The lunge is a calisthenic exercise (when done without weights) targeting the gluts, quads, and hamstrings.

Lunges will add definition to your legs when done correctly, but when you perform them improperly they can injure your joints.  Correct form makes any calisthenic exercise effective and sometimes difficult, but it should not cause any pain or unnecessary stress on your joints.
How to Perform a Traditional Basic Full Lunge:
  1. Begin by standing with feet shoulder-width apart and then step forward (either leg).
  2. Step with your heel first to support your body-weight. The foot should point forward.
  3. When the front foot reaches a desired distance in front of you, begin to “genuflect” the back knee.
  4. This forces the front knee to bend and your back foot will be on its toes.  Take it easy as you may need to balance yourself going down.
  5. Continue to “genuflect” until the the back knee is inches off the ground and the front knee is at 90 degrees and directly above the toes.  Do not go any further than 90 degrees for the front leg.
  6. Lift yourself back to the original position using both legs and repeat the exercise for the opposite leg.

Keep in mind your back and neck MUST remain straight and perpendicular to the ground throughout the entire exercise.  The arms may be placed to the sides, or next to the head, or held straight out to the sides as an isometric exercise so long as it does not interfere with any of the form above.

Various Forms of Lunges:

There are so many various forms lunges for both beginners and regular athletes.  I will try to name the most popular and effective ones. Here are some beginner lunges which are also easy on the knees:

  • Assisted Lunge – Using a chair to help you perform a traditional full lunge. You can also use a wall or anything that will help you keep your balance. Focus on your form and technique with this.
  • Half-Lunge – Assume the same form and technique as the traditional lunge except you do not go all the way down with your back knee. Go halfway! Like the assisted lunge, use this to focus on proper lunge form.

Try all the lunges above to get comfortable with the motion, form, and technique of a lunge before executing a full lunge.

Various Full-Lunges:
  • Long Lunge – Increase the distance between your feet. This emphasizes the gluts. However, remember to not go further than 90 degrees with that front leg! You may not notice you’re front leg going beyond 90 degrees so don’t forget!
  • Short Lunge – Decrease distance between your feet. This emphasizes the quadriceps. With this exercise, you may have a tendency to bring the front knee too far over the front toes, but don’t!
  • Reverse Lunge – Same principles as traditional basic full lunge except you begin the exercise by stepping backwards with a leg.
  • Walking Lunge – Same principle as traditional basic lunge but you continue to step forward every time you bring the front foot forward.
  • Straight Leg Lunge – This will seem familiar to those in Pilates.  Step forward with a foot and without bending the front knee more than 90 degrees, your back leg will stay completely straight without bending the knee to the ground.  Your back will be straighten out with the back leg – which means you will be leaning forward.  You can place your arms on the floor for balance as long as it does not break the form.
  • Elevated Front Foot Lunge – Same form and technique as traditional lunge except the front foot is placed on an elevated surface.  It may seem easier than a standard lunge, but it is a bit more demanding.  This is best done on stairways or steps. It is sometimes known as the Split-Squat Lunge.  It is usually done without alternating the legs for a set of reps.
  • Elevated Back Foot Lunge – Think the opposite of the elevated front foot lunge. Please note that with this exercise, since the back foot is elevated, obviously, the back knee may not be able to go all the way down to inches inches off the floor.  Don’t go too far down! Also, remember the front foot does not bend more than 90 degrees! Also known as a Reverse Split-Squat Lunge.
  • Sliding Lunge – You will be “sliding” your foot to do a reverse lunge instead of taking a step back. Use a towel or piece of cardboard etc. to do this exercise.

So there you go! There are many other types of lunges but these will definitely give you a good solid workout. Remember form and technique are crucial with this calisthenic exercise!

Common mistakes with Lunges:
  • Bending your front knee “more” than 90 degrees – Don’t! Your knee should not be at any acute angle less than 90 degrees.  This causes a lot of stress on your knee joint. 90 degrees should be the maximum angle of your front leg.
  • Front knee extends over the toes of the same leg – This goes along with above problem.  Your front knee should only go directly over your toes at the bottom of the exercise.
  • Back knee should not point anywhere but straight down. It may be hard to balance yourself, but this is very important so you don’t injure your knee. If you must, perform assisted lunges to warm up or start out so you don’t hurt yourself.
  • Leaning forward or bowing when stepping forward – You need to keep your back perpendicular to the ground for proper form throughout the exercise! (unless noted otherwise)
  • Locking knees at the top of the exercise (start position) – they should be ever-so-slightly bent to keep the all the muscles in the exercise engaged throughout your set.
  • Looking down – No! Look straight ahead and keep your entire neck down to your thighs straight.
  • Beginning a lunge with your feet too close or too wide. Your ideal position would be about shoulder width apart.
  • Back knee should be 1-2 inches off the ground when performing a proper full lunge (unless noted otherwise).
Lunge Away!

Don’t be surprised if you’re gluts and quads are sore the next day! That’s a good sign. You will often see more variations of lunges in Pilates or Yoga so make sure you do them correctly so you don’t injure yourself. Lunges are one of the best calisthenic exercises for your lower body so make sure you incorporate them into your workout regime.

Good luck!