Lunges are a great leg exercise you can do at home or at the gym. They not only work hamstrings, quads, and calves but require a lot of stabilizing muscles as well for the balance. Later we will cover some of the many variations but first the basic lunges in place.
Basic Dumbbell Lunges
- stand straight
- take a big step forward with left leg
- lower trailing knee to floor (right knee)
- push explosively with leading leg (left leg) to propel you back to the standing position
- repeat with the right leg
One step forward and back with the left leg and one step forward and back with the right leg is one rep. Do 12-16 reps if you are starting out, do 4-8 reps if you are advanced and working on strength/mass.
Form of the dumbbell lunge
Tracking straight: Make sure the knee tracks the way the toes are pointed as you step forward and drop down. Also make sure that the trailing foot points straight up and down. There is a tendency to lay the trailing leg on its side to aide in balance, dont do this! If someone is watching you do this from the front, the hip, knee, ankle, and toes for each leg are all in one vertical plane.
Torso position: The torso should remain basically straight up and down the whole time. A slight lean forward is OK if its required to counterbalance the weights being held but make sure that the torso angle remains constant.
Knee angle: The more the front knee bends, the more stress it puts on the knee. If you dont have knee issues then do whatever you want. If you have had knee issues or want to minimize the chances that you do then dont let your knee go past your toes. Thats the reason that I said to take a big step because it makes it much harder to get your knee in front of your toes. Better yet, to remove even more strain from your leading knee, make the lower leg vertical instead of letting it lean forward. Its all about knee angle, the less your knee is bent, the easier it is on your knee.
To make even more knee friendly
As I said, its all about knee angle. If you can reduce the knee angle, its easier on your knees. In addition to keeping your leading lower leg vertical, you can also only go down partway:
A normal lunge is shown on the right, notice the trailing knee on the ground and notice how much the leading knee is bent – great for a quad workout,, stressful for the knee. The image on the left is a partial lunge, the trailing knee stops about 8″ (20cm) from the floor. Notice how the knee is not even bent 90 degrees – much easier on the knee.
The lunges as I have described above are perfect for home workouts where you have little space. If you are at a gym you have other options as well:
- The walking lunge. In this lunge, the motion is always forwards and there is no stepping back. Although this exercise seems the same, it is not. The lunge done in place using the step backwards uses a whole set of different muscles in the ballistic step back to the starting position.
- Barbell lunges. Rather than holding dumbbells in each hand, you can hold a barbell across the shoulders squat-style. Same exercise, different equipment.
- Weighted vest lunges. Rather than holding dumbbells in each hand, you can wear a weighted vest. Same exercise, different equipment.