Lunges Deserve a Spot in Your Workout Routine ASAP
Hot take: Lunges are the unsung hero of exercise moves. While they don’t have the flash or panache of a push-up or side plank, they work almost every muscle group in your body – from your calves and glutes to your core and shoulders. And, as with walking or running, the unilateral movement of the lunge boosts balance, too.
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Whether taken to the front, back, or side, weighted or unweighted, this resistance exercise should not be forgotten in your fitness routine. But how often should you be doing lunges? And how do you know if you’re using the proper form? To answer all those questions, and more, we called in one of our favorite fitness pros, Max Castrogaleas, MA, CSCS,*D, TSAC-F,*D, EP-C, FRCMS, Exercise Physiologist, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) to help us break it all down.
Benefits of Lunges
- Strengthens lower-body muscles: While several parts of the body are required to get into action to complete a proper lunge, the lower body takes on the brunt of the work. The glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves are particularly strengthened – and stretched – through lunges.
- Improves balance and stability: Unilateral exercises like lunges, where you are moving one side of your body differently than the other (ex, a standard squat or two are push-up are not unilateral) are great for improving balance. “Think about the last time you performed forward lunges and how difficult it was to maintain balance and control,” adds Castrogaleas. “The muscles of the core and hips play a very important role in helping you maintain body control during motion.” As those muscles get stronger, thanks to your lunge work, you will see an improvement in your stability and balance going forward.
- Works your upper body, too: As mentioned, the core is put into action when you are doing front, back, or side lunges as it helps you stay stable when each side of your body is doing something different. Even if you are doing a weight-free lunge, your shoulders and back are called into action, as well, since they are required to help you maintain proper posture as you go through the resistance exercise.
- Can be performed in a variety of ways: Impacts on your physique aside, the great thing about lunges is that they are incredibly versatile so you don’t get bored. “Lunges allow for multidirectional movement as there are variations that can be performed in different planes of motion,” shares Castrogaleas. “This is great for mixing up your lower body exercise routine by including front to back, side to side, and rotational lunge variations.”
- Easy to start: Lunges are suited for all fitness skill levels and can be easily adapted to suit your needs – more this below. In addition, while you can definitely add weights into the mix, they are not required, meaning you can tackle lunges pretty much anywhere.
Should You Do Lunges Every Day?
OK, so lunges are great, you get it, but does that mean you should be doing them every day? Maybe even multiple times in a day? Here’s what Castrogaleas has to say: “When we perform a physical activity or exercise, we break down muscle. When performing any sort of strength training exercise, you want to make sure that you take at least 48 hours of rest between each major muscle group.” He says this break time allows the muscles to repair and minimizes the risk of overuse injuries.
How Many Lunge Reps Should You Aim for?
The number of lunge sets and reps you complete will depend greatly on your fitness level and the type of workout you are completing. “When it comes to repetitions, start on the lower end and slowly build up,” recommends Castrogaleas. “You want to make sure that you are performing the lunges with proper technique. As you build strength you can start to increase the repetitions and depending on your goal you can even start to add weights.”
Remember: One mistake people often make with unilateral movements is miscounting their reps by not doing the same number of repetitions on each side.
How to Incorporate Lunges Into Your Workout
Lunges are pretty versatile and don’t need to be reserved for the start or end of your workout. According to Castrogaleas, “lunges can be placed at any portion of your workout.”
When completed at the start, they can be part of your warm-up, in the middle they can be part of your strength circuit (you might want to add some weights in here), and if done at the end, you can perform them as part of a metabolic finisher, he says.
The only caveat? “If you are just starting to include lunges into your workouts, then place them at the beginning of your workout as you will still have plenty of energy to work on proper technique.”
What Is Proper Lunge Form?
As with any exercise move, you are only doing yourself a disservice by ignoring proper form. Not only can bad form put you at greater risk for injuries, but you likely won’t improve performance over time if you aren’t working your muscles correctly. To help you ensure you are performing lunges correctly Castrogaleas broke down the key points to remember.
- To perform a lunge, step forward with one leg in a walking fashion and kneel towards the ground.
- As you descend into the lunge position lean forward slightly while maintaining a neutral spine and keep the knees in line with the hips and toes.
- At the bottom position, you want to keep the rear knee slightly off the ground and the lead knee in line or slightly behind the toe.
- You want to avoid letting your rear knee drop into the ground, excessive arching or rounding of the lower back, and excessive forward motion of the lead knee.
Adapting Lunges to Match Your Skill Level
The great thing about lunges is that they can be completed by those of all skill levels.
Beginner: If you are a beginner, Castrogaleas recommends starting out “by decreasing the range of motion, so that the rear knee does not have to come close to the ground. If stability is an issue, [you] can perform assisted reverse lunges (when you step backward instead of forward) – perform these lunges by holding on to an object for support/balance.”
Advanced: Incorporation weights, be they dumbbells, barbells, or kettlebells, is one of the best ways to increase the difficulty of a lunge workout. Castrogaleas adds that you can also “perform lunges in multiple planes of motion – lateral lunges (stepping out to the side), curtsy lunges (stepping your foot back and over to its opposite side instead of straight behind you, as if you were doing a curtsy), rotational lunges (performing a standard lunge while rotating your upper body to face the side of your forward leg).” He also recommends trying to perform lunges at different tempos, such as going slow on the way down and fast on the way up.
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