10 Lunge Variations to up Your Leg Workout Intensity
It’s no secret that if you want massive legs, you’re going to have to perform squats and deadlifts. While many of us use these compound lifts as the bread and butter of our training, few lifters utilize lunge variations.
When you train squats and deadlifts, you are training in a bilateral plane. This means you use both sides of your body at the same time. Lunges are unilateral, meaning one leg will work more than the other.
Related - How to Perform the Reverse Lunge
A lunge is a natural movement, but even I have some balance issues sometimes. The more you perform them, the more fluid you will get with them. Most of your weight will be on one leg, so you don’t need as much resistance as you would from a squat. This is nice because the less weight you use, the less risk of injury you have.
According to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, lunges are safer on your knees than barbell back squats.
Performing lunges can get boring and eventually they become easy. Trying these 10 variations will up your leg workout intensity and improve your balance, strength, and overall endurance.
They are tricky, but they are worth it.
You can pick a few exercises out of this list to add to your current routine or you could simply pick four or five variations and use them as a bodyweight-only leg workout. Since you don’t need any equipment, you can perform these anywhere.
Lunges build several muscle groups and they are great for strengthening and building muscle. They improve your coordination, endurance, and overall conditioning levels.
Your quadriceps, gluteus maximus, and hamstrings are all hammered during this exercise. Your core also gets worked throughout the workout.
A longer lunge will emphasize your glutes and hamstrings more, while a shorter lunge emphasizes your quads. Overall, it’s a basic movement that’s fairly simple for anyone to learn.
How to Perform Lunges
Performing a lunge comes more natural than you think. I’ll go over all of the cues and main foundation for you to practice. Everyone is built a little different, so find what works best and feels right for you.
First, stand tall with your feet about hip-width apart. Take a breath and engage your core and maintain that tightness.
Take a step forward with your right leg and shift your weight forward so your heel hits the floor first.
As your foot lands, keep that forward momentum going and lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the floor, and your right shin is vertical. Again, everyone’s body is different. If you lack mobility like myself, you need to go as far as you can and work on your mobility.
Press into your right heel and drive yourself back up into the starting position.
Repeat for the other leg.
Most Common Lunge Mistakes
Lunges are pretty simple but will take a few rounds of practice. Here are a few common lunge mistakes and how to avoid them.
Trying to Walk a Tight Rope
Lunges will challenge your coordination, eventually improving it. Don’t make lunges harder by trying to lunge on a tight rope.
That is, don’t narrow your stance. Keep your feet hip-width apart when performing lunges. Otherwise, you’re going to have a dramatic reduction in stability and eventually, you will say that you “can’t do them.”
Trust me, practice lunges with your feet at hip-width.
Your Heel Pops Up
When you perform lunges do you feel more pressure on the ball of your foot rather than your heel?
If so, your step is too short. In order for your heel to remain on the ground, your foot placement needs to be much further forward. Performing lunges where your heel pops up puts a lot of stress and strain on your knee.
Practice with how far you reach with your foot and find what works best for you.
You Drop Your Upper Body
As you perform a lunge it’s easy to keep that forward momentum going.
Sometimes, though, you start bending at the hip and letting your entire upper body drop forward.
This adds more stress to your knee and if you do this under a load and your back will take a beating.
Keep your core engaged throughout the movement and focus on keeping your gaze and neck in a neutral, but forward position.
10 Lunge Variations to up Your Leg Workout Intensity
Now that you’ve put those tips to practice and you are ready for some new variations, let’s get into this list.
#1 - Goblet Forward Lunge
I love goblet squats, but goblet lunges are pretty fun too. This exercise is the only one in the list that technically “needs” weight. Grab your gallon of milk and perform these, or grab a dumbbell or kettlebell if you have one.
Grab the weight and keep it about chest high — using both hands to hold the weight.
Perform a regular front lunge and maintain a tight core. This added weight actually will make it easier to perform a full range squat.
#2 - Reverse Lunge With Overhead Press
Performing this exercise with weight is great, but the simple movement of an overhead press with your arm works, too.
Grab a dumbbell or make a fist. Step back with the leg of the same side and perform a reverse lunge. As you drive through the ball of your foot, press your arm above your head and stand up straight.
Perform reps and then switch to the other side.
#3 - Pendulum Lunge
If you know what a pendulum is, I imagine you can picture how this exercise will be performed.
To perform pendulum lunges, step forward and perform a lunge. Push off with that front leg and step back with the same leg into a reverse lunge. Keep alternating front and reverse lunges on that leg for the desired amount of reps.
Repeat for the other side.
#4 - Split Squat Jump
A great lunge variation to improve your explosive power, split squat jumps will take a bit of time to get used to. Basically, you’ll get into the bottom of a forward lunge position. Keep your feet in place and explode your body up — and switching your leg position as you land into another lunge.
So if you perform a front lunge with your right leg, after the jump your right leg will be behind you.
