How to Do Lunges

Tamsen Butler
Contributor Kathleen Esposito
Proper lunge form

A lot of people don't know how to do lunges properly. Using improper form not only has less benefit for the quads and buttocks, but it can result in serious injury, especially to the knees and back. That makes it paramount to practice doing them the right way every time.

How to Do Lunges the Right Way

First off, stand tall with your feet facing forward and together and your weight in the middle of your feet. Put your arms straight at your sides and then bend your elbows and put your hands on your hips. Make sure your head is centered and you're not putting any strain on your neck. Focus on a point in directly in front of you if that helps. This is your starting position. Now you are ready to lunge.

  1. Choose one leg and step forward about one to two feet. (The taller you are, the further forward you should go, but don't go so far that you feel you are going to fall over.)
  2. One foot should not be directly behind the other, but rather, place them as though the feet were resting on train tracks or parallel slats, but with one foot forward and the other back - this is the form for a forward lunge.
  3. Begin bending your front knee until it is over the ankle. Never extend it beyond the toes.
  4. As you bend this knee, lift the heel of the opposite leg. The knee will be forced to bend as you lunge down. Drop straight down as opposed to leaning forward.
  5. Stop when both knees are at a 90 degree angle with the floor.
  6. Shift your weight to the front foot - you should feel as though the work is being done on that leg.
  7. Finally, pull your body back up to the starting position by pushing on the heel of the working leg.
  8. You can either leave your foot extended forward and repeat the exercise again or switch to the other leg. Repeating it several times on the same leg is the usual practice. Just make sure to use your muscles, not momentum.
  9. Remember to breathe when you lunge. Holding your breath during the exercise will only make it harder and reduce the effectiveness. Inhale as you lunge down and exhale when you come back up.
Group of young people doing lunges

Common Mistakes

When you first begin doing lunges, it's easy to make mistakes. These are ones that often occur:

  • Leaning forward or to one side instead of keeping the upper body straight
  • Using momentum to lift your body, thus not completing the entire lunge
  • Putting too much stress on the knee by letting it overlap past the toes
  • Looking down, causing a cramp in the neck
  • Letting the knees touch the ground instead of just coming close to it

Ask a friend or personal trainer who knows how to do lunges to watch you complete your first lunge exercise to make sure you're not inadvertently making any of these errors. If you have trouble with leaning to the side, it's okay to lightly hold on to a chair, railing, or even a wall.

Reps and Sets

Depending on your goals, you should aim to include lunges in your strength workouts on a regular basis. If you do strength work twice a week, include three sets of 10-12 lunges within your workout during your leg section. If the lunges are weighted and your aim is hypertrophy, do 2-3 sets to failure twice a week. If you simply want to add lunges to your existing workouts to build lower body strength in general, 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps twice weekly is a good goal.

Lunge Variations

Add some challenge to your lunges with these variations.

Reverse Lunge

Also called rear lunges, this simple variation involves a step back instead of a step forward. This move is particularly good for those relying on holding onto a chair in front of them for stability.

Lateral Lunges

A lateral lunge helps strengthen the adductors and abductors (the outside and inside of the thighs) in addition to the glutes, quads, and hamstrings.

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart with toes pointing forward.
  2. Step your right leg to the side, as far as you can step out without discomfort. Keep your toes pointing forward.
  3. Bend your right knee, keeping the knee in line with your ankle. Your left leg stays straight.
  4. Push your hips back as you continue bending the right knee. Your chest stays up and tall and your shoulders stay relaxed.
  5. Pushing through your right heel, return to your original position.

Curtsy Lunges

Also known as "twisting lunges," these lunges bring your back leg behind you as if you're doing an elaborate curtsy while keeping your chest up.

  1. In the beginning lunge posture, swing your right leg behind you and across as if it's reaching for the left side of the room.
  2. Focusing your weight into your left foot, bend your left knee, keeping your chest up.
  3. Straighten the left knee while bringing your right leg back to its original position.
Female athlete exercising at boxing gym

Weighted Lunges

Any lunge can be made more challenging by adding weights - hand weights, kettlebells, medicine balls, or even a barbell across the shoulders can work well. If using hand weights, placement depends largely on where it feels most comfortable and stable for you. Here are some options:

  • Hold the dumbbell at your chest, squeezing inward from the hands for pectoral activation.
  • Hold the dumbbells at your side with palms facing inward.
  • Perform a bicep curl, hammer curl, or overhead press each time you lunge.
  • Hold the dumbbells at your shoulders.
  • Hold a weight straight out in front of you for additional core stability work.
woman working out with dumbbells

Walking Lunges

Just as the name indicates, these lunges travel forward. Instead of returning the bent leg back to standing each time, you bring the back leg forward and into the bent position, thus "walking." These lunges are great for interval work on a running track - lunge walk the curves and sprint the straightaway.

man doing lunges outdoors

TRX Split Lunges

Perhaps one of the most challenging variation of a lunge, this option places one foot in the stirrup portion of TRX straps while the front knee bends. Similar to a split squat, but with added stability required courtesy of the TRX strap, all your weight should be on the leg on the floor. The leg in the stirrup helps with balance, but shouldn't take any of the weight. If this exercise becomes easy, try extended the back leg as you lunge or adding hand weights.

TRX split lunges

After Lunges

Always stretch after completing lunges or any other exercise. You don't need to spend an inordinate amount of time stretching, but never skip it altogether. Even though most variations of lunges rely solely on body weight for resistance, they can still be quite challenging and help you gain strength.

How to Do Lunges