The Many Benefits of Lunges (And Variations)

By on July 1, 2021
Lunging Away

While calisthenics is known as being awesome for building a powerful, functional, upper body, and phenomenal strength to weight ratio, it is, at first glance, less suited to leg training. In fact, it is something of a cliché that calisthenics athletes often have underdeveloped legs.

But this needn’t be true at all. The main job of your legs is to move your own bodyweight, so this is the perfect resistance to challenge them with! And there are plenty of great bodyweight leg movements out there, some right under our noses!

See also: How to Strengthen Knees – Injury prevention & Performance

Take the lunge, for example. There are countless benefits of lunges, they can be used anywhere, and they build size, stability, and power. So, let’s dive in! Or lunge in…

Benefits of Lunges

For many, the defacto leg exercise is the squat. This is even truer of the bodyweight squat. But this is where the issue immediately arises: high rep squatting is awkward! If you have poor hip or ankle mobility, it can be difficult to get deep enough. If you have knee issues, or long legs, it is likewise ungainly. Then there’s the issue of butt wink. And just how low are you meant to go, anyway?

Squats vs Lunges

This is where the lunge shines right away. One of the big benefits of lunges is that they’re simple: if you struggle with the squat, you’ll likely find that the lunge is much easier and more comfortable for you. Less mobility is required and it’s harder to fluff up your form.

But that’s not the only thing that makes the lunge a great bodyweight leg exercise.

See also: A Home Workout for Single Leg Strength and Jump Height

That’s because lunging is effectively a single leg exercise, though it lets you maintain some stability with the back leg. That means you get many of the benefits of a single leg exercise. That means better stability and balance first and foremost, which can help to prevent injury when changing direction or running on uneven ground. It also means better symmetry. And potentially, the bilateral deficit means you could train harder unilaterally and see more rapid results: this is because training on one side lets us generate more power from each limb than we do when training both limbs together.

More simply put: in real life and sports, we more often drive off of a single leg – so why always train off of two? And the lunge is a move in itself that we actually use – just watch any tennis player lunging for the ball. This is one of the most important benefits of lunges.

Benefits of Squatting

Lunging also improves mobility, especially for those after high kicks and scissor splits. This can be further enhanced by leaning over the front knee, as in the ATG split squat! This is a perfect option for increasing ankle range of motion, too. Better yet, it’s an antidote to the tight hip flexors that come from sitting at a computer all day.

Oh, and the lunge is great for glute activation, too!

Tips for the Perfect Lunge

Another of the biggest benefits of lunges is that it’s pretty hard to get them wrong. You should be driving from the front heel to push yourself back up, which has the added bonus of increasing glute activation.

Bring the rear knee down so that it is almost touching the ground. It’s not the end of the world if it does touch the ground, it just means you’ll be working less hard.

How to lunge

Another tip is to slow the tempo down nicely. Otherwise, you risk minimizing the role of the muscle in the movement.

Keep the stance about shoulder width – don’t go too narrow unless that’s specifically the objective – and try to avoid letting the knee cave. The knee should be aligned with the ankle. And get nice and deep to add a stretch and make this a resistance stretch.

Top Lunge Variations

As with so many exercises, the real benefits of the lunge start to show themselves when you begin combining the movement with other exercises, or using subtle variations. Below are some of my favourites and the unique benefits they offer.

Bulgarian Lunge

Kneeling Get Ups

If the lunge is currently too challenging, then a simpler and easier variation is simply to get down onto one knee, then stand back up. Like you’re batch proposing. You don’t need to worry so much about stability here and you can rest at the bottom of the movement, but you’re still driving through that heel and engaging the glutes. You can also hold onto something if you need a little extra help getting up.

Walking Lunge

By far my favourite lunge (because everyone needs a favourite lunge, right?) is the walking lunge. This is a series of lunges strung together, where instead of returning to a standing position, you instead step through and into the next lunge to cover ground.

This maintains some muscle tension throughout the movement, thereby helping to increase the build-up of metabolites and blood to trigger growth. It also builds strength endurance, helping you to exert strength through the legs for an extended period of time. Think it’s too easy? Try covering any significant distance and then get back to me!

Walking lunge

Lunge walking also has the advantage of being more interesting and fun – I love travelling movements! Do it on rough terrain and you can further improve stability and resilience against injury.

And, of course, you can also lunge walk backward if you want to gain even more control and stability. This is ideal if you are training in a small space: you can lunge walk forward a few steps, and then backward.

See also: Movement Highlight: The Broad Jump

Weighted Lunge

As with many calisthenics movements, adding weight is a simple way to add more challenge to the lunge. This way, you’ll be able to increase the amount of resistance, to make the movement more strength-oriented.

The great thing about adding weight to a lunge, is that there are lots of ways to do it. You can either place the load across your back, as you would do for a squat, or you can hold the weights on either side (of course, front-loading is also an option). Each has its benefits, but holding the weights on either side is a particularly effective way to build more hip stability. In fact, you can take this one step further by holding a weight on just one side! This will turn it into a great core stability exercise as you now have to resist lateral flexion. This is even truer if you combine walking lunges with weights. Now you get all the benefits of walking lunges but with additional resistance!

Weighted Lunge

One of the big benefits of lunges is that they can be loaded in so many ways. This is ideal if you want to switch up the benefits, or if you want to avoid the spinal compression that comes from squatting a barbell. Lunging also lends itself to an overhead carry, which is much easier than when squatting.

Bulgarian Split Squat

While the lunge is one of the most effective movements for strengthening the glutes, their big disadvantage is the strength curve: the glutes work hardest at the bottom of the exercise when they are most stretched. However, as the “Glute Guy” Bret Contreras explains, the glutes actually reach maximum activation at full hip extension, with the glutes shortened.

Bulgarian Split Squat

Scissor Jump

Pigmie is a YouTuber who has been around seemingly forever doing awesome flips and offering fitness advice. You should totally check out his channel. He also credits the scissor jump with improving his running speed and jump height, which makes a lot of sense when you consider that it’s a plyometric exercise that requires you to maximally return energy from that staggered position.

Scissor Jump

Closing Comments

So, there you have it! There are countless benefits of lunges, loads of variations, and no excuses not to start doing them! Let me know what your favourite lunge variations are in the comments below, and whether you plan on making the lunge a staple of your own bodyweight leg training!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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