Lunges are a great lower body exercise to build strength and mass.
However, depending on your goal, you may want a lunge variation for the following reasons:
- You want to target the glutes more
- You want to target the quads more
- You have bad knees and a traditional lunge hurts
Rest assured, there are countless lunge variations for all kinds of use cases, and below I’m going to cover 18 different types.
Note: All of the lunge options below are found in the Fitbod app, offering you a seamless way to apply the knowledge directly to your next lower body workout. Get 3 free workouts when you download the Fitbod app.
How to Target Different Muscle Groups With Lunge Variations
When looking to target different muscle groups with lunges, you need to pay attention to your stance as well as the range of motion (i.e. how deep you go).
Lunges involve hip and knee extension, which mean that the glutes and quads can be activated throughout the movement. However, if you want to target one over the other, here’s how to do so.
Targeting the Quads With Lunges
If you want to target the quads with lunges, you need to focus on lunge variations that allow for deeper degrees of knee flexion (i.e. knee bend).
Like squats, the more the knees bend forward (even past the toes) and the more your torso is upright, the more quad emphasis the lunge will have.
As well, most lunges can be modified to increase quad engagement by taking a narrower stance or elevating the heel with a plate or block to increase knee flexion.
Targeting The Glutes With Lunges
If you want to target the glutes more in a lunge, taking a wider stance will help you by increasing the dependency on hip flexion (i.e. bending at the hip).
Keep in mind that when performing lunges, you want to try to stay upright, as this will help you descent into a deeper lunge position. In a wider stance though, you may have more of a forward-leaning torso ‒ this is okay.
Elevating the front foot or back foot on a bench will increase the overall range of motion that the lunge is performed, which will also result in more bending of the knee and hips (glute involvement).
Most lunges will target the glutes. Deeper lunges target the glutes, as well as wider stance lunges.
Lunge Variations That Target the Glutes
While it will be impossible to not activate the quad in the lunge, the below lunge variations will shift the emphasis to target the glutes.
Most of the lunges will challenge lateral hip stability or have high amounts of knee bending in the movement. In other words, lunges challenge your ability to control yourself from falling over to one side and stress the importance of stability on one leg.
Note: All of these variations can be found in the Fitbod app.
1. Bodyweight Curtsy Lunge
The bodyweight curtsy lunge targets the glutes, specifically the lateral aspects of the glutes (side) and the inner thighs. By doing the curtsy, shift more weight to one leg and hip, challenging the glutes to provide stability.
- Start standing, and take one leg and step it back behind you as if you were doing a reverse lunge.
- While you are stepping the leg back, cross it over as if you were doing a curtsy, making sure that your knee goes to the ground and your lead foot is planted.
- The deeper you drop your leg, and the more crossed over it is, the more challenging it will be on the glutes and abductors.
- Stand up, and repeat.
Pro Tip: As you step one leg behind you, try to have the rear foot be outside the lead foot. Be careful though, as too much of a curtsy could topple you over.
2. Dumbbell Curtsy Lunge
Unlike the bodyweight version, the dumbbell curtsy lunge allows you to add more weight and challenge the muscles to an even greater degree. This is ideal for people who have mastered the bodyweight exercise and are looking to get even more out of the standard curtsy lunge.
- Grab a pair of dumbbells in your hands, and stand up tall.
- Perform the curtsy lunge just like you would in the body weight version, just hold the weights by your sides.
Pro Tip: If you find the weights are getting in the way, you can hold a single dumbbell instead either in the goblet position or on the opposite side of the stationary leg.
3. Medicine Ball Side Lunge
The medicine ball side lunge is a weighted lunge variation that targets the glutes and abductors. A medicine ball is a helpful tool when doing side lunges as the lifter can use it and hold it anywhere, offering a counterbalance to aid with stability, as well as increase resistance.
- Stand upright while holding a medicine ball at chest level.
- Step one leg out to the side, making sure that your other leg stays straight and fully extended.
- As you lunge to the side, your hips should go back, and your chest (and the ball) should stay upright
- Shift your weight to the outside leg (leg that was stepped laterally), and lunge as low as you can.
- Push yourself back upright with your leg that was stepped out, and repeat.
Pro Tip: If you have issues with balance, reach the ball out in front of you as you sit lower into the lunge. This will help you find better balance and allow you to stay more upright so that you can get lower and place more stress on the glutes and quads.
4. Barbell Lunge
The barbell lunge is a great loaded lunge movement that can build strong, powerful glutes. The barbell lunge can be done walking or stationary. The barbell is ideal for heavier lunge training as the weight is on your back, and you are not limited by your grip strength or by how much weight you can pick up with dumbbells.
