Lunges are right up there with squats on the list of Best Exercises You Can Do. Not only does the lunge work your entire lower body and core, but it’s also super functional—which is just a fancy way of saying that it helps you do everyday movements comfortably. (Think: the lunge position you get into to tie your shoe.) You can do lunges with just your bodyweight, or you can easily make lunges more challenging by adding free weights like dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, or resistance bands. The lunge is also a unilateral exercise, meaning you primarily train one side of your body at a time. This makes the lunge a great exercise for identifying and correcting any muscle imbalances you have between your left and right side. It also challenges your stability, making it a great sneaky core workout.
Overall, the lunge is a really solid go-to move for strengthening all the major muscle groups in your lower half, including the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.
Different lunges work your muscles a little differently.
The beauty of lunges is that you can do them in every direction, so you can really work your body in all planes of motion. Many lunge variations have you moving forward or backward, some get you moving to the side, and others have you moving diagonally. Moving in multiple directions is important if you want to strengthen all your muscles and not just the main drivers of forward-backward movements.
For example, your glutes are made up of three main muscles, the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The glute max is the largest butt muscle, and when you move forward and backward, you target it primarily. But it’s only when you move side-to-side that you can really engage and work the glute medius and glute minimus, which are located on the outer sides of your butt. They’re part of a group of muscles called hip abductors, which are responsible for moving your legs to the side and away from your body. Lunging laterally and diagonally also engages the hip adductor muscles (inner thighs), which are responsible for bringing your legs in toward the midline of your body.
To fully optimize the strength, power, and stability of your glutes and entire hip area, you have to use and strengthen all the muscles involved, not just the big ones that move you forward and backward.
Let’s talk about good lunge form.
It’s helpful to think of a lunge as a single-leg squat. You want to think about bending forward at your hips (called a hip hinge) as you bend your knees to lower down into a lunge, the same way you would for a squat. Think about sitting your butt back and putting your weight into your heels—that will keep the brunt of the work in your glutes and quads and help you avoid putting too much force on your knees.
Also, just like squatting, different people may lunge slightly differently. Hip and ankle mobility, among other biomechanical factors, will influence how deeply you can lunge, and that’s OK. Do what works for you. And like most exercises, you’ll likely develop a greater range of motion the more you do lunges and develop strength and flexibility in your glutes and quads.
One cue that instructors often give during lunges is to make sure your knees don’t move past your toes. It’s an easy, general instruction to give to a large group of people when you can’t give individualized form notes, but it’s not always the most helpful cue for everyone. For example, if you have long limbs, your knees may need to come slightly forward in order for them to bend at the correct angle. So while keeping your front knee directly over your foot is a good general note (we say this to give people an idea of how deeply their knee should be bent), it’s certainly not the end-all-be-all. With lunges, hinging at your hips, putting the weight in your glutes and quads, and keeping your back flat are more important form notes to keep in mind.
Speaking of your back: When you lunge, you always want to make sure your back isn’t rounding or arching. For some people, keeping their torso totally upright in a lunge keeps their back properly aligned; for others, a forward lean in the torso is what puts their backs in a safe position. So do whatever keeps your spine straight and back flat—that means both your lower and upper back. Even if you’re leaning forward a bit, your chest should be open and your shoulders should be relaxed, not hunched up by your ears. Your neck should be neutral (in line with your spine) and not straining upward or downward. With your torso totally upright, your knees may potentially hit 90-degree angles when you lower into a lunge; if your torso is leaning forward, they probably won’t. Again, that’s OK.
If lunges bother your knees, try skipping the traditional lunge. The forward momentum puts a little more pressure on your knees, which can be bothersome for many people. Opt for reverse lunges, or some of the other options, instead. If you’re still feeling any pain or discomfort, talk with your doctor or physical therapist before continuing to do lunges. (And in the meantime, do some of these lower-body exercises that can help improve knee pain instead.)
Here are 18 different lunges to try during your next workout.
The options and combinations of lunge exercises you can find on the internet are pretty endless. We included 18 great ones below to help you get started. Try the ones that look interesting to you, or try them all and figure out what sort of lunges feel best for you. Most of these lunge variations can be done with or without weights, and are conducive to a variety of free weights, so go with what you like or feel most comfortable with. (The exception being anything that involves a jump—it’s best to do those with your bodyweight only, unless you’re an extremely experienced exerciser.)
The best way to add these to your routine will vary depending on your goals. If you’re looking to strengthen your glutes and quads (and core!), find your favorite lunge on this list and sub it for a similar exercise in your next strength workout. You can also pick three or four of these exercises, ideally ones that have you moving in a few different directions, and string them together for an effective lower-body workout. Try starting with 10 reps of each, and do 3 sets. From there, you can add weight or reps to increase the challenge and further strengthen your muscles.
Demoing the moves below are Rachel Denis, a powerlifter who competes with USA Powerlifting and holds multiple New York state powerlifting records; Crystal Williams, a group fitness instructor and trainer who teaches at residential and commercial gyms across New York City; Teresa Hui, a native New Yorker who has run over 150 road races, including 16 full marathons; Cookie Janee, a background investigator and security forces specialist in the Air Force Reserve; Amanda Wheeler, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and cofounder of Formation Strength, an online women’s training group that serves the LGBTQ community and allies; Alyssa Marsh, a senior club manager at Blink Fitness, Flywheel Sports instructor, and USA Boxing amateur fighter based in Philadelphia; Rosimer Suarez, a special education teacher from New York City who lives in Oklahoma City and loves to do strength training and HIIT workouts to feel strong and in control of her thyroid condition; and Heather Lin, a New York City resident who does her best to fit exercise into her busy life, whether she’s biking home from work, deadlifting in the gym, kicking a heavy bag in Muay Thai, or pouring all of her effort into a bootcamp class.
All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.