#5 - Pistol Squats
If you thought squats were hard with both legs, just wait until you try it with one.
Stand and raise one foot off of the floor, look directly forward and keep your chest up. You will want your knees and hips slightly bent and your back straight. This is the starting position.
Descend into a squat by dropping your hips. As you squat, extend the non-working leg forward to allow more clearance for the movement. Descend slowly and keep something nearby for balance if you need. This is going to take some practice and will improve as your flexibility improves.
Pause at the bottom of your squat and return to your starting position by pressing through your heel.
Repeat for reps and do the same for the other leg.
#6 - Glider Reverse Lunge
If you like lunges, purchasing a set of gliders can be a great investment. Before I invested in some, I would use a plastic bag on my foot. It was barbaric, but it made me feel better about having 500 of them stuffed under my cabinet.
I found reverse lunges helped me learn better lunge form than anything else. There’s also less impact on your knees which means less stress. Adding a glider to the exercise takes the impact out completely.
Stand and place one foot on the glider. Slide your foot back and drop your back knee down. Pull forward with your front leg to return to your starting position.
#7 - Glider Curtsy Lunge
This exercise needs to be performed with control in mind.
Put one foot on your slider and bring it behind your foot that isn’t sliding. Lower your body and bend your front leg as you slide back. Imagine drawing a reverse “J” shape with the slider.
Perform for reps and switch sides.
#8 - Rear-Foot Elevated Lunge
Using a bench or chair that doesn’t have wheels works best for this exercise. You could use a couch or table, too.
Stand two to three feet in front of whatever you will use and put your back foot on the flat surface.
Keep your torso as upright as possible and drop your back knee down toward the ground. Drive through your heels with your front leg and stand back up into the starting position.
Perform reps on one leg before switching to the other.
#9 - Skater Squat
If you thought pistol squats were tough, there’s more. A skater squat is more or less like a reverse lunge where your back foot doesn’t touch the ground.
This is another exercise that a little weight can help improve balance and stability. It’s definitely not needed, but it’s nice. If you aren’t using weight, keep your hands pointed straight in front of you for a little more balance.
#10 - Walking Lunges
Chances are this is an exercise you’ve seen in your gym. Walking lunges are just how they sound — you perform a lunge in a walking motion. That is, you will lunge with your left foot and then your right leg will be next.
Keep lunging forward as you go. Personally, these are easier for me to perform than a normal forward lunge.
Lunge Workout Tips
Okay, so now that I’ve blown your mind with these variations, what’s next?
Try them out.
Below is a home lunge workout that you can perform while you read this article. Here are some tips on how to add lunges to your current leg workout routine.
Beginner Home Lunge Workout
It’s time for an impromptu workout. Stand up and make sure you have some room to move.
First up, we will do a reverse lunge. You don’t need a slider, but it helps. Perform five lunges on one leg and switch to performing five on the other with minimal rest.
Next, perform pendulum reps for eight reps per leg. One rep includes both the front and rear lunge.
Time for some rear-leg elevated lunges. Place your back foot on whatever you were sitting on — your chair, your couch, or bed. Perform five reps per side with minimal rest between sets.
Perform this circuit twice. Not that bad, right?
Add Lunges to Your Current Leg Workout
If you are looking to add some spice to your current leg workout, here are some tips.
After squats, try performing two to three sets of walking lunges and rest for 60 seconds between sets. This will help with mobility as well as finish off those poor legs.
Performing pistol squats or other quad-dominant lunge variations after a hamstring exercise helps your hamstrings recover so you can keep the intensity high.
You could come up with three to four exercises you find work best for you and perform them as your warm up. You’d be surprised how much easier you can move once you are properly warmed up.
Intermediate Complete Leg Lunge Workout
Maybe you have been neglecting your legs or wanting to try something new, but here is a complete leg workout that can improve your strength, power, flexibility, and coordination.
I recommend grabbing some water or some weight for a few of these exercises —it’s worth it.
To start things off, perform forward lunges for eight reps per leg. Switch to the other leg with minimal rest. Take 30 seconds of rest before the next exercise.
Next up are pendulum lunges. You’ll want to do ten reps per side and switch to the other leg with minimal rest. Rest for 30 seconds before jumping into the next exercise.
Make sure you have some room and perform some jump split squats. Perform 12 jump split squats and rest for 60 seconds before the next exercise.
We’re not done yet — next up are goblet forward lunges. Perform 15 goblet forward lunges and switch sides with minimal rest. Rest for 60 seconds before the last exercise.
Last but not least, skater squats. Muster up the rest of your energy and perform ten reps per leg with minimal rest. Rest for 90 seconds.
Do this circuit twice.
Wrapping It Up
Lunges are a great exercise to perform even if you don’t regularly exercise. These are great for anyone because you aren’t using weights and increasing your risk of injury.
Lunges are low impact, but getting some gliders will help tremendously. Take your time to learn proper form and what works best for you.