The simplicity and versatility of the lunge makes it the No. 1 leg exercise

By Harley Pasternak
September 25, 2013 03:35 PM
Courtesy Harley Pasternak

I’m often asked, “What’s the best exercise for your legs?”

That’s like asking a parent which child they love best. Well almost. You get the idea.

There are hundreds, if not thousands of lower body exercises. Many of them are effective, some of them look cool, and a few are just plain dangerous (when done improperly).

Among my favorite lower body exercises are sumo squats, leg extensions and deadlifts, but if I had to pick a No. 1, I personally love the simplicity and versatility of the lunge.

When you think of the term “lunge,” you might associate it with an aggressive stride forward, not unlike someone fencing with a sword. In actuality, the move is more like a kneel. Perhaps the name “lunge” is misleading, but somehow the “Step-Forward-Or-Backward-or-Sideways-And-Drop-Down” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

When done properly, a good lunge hits the front of your thighs, butt, and hamstrings with amazing balance.

As I mentioned earlier, the lunge is incredibly versatile. Some of our clients who have knee issues and struggle with a forward lunge, have no problem doing a reverse lunge.

A lateral lunge can really hit the inner thighs and hip region, and a skater lunge will make your glutes hurt for days.

Below are a few of my favorite lunges movements. Try adding a different one to your program each week.

Walking lunge

Start by standing upright, feet together, holding two dumbbells at your sides (optional). Take a large controlled step forward with your right leg and lower your hips toward the floor as you bend both knees (almost at 90 degree angles). The back knee should come close to (but never actually touch) the ground. Your front knee should be directly over the ankle and the back knee should be pointing straight down.
Push off with your left foot and bring it forward to the starting standing position. Next: step forward and repeat with the left leg and alternate.

Reverse lunge

Start by standing upright, feet together, and take a controlled large step backward with your left foot. Lower your hips so that your front leg is parallel to the floor and your right knee is directly over your ankle. Keep your left knee bent at a 90-degree angle and pointing toward the floor. Keep your back straight, looking straight ahead. When your left knee is almost (but not actually) touching the floor, push with your left foot to return your left leg back to starting standing position. Complete 10 reps on one side before switching to your other side.

Skater lunge

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Step your right foot behind your left leg and bend both knees to lower into a lunge, with your right knee behind your left heel. Press through your left heel and bring your right foot back to starting position. That’s one rep; repeat on the other side and continue alternating.

Lateral lunge

Stand with your feet hip-width apart, hands on your hips. Take a big step to the side with your left leg, then push your hips back, bend your left knee, and lower your body until your left knee is bent 90 degrees. Keep your back upright. Pushing through your heels (rather than your toes and knees), step back to start. That’s one rep. Do 10 on one side before you switch to the other side and do 10 more.

Do you love or hate your legs? Tweet me @harleypasternak.