woman doing forward lunge bodyweight

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How to Do a Lunge with Perfect Form

Are you doing lunges correctly? We created a step-by-step guide on how to do this strength training staple.

By Jenny McCoyJanuary 18, 2024


Even if you’re new to working out, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with lunges. A staple in strength training routines, are an incredibly effective way to work your lower body and build functional strength.

But to reap all the benefits of this move, you need to know how to do it correctly. That’s why we asked four experts, including Peloton instructor Erik Jäger, to share their advice, covering common mistakes to avoid, helpful variations, and more.

What Is a Lunge?

A lunge is a lower body exercise that involves stepping one leg in front of your body and bending both knees while keeping your torso in an upright position. From there, you push through your front foot to return to a standing position. If you picture someone lunging forward, it’s pretty easy to imagine how this move got its name. 

According to Chicago-based strength coach Evan Williams, lunges are “an essential movement for the lower body and one of the best functional movements you can do.” So, it comes as no surprise that they’re common in all types of workouts, from yoga flows to strength training sessions to cardio classes. 

What’s more, they also mimic a lot of the movements we do in our daily lives. Any time you climb stairs, bend down to tie your shoes, or step off a curb, you’re doing a version of a lunge. Even activities like walking, running, and playing sports incorporate elements of this exercise.

What Muscles Do Lunges Work? 

In a lunge, you’re working all the major muscle groups in your lower body, including: 

  • Quads, which help you push back up from a lunge.

  • Glutes, which also help you stand up after being in a lunge.

  • Hamstrings, which you use to lower your body into a lunge. You can put an extra emphasis on your hamstrings by slowly sinking into a lunge with control.

Because lunges are a single-leg exercise, they deliver a balance challenge that requires you to engage your core muscles for stability. And if you’re doing walking lunges, you’ll also engage your calves since they help you with the push-off motion required to go from one lunge into the next, Williams says.

What Are the Benefits of Lunges? 

Lunges might seem straightforward, but don't underestimate this move's many benefits. As a unilateral exercise (meaning it works one leg at a time), lunges can help fix, or at least improve, muscle imbalances between sides. In turn, they can reduce your overall risk for injury, says Erienne Lauersdorf, a Wisconsin-based physical therapist who works with athletes.

Focusing on one leg at a time also makes lunges great for training coordination and balance, adds DeAnne Davis Brooks, a certified exercise physiologist and the director of graduate studies in the department of kinesiology at University of North Carolina Greensboro.

How to Properly Do Lunges

Knowing how to do lunges with proper form is key for getting the most out of this movement. Here’s how to perform a forward lunge with topnotch form:

Erik Jager Forward Lunger GIF

Forward Lunge

  1. Stand with your feet pointing forward, about hip-width distance apart. Engage your core (it helps to imagine pulling your belly button up and in toward your spine). This pose is your starting position.

  2. Step forward with your right foot, keeping your feet hip-width distance apart. Bend your knees so both legs form a 90-degree angle and your front thigh is parallel to the floor. If you can, lower your body until your left knee grazes the ground or gets as close to the ground as possible. Keep your torso upright (try not to lean forward) and maintain a strong core. To really engage these muscles, imagine someone is trying to push you over while you’re in the lunge, Erik instructs.

  3. Pause before pressing through your front foot and squeezing your glutes to return to the starting position. Make sure to stand all the way up. From start to finish, that's one rep.

You can alternate legs or do all of your reps on one side before switching to the other leg; The latter might feel more challenging since you’re placing tension on the same muscles for a longer period of time without a break, Williams says. 

The correct number of reps depends on your fitness level and goals, but as a general rule of thumb, he suggests aiming for eight to 12 reps per set.

Lunge Variations and Adjustments

There’s no shortage of lunge variations you can take, whether you're looking to make things easier or crank up the intensity. For example, you can hold weights for a strength challenge or add a jump to get your heart rate up, Brooks says. These different modifications prepare your body for quick everyday movements, like catching yourself if you stumble.

The three lunge variations below are great if you’re looking to make your lunges easier, harder, or more interesting.

Reverse Lunge Erik Jager | The Output by Peloton

1. Reverse Lunge 

Compared to forward lunges, reverse lunges demand less stability and balance since you have to control less momentum as you step back, Brooks explains. Reverse lunges also put less pressure on your front knee and make it easier to find the correct stride length, Erik notes. 

Here's how to do one with proper form:

  1. Stand with your feet pointing forward, about hip-width distance apart.

  2. Step your right foot backwards into your lunge.

  3. Bend both knees to sink down, just as you would do in a forward lunge.

  4. Press through your front foot to return to your standing position.

Erik Jager Side Lunge GIF | The Output by Peloton

2. Side Lunge 

Many common strength training exercises, like squats and deadlifts, involve forward and backward movement, but to build a well-rounded routine and prevent injury, it’s important to increase mobility in other directions too. That’s where side lunges come into the picture. “Doing these can make you better and faster at lateral (side-to-side) motions,” Erik says. 

