The lunge is a staple muscle-building exercise that’s a very effective exercise option, not only bigger and stronger legs, but also because it forces you to focus on one leg at a time, which is great for bringing up your weak-side and improving muscle balance and symmetry.
In this article I’m providing you with four small tweaks that make for a big difference in your lunges, which you can immediately apply to get more out of the lunge exercise and improve your lower-body workouts.
1. Lean your torso forward for increased glute and hamstring activation
In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy titled “Trunk position influences the kinematics, kinetics, and muscle activity of the lead lower extremity during the forward lunge exercise,” researchers found that performing a lunge with a forward (anterior) trunk lean increased the recruitment of the hip extensors (i.e. glutes and hamstrings). In contrast, they found that performing a forward lunge with an up-right trunk posture (as in the traditional style) did not alter activation of the lower extremity musculature.
In other words, to focus more on the glutes and hamstrings, you can position your torso in a more forward lean when doing lunges instead of being upright.
Here’s how to perform the forward-leaning lunge:
Set Up: Stand tall holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides, one in each hand with your feet hip-width apart.
Action: Step backward with your right foot, and, as you drop your body down into the lunge, angle your torso forward about 45 degrees so your shoulders are over your front (left) knee with the dumbbells on each side of your (left) calf. Be sure that your back stays straight — don’t round your back — by hinging at your hips to create the torso lean. Once your right ribs come into contact with your right thigh and your left knee lightly touches the floor, reverse the movement by coming out of the lunge and bringing your right foot forward. Perform the same movement on the opposite leg.
• At the bottom of each lunge, the dumbbells will end up at each side of your front foot, due to the forward torso lean.
• Do not step so far out on each lunge that you’re unable to perform this exercise in a smooth and controlled fashion.
• The forward torso lean can be used whether you doing reverse lunges, forward lunges or walking lunges.
2. Stay on the same leg for a better leg pump
As I said in my article, 3 Push-Up Variations You're Not Doing, “When training for hypertrophy, we want constant muscle tension.” By performing all reps on the same leg, instead of alternating legs, which allows the other leg to rest a bit, keeps more consistent tension on the muscles and improves your leg pump.
3. Use an offset load to train your lower-body and core
Speaking of staying on the same leg to increase the time under tension your legs experience when doing lunges, this lunge variation not only forces you to perform all reps on the same leg, but it also involves a heavy dose of core strength because it involves using an off-set load.
This style of lunge involves holding two dumbbells of different loads. The heavier of the two dumbbells is held on the side of what will be the back leg — you’re lunging on the same side each rep — while holding the lighter dumbbell on the other side. This set up allows you to increase the overall workload placed on the lower-body musculature while also lighting up the core muscles to offset the unbalanced load. Hence the name of the name “off-set” loading.
Here’s how to perform the one-leg off-set traveling lunge:
Set Up: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart while holding a dumbbell in each hand at your sides. Hold the heavier of the two dumbbells in your right hand.
Action: Lunge forward with your left leg, by simultaneously bending your knees and hinging forward at your hips allowing your ribs to touch the top of your front thigh. Once your back knee lightly touches the floor, stand back up tall while simultaneously bringing your rear leg forward to meet your front leg. Perform all reps on the same leg before switching legs and holding the heavier dumbbell on the hand side.
• Be sure to keep your back straight as you hinge at your hips and lean your torso forward, which is done to help you better recruit the glute musculature and also make this exercise more knee-friendly.
• Do not allow you shoulders to rotate or tilt lean over toward the heavier side. Keep your shoulders even throughout.
• If you normally perform lunges holding 45-pound dumbbells in each hand. Try this variation holding one 60-pound dumbbell and one 30-pound dumbbell.
4. Reverse lunges off of a weight plate for increased range of motion
This lunge variation simply allows you to increase the range of motion (ROM), therefore working your lower-body muscles through a greater ROM and increasing the mobility demand to the reverse lunge form described above.
Set Up: Stand on top of the flat side of an Olympic-style weight plate or on an aerobic step platform. Hold either a pair of dumbbells at each side or a barbell on your back across your shoulder,
Action: Perform a reverse lunge as in the same way as described above by stepping off the platform and placing your back knee on the floor. Be sure to keep your back straight and hinge forward slightly at your hips allowing your ribs to touch the top of your front thigh. Once your back knee lightly touches the floor reverse the motion by stepping back up to the platform.
• You can perform this lunge by alternating legs or by staying on the same leg.
• If you’re unable to touch your back knee to the floor, the platform your front foot is on is too high for you.
When using any of the lunge variations featured in this article, I recommend performing 3–4 sets of 6–12 reps per leg.