The quadriceps muscle at the front of the thigh is the main target for the lunge. Your quadriceps are used to straighten the knee from a bent position and they also help keep your kneecap in the proper position. One of the four quadriceps muscles (the rectus femoris) also acts as a hip flexor, drawing your torso towards your thigh (and vice versa).1 You use your quads in cycling, climbing stairs, and walking and running (especially uphill). This compound exercise also employs the gluteus maximus of the buttocks, the adductor magnus of the inner thigh, and the soleus of the calf. As your balance is challenged, stabilizer muscles of your back and legs come into play.2 Add this together and you get a much more functional exercise than simply using a machine to isolate your quads.
Healthy quads help you maintain balance and mobility. Athletes in sports involving running need to strengthen the quads to balance them with the hamstrings.3 As a weight-bearing exercise, the lunge can help maintain bone health.
You will need an area where you can take one big step. Choose dumbbells of a weight that will enable you to complete the exercise sets you have chosen.4 Trial and error will be required to settle on a suitable weight. Start with a light weight. If you have difficulty balancing, start with no weights.
- Stand up straight with a dumbbell in each hand. Hang your arms at your sides. Palms should face the thighs (hammer grip). Feet should be a little less than shoulder-width apart.
- Take a big step forward with either leg, bending at the knee until the front thigh approaches parallel to the ground, landing on the heel. Inhale as you go down. The rear leg is bent at the knee and balanced on the toes. For the leg you step forward with, don’t let the knee go past the tip of the toes.
- Step back to your standing starting position while exhaling.
- Repeat the motion with the other leg. Alternate legs until the exercise program set is complete. A number to aim for is eight to 12 lunges per set and two to three sets in a workout.
Be aware of these errors that can lead to injury or reduce the effectiveness of this exercise.
Knee Extending Past Toes
Be careful that the knee of the forward leg does not extend past the toes as you bend the leg. This can aggravate the knee joint if done too much and lead to an injury.
Keep your back straight and torso upright as you lunge. If you find yourself leaning or rounding your back, be sure to draw in your abs before taking a step and use a lighter weight or no weight until you are able to do it properly.
Back Knee Alignment
The back knee should be in line with your body and pointed at the floor at the bottom of the lunge. If you have balance problems or lack flexibility in your hip flexors or quads you might turn the knee outward or inward. This can lead to knee pain. If you find you are doing this, make your lunge more shallow until you are able to do it with correct form.
If your feet are too close together you will put more of the force on your knees rather than your thigh muscles. If they are too far apart you won’t be able to bend the rear leg as much and your lunge will be less stable. Adjust the width of your stance to find the right distance.
Modifications and Variations
The dumbbell lunge can be done in different ways to make it more accessible for beginners or provide a way to progress as you become stronger. Taking shorter steps forward makes this primarily a quadriceps exercise while taking a longer step will also exercise the gluteus maximus.
Need a Modification?
For better balance, don’t lift the rear foot too far onto the toes until you get a feel for this exercise. You’ll get better as you practice.
Practice the lunge without weights until you are able to do it with good form, especially if you have balance issues. Once you are able to do the move correctly with just your bodyweight, begin with light weights. You can increase the weight as you are able to do the exercise correctly.
Up for a Challenge?
The exercise also can be performed with dumbbells held at the front of the shoulders, or with a barbell on the shoulders, behind the neck. These are more advanced versions and should only be done if you have no balance issues.
Another challenging variation is the walking lunge. Rather than returning to standing position, you bring the rear leg forward into lunge and continue this pattern around the room.
Make further use of the dumbbells by adding a bicep curl as you are in the lunge position.
Safety and Precautions
The dumbbell lunge should be avoided if you have pelvic instability problems and any injury to the ankle.4 If you have any knee or hip problems, it is best to do shallow lunges rather than deep lunges and use lighter weights. Keeping the knee from extending past the toe is critical to preventing injury. If you feel any joint pain in your knee, hip, or ankle, end the exercise. As this exercise requires balance, you may wish to avoid it during the third trimester of pregnancy or do it with one hand in contact with a wall for stability.
Try It Out
:Incorporate this move and similar ones into one of these popular workouts
- Weights and cardio circuit training workout
- Home dumbbell weight training workout
- Advanced weight training fitness workout