  1. Stand with your feet pointing forward, about hip-width distance apart.

  2. Take a big step to the side with one leg, bending it as you push your butt back as far as possible. Keep your stationary leg straight. 

  3. Push through the foot of your bent leg to return to your standing position. 

  4. Just like with forward lunges, you can alternate sides or do all of your reps on one side before switching to the other leg.

3. Weighted Lunge

"If you've mastered forward-facing lunges, it's definitely recommended to make your lunges more difficult by incorporating additional weight, which will help you build strength and muscle," Erik says. Holding weights while doing lunges makes your muscles work harder in order to move the heavier load, Williams explains. Here are a few different ways to perform lunges with weights, depending on your fitness level and preference.

  • Beginner: Using both hands, hold one weight vertically underneath your chin.

  • Intermediate: Hold a weight in each hand by your sides or at shoulder height with your palms facing each other.

  • Advanced: Hold two weights out in front of your body for a variation that really challenges your core, Erik suggests. 

Mistakes to Avoid While Lunging 

Part of learning how to do lunges correctly is becoming aware of the most common errors so you can get ahead of them. Here are four to consider:

  • Your front knee collapses inward. This error places extra stress on your knee and can lead to pain. When you do a lunge, keep your hips, knees, and ankles in one line, says Williams, who also suggests checking your form in a mirror. 

  • You put too much weight on your back foot. This lapse in form can reduce a lunge's effectiveness and lead to discomfort (or even pain) in your back knee. Keep the majority of your weight—about 80 percent—in your front leg, Williams advises. This rule applies to both forward and reverse lunges.

  • Your front heel lifts off the ground. Placing too much pressure on the front of your foot can cause pain in your leading big toe and knee. Keep your front heel grounded, putting the majority of your weight in your midfoot, Williams says. 

  • You don’t stand all the way up between reps. Failing to stand up all the way after doing a lunge prevents you from fully working your glutes, Lauersdorf explains. Correct lunge form involves returning to a standing position after each rep.

Are Lunges a Cardio or Strength Exercise? 

Lunges are primarily a strength training exercise, especially if you incorporate heavy weights. But depending on which variation you choose and the number of reps you do in a row, you may also get a little breathless. If you’ve ever done a series of walking lunges or jumping lunges, you can probably attest that your heart rate increases.

That said, Brooks advises against using lunges for a full cardio workout. In most cases, your lower body muscles will fatigue and force you to stop (or compromise proper form) before you fully challenge your cardiovascular system, she explains.

Are Lunges Better Than Squats? 

Lunges and squats work many of the same muscles, but they aren't exactly the same (and no, one isn’t superior to the other). They each offer unique benefits, which is why you’ll often see both in well-rounded workout routines.

So how exactly do these moves differ? Lunges deliver more of a balance and stability challenge than squats. Plus, they’re great for working one leg at a time, which can help you correct strength imbalances, Brooks says.

Squats, on the other hand, are ideal for someone focused on building maximum strength. As Brooks points out, you can lift much heavier weights when both legs are working together.

Which Type of Lunge Is Best for Your Glutes?

Most lunge variations work your glutes, but if you want to really zero in on your butt muscles, consider doing curtsy lunges. A cross between a reverse lunge and a side lunge, the curtsy lunge targets your gluteus maximus (your largest butt muscle), as well as your gluteus medius (a smaller muscle located on the side of your butt), Lauersdorf says. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions on how to do this variation.

Erik Jager Curtsy Lunge GIF | The Output by Peloton

Curtsy Lunge

  1. Stand with your feet pointing forward, about hip-width distance apart.

  2. Step your right leg back in a diagonal direction so that it crosses behind your left leg, which should remain stationary. 

  3. Bend both knees to sink down. 

  4. Push through your front leg to return to your starting position.

How to Incorporate Lunges Into Your Workout Routine

Doing lunges on their own is a great way to figure out which variation feels best for your body, practice form, and build strength. With the Peloton App, you can do that (and more) during instructor-led workouts, like this 20-Minute Glutes & Legs Strength Class with Matty Maggiacomo. The beginner-friendly routine is packed with lunges, including forward lunges, reverse lunges, and side lunges. All you need are two sets of dumbbells—one light and one medium—along with an exercise mat.

No equipment on hand? Try this 20-Minute Bodyweight Strength workout with Matty instead. In addition to practicing your lunges, you’ll also sneak in some upper body strength training.


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