Level Up Your Lunges

Why do lunges as part of my workout?


Lunges are of course a great way to strengthen lower extremity muscles - specifically quadriceps, hamstrings and glute muscles. However, they have so many other benefits such as:

  • Being a functional exercise that assists with daily activities such as walking, stair climbing and running

  • Improving balance, coordination and proprioception

  • Targeting muscular imbalances (as each leg must work independently)

  • Improving hip flexor length (due to the position of the back leg)

  • Improving core activation and stability

Below, we will show some simple lunge progressions that can easily be performed at home or at the gym. To ensure good form we recommend doing these exercises in front of one or two mirrors to monitor your form from both the front and the side. If you don’t have two mirrors, then alternate your angle in front of your mirror on different sets. If you are not quite ready to progress to the next progression, just stick with the current exercise for additional time or perhaps only do 1 set of the harder progression and 2 sets of the easier version, then work your way up.


1. Static Lunges


This exercise really strengthens all the lower extremity muscles while maintaining mobility of the muscles that cross the front of the hip on the rear leg. You will notice even the little muscles around the foot and ankle working hard to maintain your balance while moving through this movement. To minimize excessive load through the ankle, knee and hip joint it is really important to make sure each joint does not go beyond a 90 degree angle position (look at the side view of each of these joints in the mirror).

Tips for performing this exercise correctly:

  • With feet hip distance apart, ensure there is a 50:50 weight distribution between front and back foot

  • The front foot should have most of the weight focused through rear of foot, and the back foot should have the heel raised well off ground with weight through the base of the toes

  • Both legs should lower at the same rate to a 90 degree bent position

  • The front knee should line up directly over the ankle - not ahead of it

  • The back knee should sit directly below the hip - not out to the side

  • The trunk should have a slight forward lean position to unload the back & activate the core

  • At top - the knees should straighten with full quad activation at the same moment

  • The arms should be active through the lunge as they would in a running motion

Exercise Prescription:

  • Perform 3 sets of approx 12-15 reps alternating left/right leg forward

  • Stop exercise if your legs feel unable to complete this many reps or if form is lost

Challenge - to make this exercise harder:

  • Perform every 2nd or 3rd repetition with your eyes closed

  • Place an uneven surface under your front &/or back foot like a folded yoga mat


2. Lunge to Step-Up


This exercise isolates and challenges the strength, balance & proprioception of the front leg, by going from a more stable two-legged stance to only one leg. This exercise is great to mimic athletic movement transitioning from a low position into a sprint stride.


Tips for performing this exercise correctly:

  • Start in lunge position and slowly start to transfer all your weight to the front leg

  • From the front, your trunk should not tip side to side

  • Ensure your arms are moving in sync with your leg movements

  • Use an exhale breath while stepping up to maximize core recruitment

  • Maintain a slight forward lean through the trunk throughout this exercise

Exercise Prescription:

  • Perform 3 sets of approx 12-15 reps per side

  • Stop exercise if your legs feel unable to complete this many reps or if form is lost

Challenge - to make this exercise harder:

  • Perform every 2nd or 3rd repetition with your eyes closed

  • Step up onto an uneven surface such as a thick mat, tilt board or BOSU ball


3. Dynamic Lunge Walk


The progression here is done by dropping down from a high step up position into an eccentric lunge catch. This movement really challenges the strength, balance, and coordination of both legs.


Tips for performing this exercise correctly:

  • Perform lunge to step up as per previous instructions

  • On your step forward, ensure that feet stay in line with hips and there is enough space to allow the knee to land over top of the ankle (not in front of it)

  • Relax the back leg allowing it to bend in sync with the front leg (do not keep it straight!)

  • Arms should move in sync and opposite to leg movements

  • Ensure the trunk stays centered between legs and maintains a slight forward lean

Exercise Prescription:

  • Perform 3 sets of approx 12-15 reps per side

  • Stop exercise if your legs feel unable to complete this many reps or if form is lost

Challenge - to make this exercise harder:

  • Perform every 2nd or 3rd repetition with your eyes closed

  • Land onto an uneven surface such as a thick mat or BOSU ball


4. Supported Single Leg Lunge aka ‘Bulgarian Split Squat’


This exercise really isolates the muscles of the front leg with the rear leg supported on a chair or bench. By consistently performing the previous exercises, you should feel like you have the strength and balance to perform this exercise correctly. However, if your balance is an issue, feel free to have one or both hands holding onto something for support to ensure you maintain good form.


Tips for performing this exercise correctly:

  • Start in high lunge position with the back foot resting on a high surface in line with the hip

  • At bottom of the lunge try to keep the front knee over top of the front ankle or just slightly ahead

  • The arms should move in sync and opposite to leg movements

  • Maintain a centered trunk with a slight forward lean throughout this exercise

Exercise Prescription:

  • Perform 3 sets of approx 12-15 reps per side

  • Stop exercise if your legs feel unable to complete this many reps or if form is lost

Challenge - to make this exercise harder:

  • Perform every 2nd or 3rd repetition with your eyes closed

  • Place an uneven surface such as a thick mat or tilt board under your front foot


Karen Nichol, founder of Royal City Physio, graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Science in Physiotherapy. She currently serves as physiotherapist for the WLA’s Coquitlam Adanacs, the NLL’s Calgary Roughnecks and the Canadian National Indoor Senior mens lacrosse team. She is also a member of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, and the Physiotherapy Association of B.C.