Woman does a walking lunge outdoors on grass

Walking Lunges Are a Staple Functional Fitness Move—Here’s How to Master Them

Build a strong and functional lower body with this move.

By Sara LindbergDecember 15, 2023


Walking lunges are best known for building strong leg muscles, but they can also make performing daily tasks and participating in your favorite physical activities a bit easier. In fact, you likely perform variations of a walking lunge when running, walking, or even kneeling down to stretch or pick something up. In addition to being an excellent overall muscle builder, this lower-body burner is also a staple move for functional fitness. Here, we break down how to master the walking lunge, the benefits of this move, common mistakes, and share a few ways to vary the exercise.   

How to Do Walking Lunges

The walking lunge is a functional weight-bearing move that can improve lower body range of motion, strength, and make daily living activities easier to perform. While the powerhouse muscles of the lower body are the primary movers with the walking lunge, you’ll also recruit the core muscles to help with balance and stabilization while performing the move. 

Increasing stabilization in your core can make daily activities that require a staggered stance, like climbing a set of stairs easier to perform, according to the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).   

You can perform the walking lunge with bodyweight only or resistance with a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. If you’re new to this move, start with your bodyweight, and add resistance as you master the form. 

Proper Form

While walking lunges might seem like an easy move, there are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind when performing this dynamic exercise. Maintaining proper form is the key to a successful walking lunge. If possible, practice the movement while looking in a mirror. This can help you set your posture and ensure the lower body is lunging correctly. You’ll want to maintain an upright torso throughout the movement and keep your hips squared and facing forward. Avoid leaning too far forward or backward, and engage your core muscles for stability. 

During the move, make sure to push your hips backward before lowering toward the floor. This is known as hip hinging, which can help prevent premature forward movement of your knee by shifting the hips backward. 

It’s always a good idea to start with a shorter stride and gradually increase the intensity as your strength and flexibility improve. Shortening your stride can still activate the working muscles, improve functionality, and challenge balance, while allowing you to remain upright, safe, and minimize injury. 

Another exercise modification is to eliminate the walking portion of the move. Starting with a stationary lunge can help you master the proper form, build strength, and improve balance before adding the walking part of the exercise. 

And of course, pay attention to how your body feels during and after the exercise, and make adjustments as needed, this includes taking your time. It's more beneficial to do fewer lunges with good form than rushing through a higher number with poor form. If you feel any pain, stop and consult with a fitness professional or healthcare provider.

Step-By-Step Guide to Walking Lunges

There’s no doubt that walking lunges are an excellent functional movement to include in a full-body routine, targeted leg day training, or as part of a sport-specific workout. That said, knowing how to do the exercise correctly can minimize injury, maximize effectiveness, and ensure that you target the right muscles. 

If you’re new to walking lunges, this beginner-friendly, bodyweight only version is the perfect starting point. As you progress, you can add resistance such as dumbbells or kettlebells. 

Rebecca Kennedy Forward Lunge

Bodyweight Walking Lunges

1. Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Keep your shoulders back and your core engaged. You can clasp the hands behind your head or leave your arms at your side. 

2. Take a step forward with your right foot and lower your body toward the ground. Your stride should be long enough that when you lower your body, both knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.

3. Allow your back (left) knee to come close to or touch the ground. Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle and not pushed too far forward. Keep the torso erect (or leaning back slightly), and look straight ahead. 

4. Pause for a count in the bottom lunged position.

5. Push off with your back foot to bring it forward, stepping into the next lunge with your left foot.

6. Continue the walking motion, alternating legs with each step. Aim for a smooth, controlled movement.

Breathing tip: Inhale as you step forward and lower your body. Exhale as you push off and step into the next lunge.

Pacing tip: Maintain a steady pace, and don't rush through the movement. Focus on quality over quantity.

What Muscles Do Walking Lunges Work?

Walking lunges are a dynamic movement that primarily target the lower body, including the:

  • glutes

  • hamstrings

  • quadriceps

  • calves

  • hips

While you’ll likely be focused on the burn in your powerful leg muscles, walking lunges also activate secondary muscles like those in your core to assist with balance and stability. 

Your core is made up of the muscles that support, stabilize, and move your spine, including the rectus abdominis, erector spinae, internal and external obliques, transverse abdominis, and mutifid, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).   

Benefits of Walking Lunges

Walking lunges combine strength training and cardiovascular conditioning, making them a versatile exercise for most fitness levels. By engaging multiple muscle groups, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core, walking lunges help improve lower body strength, stability, and overall functional fitness. The dynamic nature of the movement also enhances flexibility and joint mobility. Here are some of the top benefits of this lower-body burner. 

Boosts Core Stability and Balance 

One thing that makes the walking lunge so dynamic is it is performed unilaterally in a standing position, which integrates the core muscles in the kinetic chain with your lower body muscles. This body position increases the stability requirement of the core muscles, according to a 2019 study

Supports Unilateral Training 

The walking lunge allows you to train unilaterally, which means using both sides equally. Unilateral training can identify and target any muscle imbalance between the right and left leg. It may also help to avoid overtraining or overusing the dominant side, according to ACE.  

