just above floor and twist from the hips to the right over right knee. (Place hands on knee to help deepen the stretch.) Hold for 2 seconds. Press into right heel and bring left foot to meet right to return to standing. Repeat on the other side.
Split Lunge Jump
Stand with feet hip-width apart. Instead of stepping, jump into a forward lunge position with right foot forward. Drive right heel into ground to explosively jump up, switching legs in midair so you land with left leg forward, and immediately lower to a lunge on the other side. Pump arms like you're running for momentum.
Special thanks to Greg Nieratka, trainer and coach at SOLACE in New York City, for demonstrating these moves for us. Nieratka wears a Ten Thousand shirt, his own Lululemon shorts, and his own Nike sneakers.