Learn to Lunge with 4 Moves for Stronger Thighs

Quiz time: What’s the best exercise to build stronger thighs?

You might think it’s the squat, but what if your back fatigues before your legs?

You might think it’s the leg press, but what if you’re working out at home and don’t have a machine to press?

You might think it’s the leg extension, but since when did sitting on your butt make for a good workout?

The correct answer is the lunge. No exercise works your thighs and glutes while teaching proper knee, hip and ankle positioning quite like the lunge.

The trade-off, of course, is that lunges are hard. Learning to lunge takes some practice, but this four-exercise progression will teach you to master the lunge — and build stronger thighs along the way.

Step 1: Step-Ups

Step-ups are the first step (no pun intended) toward lunging like a champ. Grab a box, step or chair, and you’ve got the tools to work on single-leg strength and stability. Follow these form tips to perform the move correctly:

  1. Start with a box that puts your upper leg parallel to the ground when your foot is on the box. That’s about 18 inches for most people, but go higher or lower as needed.
  2. If you’re a beginner, start with just your body weight, or hold weights (dumbbell, kettlebell, etc.) by your sides or in a goblet position (as shown in the video).
  3. Stand with one foot on the box and the other leg on the ground.
  4. Flex your abs like you’re about to get punched in the stomach, and drive your top heel into the box to stand up.
  5. As you stand up, try to keep your front shin vertical to the floor. Make sure your top knee doesn’t cave in or go too far past your toes.
  6. When your top leg is completely straight, place your back leg on the box, and squeeze your glutes.
  7. Reverse the motion by stepping down to the floor with your back leg, making sure to land softly.

Step 2: Split Squats

The next step is to work on the lowering portion of the lunge without the impact of your feet leaving the ground. Split squats will help you get comfortable in a lunge stance and build the balance necessary to keep your knees, hips and ankles safe. Follow these form tips to perform the move correctly:

  1. Stand with one foot in front of the other in a wide stance, keeping your legs parallel to each other and in line with your hips.
  2. If you’re a beginner, start with just your body weight, or hold weights (dumbbell, kettlebell, etc.) by your sides or in a goblet position.
  3. Dig your back toes into the ground, squeeze your back glute and flex your abs to prevent arching your lower back.
  4. Slowly lower your back knee toward the ground until your front knee and hip make a 90-degree angle. Go lower if you can, and try to gently touch your back knee to the ground.
  5. Make sure your front shin stays vertical to the floor and your knee doesn’t cave in or go too far past your toes.
  6. Push through your front heel to stand back up and repeat.

If you’re having trouble, try an assisted split squat by holding on to a suspension trainer (like a TRX), a wall or a doorway. This will help your balance until you’re comfortable with the movement.

Step 3: Reverse Lunge

The reverse lunge is a bit easier to master than the forward lunge because there’s less eccentric stress. In plain English, you don’t have to decelerate your body as much, making for less impact on your muscles and joints. Follow these form tips to perform the move correctly:

  1. Stand with both feet together with your abs tight and glutes squeezed.
  2. If you’re a beginner, start with just your body weight, or hold weights (dumbbell, kettlebell, etc.) by your sides or in a goblet position.
  3. Take a long stride backward with one leg. Land on the ball of your foot, slowly lowering your back knee to the floor and keeping your chest tall.
  4. As you land, keep your front shin vertical to the floor, and don’t let your front knee cave in or shoot forward past your toes.
  5. Push through your front heel to return to the starting position.

Similar to the split squat, you can use an assisted variation to build confidence with the movement.

Step 4: Forward Lunge

Finally, what we’ve all been waiting for: the forward lunge. This variation challenges you to decelerate your weight and use your entire lower body, especially your thighs.

There are countless ways to load the forward lunge, from using dumbbells or kettlebells to wearing a weighted vest or backpack, or even lunging to a step to increase the range of motion. Follow these form tips to perform the move correctly:

  1. Stand with both feet together with your abs tight and glutes squeezed.
  2. If you’re a beginner, start with just your body weight, or hold weights (dumbbell, kettlebell, etc.) by your sides or in a goblet position.
  3. Take a long stride forward with one leg and land with your foot flat, slowly lowering your back knee to the floor and keeping your chest tall.
  4. As you land, keep your front shin vertical to the floor and don’t let your front knee cave in or shoot forward past your toes.
  5. Push through your front heel to return to the starting position.

Sets and Reps (and a Bonus Workout)

It’s hard to beat the versatility of lunges. They can be done holding heavy weights with lower reps to build strength, with moderate weight and reps to build muscle or light weight and high reps to build endurance or burn fat. It’s up to you.

Try this lunge workout to target your entire lower body (you can progress or regress any lunge variation as needed):

Tony Bonvechio
Tony Bonvechio

Tony Bonvechio (@bonvecstrength) is a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA, and a personal trainer in Providence, RI. A former college baseball player turned powerlifter, he earned his Master’s degree in Exercise Science from Adelphi University. You can read more from Tony at bonvecstrength.com.

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