5 Lunge Variations That Will Give You Killer Legs

Whether you’re aiming to get ripped by lifting heavy weights or using your body weight to build lean muscle, there are few exercises as simple and effective as the lunge. Lunges are effective as a warm-up exercise without weights or a difficult move with barbells. If you’re skipping out on your lunges, then it may be time to revisit this move the next time you hit the gym. AZCentral explains with proper form, this move strengthens the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calf muscles — and that’s just with your body weight alone. Adding weights boosts the effect.

If you aren’t a fan of the basic lunge, then you’re in luck — there’s more than just one way to perform this exercise and reap the benefits. Here are five lunge variations that will get your blood pumping and your legs moving.

1. Walking lunge

Man lunges with dumbbells

Try out the walking lunge. | iStock.com

You may not think that moving with your lunge is going to be that much different from your average one, but the walking lunge can really make the glutes the main target, giving you a seriously firm butt. Men’s Fitness says to start standing with your feet shoulder-width apart. Then, you will step forward with one leg and sink down into your lunge as if you’re performing a static lunge, allowing the hips to sink low. While you’re lunging, make sure to keep knees at 90-degree angles and in line to avoid knee injuries. To step forward, use your quads to drive your front leg upward and out of the bent-knee position so that you are in a split-stance. From here, you can take a step forward with the opposite leg, lunge, and repeat.

2. Side lunge

Man side lunges outdoors

Side lunges are great for the inner thighs. | iStock.com

For that extra hamstring strengthening and stretching, the side lunge is great variation. Bodybuilding.com explains how to perform the perfect side lunge — first, start with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Keep your head and chest lifted through this exercise as well — it’s important not to slouch as you side lunge, as you do not want to add stress to your back. You will then take your right leg and step to the side — this will be the side you’re lunging on first. Extend your left knee, straightening the left leg, and put your weight on the right side, bending your right knee and flexing the hip into your lunge. To go back to your starting point, push with the right leg back into a standing position, and repeat on the other side.

3. Curtsy lunge

Woman doing lunges in a gym

Curtsy lunges will challenge your balance. | iStock.com

This lunge variation requires your back leg crosses behind your front leg for a curtsy motion that’s sure to give you a workout. The curtsy lunge is great for working both the inner and outer thighs, says Livestrong. The quads in your front leg will have to work extra hard to pull your back leg to its original starting position once you’re in your lunge. Your hip abductors are also in for a serious workout because of the way the curtsy lunge works the sides of the butt.

Here’s how to perform this exercise: Start with feet shoulder-width apart and, because this move also tests your balance, begin with hands on your hips. Using your left leg, take it behind you and cross it with your right leg. Then, squat with your right leg, making sure to keep your thigh parallel to the ground to activate those muscle groups and avoid knee injury. To go back to standing, push off with your left leg to get out of your squat, and repeat on the other side.

4. Bulgarian split squat

close-up of a man's legs as he lunges

These squats are the toughest yet. | iStock.com

You’ll need an elevated surface (a weight bench works great) to complete this unique lunge variation, but it’s one of the toughest ones yet. This move requires total stability, and you’ll mainly be working the core, glutes, hamstrings, and quads on one leg at a time. This exercise is typically performed with dumbbells in each hand as well to ensure you’re using maximum effort to get the job done.

Muscle & Fitness says you’ll need your elevated surface about three feet behind you and your dumbbells in each hand to start. Beginning with legs shoulder-width apart, you will take your left leg behind you and place your left foot on the elevated surface. You can then lower your hips and bend at the knees — your left knee should come close to the ground behind you and the right leg in front will be feeling the burn. It’s important to drive through the heels with this exercise to ensure proper form. When you’ve finished your reps on one leg, repeat on the other side.

5. Forward cross lunge

dumbbell lunges

This lunge variation will give you a core workout. | iStock.com

Though this lunge variation may feel a little strange when you begin, it’s great for the quads and hip flexors. You’ll also need a fair bit of stability to complete these cross lunges, so if you haven’t been working your core before, you’ll have the opportunity now.

Redefining Strength explains how to perform the forward cross lunge perfectly. Start with feet shoulder-width apart and hands on the hips for extra stability. Then, take your left foot forward and cross it in front of your right leg toward the 2:00 position. Feel free to pivot your foot as you cross over and step down so that your feet are perpendicular to each other instead of keeping the left foot straight ahead. But if you have knee problems, this may not be comfortable for you. Keeping your left heel down, bend your knees and sink into your lunge. To come back to standing, push off with your left heel and return to your original position. Repeat with the opposite leg.