Promote Better Hip Mobility and Flexibility 

Weak and tight hip muscles can put a damper in your workout, especially if you’re dealing with chronic issues. Too much sitting, not enough stretching, and poor mechanics can all lead to a decrease in hip mobility and flexibility. Incorporating lower body exercises that target the powerful hip flexor and extensor muscles, including the rectus femoris, iliopsoas, sartorius, tensor fascia latae, hamstrings, and gluteus maximus, can help improve hip mobility and flexibility.  

Foundational Compound Exercise

Walking lunges are a compound exercise that simultaneously recruits the large muscles of the lower body, making this move an efficient exercise to include in any routine. Compared to isolated moves that target single muscle groups, compound exercises feature multi-joint movements involving more than a single muscle group. Including compound or multi-joint exercises in your routine is an effective way to target the three categories of fitness: cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility, according to ACE.  

Can Be Performed Anywhere 

At home, the gym, during a work call, in the hotel, or just about anywhere, walking lunges are the ideal exercise you can take with you no matter where you go.  

Walking Lunge Variations

One reason we love walking lunges so much is you can make a slight change and have a completely different exercise. Not only do walking lunge variations allow you to challenge lower body muscles in different ways, they also stave off boredom and keep your body guessing. Here are some simple ways to change up this popular move:

  • Walking lunges with twist: Add a torso twist towards the front leg as you lunge.

  • Hill walking lunges: Perform walking lunges while walking up a hill. 

  • Walking lunges with dumbbells: Hold dumbbells in each hand to increase resistance.

  • Overhead walking lunges: Hold a weight or a medicine ball overhead as you lunge.

  • Pulse walking lunges: Add a small pulse at the bottom of each lunge for extra burn.

  • Lateral walking lunges: Take sideways steps, emphasizing the outer thighs and glutes.

Jason West, MPT, physical therapist and clinical director at Teton Therapy Lander likes to use a walking balance lunge with his clients because it is a dynamic balance variation that makes regular old lunges both more fun and more challenging at the same time. To do this variation, West says you'll need a little space free of obstacles but it does not need to be a vast space, just enough to take 5-10 long steps.

  1. Start with the easiest direction, forward. In the walking lunge sequence you will add the balance component on the leading leg where you will balance on that leg for a three second hold (or longer if needed to regain your balance). 

  2. Alternate legs, performing the single leg stance phase as you step forward into the next lunge. 

  3. Increase the difficulty by completing the lunges in side step and the leading leg will be the one performing the single leg stance each step. 

  4. Most difficult, perform this walking backwards and alternating the single leg phase again.

How to Add Walking Lunges to Your Workout Routine

Walking lunges are an easy move to add to various routines like a leg day workout or a full-body routine or to spice up a cardio class. West likes to use walking lunges as an active warm up before weight lifting or even indoor cycling cardio workouts. He also encourages people to incorporate walking lunges into a strengthening program by performing them with dumbbells for added resistance. 

Peloton instructor Selena Samuela Virtue says there are a number of ways to incorporate walking lunges in your routine. “I personally use bodyweight walking lunges to warm up before every single run. I also love them in a lower body day with some heavy dumbbells to add an extra element of balance and stability work," she says. 

Common Mistakes to Avoid

Proper form is the foundation of performing a walking lunge. From posture and alignment to targeting the right muscles, mastering this move can take some trial and error. Knowing the common mistakes ahead of time may help you avoid injury and get you started on the right foot. 

Get Your Feet Right

One mistake often seen with the walking lunge is with the feet. The key to a safe walking lunge is to keep your feet hip-width apart while performing a set. This is not the time to put one foot in front of the other, because if you do, you might find yourself flat on your face. "The most common mistake I see is folks placing their walking foot in the same direct line as the back foot and then they lose their balance, so make sure your feet are staggered out," says Selena.  

Stride Right

As you’re walking, pay attention to your stride. Overstriding, or taking steps that are too long, can cause discomfort in your hip and groin area. Focus on shorter steps at first, increasing the stride as you gain mobility and strength. 

Keep Your Back Knee Off the Floor

Another common technique issue is allowing the back knee to touch the floor. While it may be tempting to drop the leg to the ground, you want to keep that back knee hovering above the floor when taking a step. If you find that the knee is touching the ground, lighten up the weight (if you’re using resistance) or check that your torso is upright and not leaning forward.

Make Sure Your Torso Is Upright

Flexing your torso too far forward or looking down at the floor instead of in front of you, can cause your form to shift and place extra stress on your lower back and knees. Keep your core engaged, torso straight, check your stride to make sure it is not too long, and slow down. 

The Bottom Line

Walking lunges offer a dynamic and effective way to target multiple muscle groups while enhancing flexibility and balance. Whether you add them to your existing full-body routine, perform them as a standalone exercise, incorporate them into a leg day workout, or use them during a dynamic warm-up, walking lunges provide a versatile option for any fitness level.


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