- Stand in front of a squat rack, facing outwards towards a path you can walk on.
- With a barbell on the rack, place the barbell on your back as you would a back squat.
- If you are doing walking lunges, then start performing walking lunges, making sure to take natural stride lengths.
- You knee should touch the ground very softly.
- Stand up and repeat, in a walking manner.
- When at the halfway point, turn around slowly and control the barbell still on your back, then walk back performing more lunges.
- When you return to the rack, rack the barbell on the squat rack.
Pro Tip: You can also do stationary barbell lunges as well, which would be done either from a front lunge, or reverse lunge position (see other variations below)
5. Pause Barbell Lunge
Adding a pause to any movement will make it more difficult as you will not be able to rely on momentum to assist you. When doing a pause in the lunge, you can choose to pause at the bottom of the movement, and increase muscle activation and coordination.
- Perform a lunge exactly how you would a non-pause barbell lunge, with the exception that you will pause at the bottom of the movement (or right above the point at which your knee hits the ground)
- When paused, make sure you are not allowing your lower and upper back to relax.
- If you are taking your knee to the ground, then pausing, you should not be resting at the bottom of the pause, but rather working to not relax.
Pro Tip: If you are doing pause lunges, try to pause just above the point at which your knee makes contact with the ground. This will keep max tension on the muscle and not let you relax at the bottom.
6. Walking Lunge
The walking lunge is a dynamic lunge that challenges stability, coordination, and balance. This can be done with any means, whether it be bodyweight, barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells.
- Start by standing upright. Your hands should be by your sides or holding weights (in whatever position is necessary for the equipment you are using).
- Take one large, natural length step, making sure your front foot is flat, heel is down, and your knee is bending over your toes.
- Your back leg should be bent, and your back knee should be able to touch the ground.
- With the majority of your weight in the front leg, stand all the way up, and bring your back leg back underneath you.
- Step forward with the other leg now, and repeat.
Pro Tip: It is perfectly acceptable to have your knees go over your toes in a lunge, just make sure that your heel stays planted as well.
Lunge Variations That Target the Quads
The below lunge variations primarily target the quads, as they allow you to place the knee in deeper ranges of flexion, often to where the knee passes the toes in the bottom position.
Note: all of these variations can be found in the Fitbod app.
- Related Article: Knee-Friendly Quad Exercises
7. Kettlebell Racked Reverse Lunge
The kettlebell racked reverse lunge is a quad-dominant lunge variation that also targets the glutes, core, and upper back.
When you have the kettlebells in the front rack, you will need to keep your torso more upright. The front rack position of the kettlebell squat is when you have the kettlebells resting on the front of the shoulders, with your elbows tucked into t the sides of the body.
This will force more knee flexion as you lower into the squat, making the movement engage the quads.
- Grab two kettlebells and place them in the front rack position, which is with the kettlebells up on your chest, with the thumbs by the collarbones and the elbows into your ribs.
- Step back with one leg, making sure your front leg has weight in both the heel and toes.
- Let your back knee touch the ground.
- Keep your torso vertical to not allow your chest and shoulders to collapse forward.
- Stand up by placing all your weight on the lead leg, and repeat.
Pro Tip: Keep your torso upright as you go into the lunge. This may mean you allow your knee to move past your toes, which is perfectly acceptable.
8. Kettlebell Single Arm Overhead Lunge
This overhead lunge variation will force you to stay more upright with your torso, and therefore increase knee flexion and extension, which in turn means more quad emphasis.
- Stand tall and press a kettlebell overhead (in one of your arms).
- The arm overhead should be straight at the elbow, and the bicep should be by your ear.
- The kettlebell should be slightly behind your head.
- With your arm overhead, and your rib cage down to limit the arch in your lower back, take a step forward with one leg, and perform a walking lunge.
- Perform steps with the weight overhead until you get halfway, then switch the position of the weight to the other arm, and finish your set.
Pro Tip: Your arm needs to stay straight at all times. Think about reaching your arm to the sky, even as you lower yourself into the lunge.
9. Forward Lunge with Twist
The forward lunge is primarily a quad-dominant lunge. You are not walking in this lunge variation. Adding a twist will also target the obliques.
- Start by standing upright, with either a plate, medicinal ball, or dumbbell in your hands at chest or stomach height.
- Step forward with one leg, and land your front foot flat, making sure to keep your hip back so that the front heel does not lift off the floor.
- Once planted, rotate your torso from side to side once, moving the weight to the side of the body in the process, like you would a Russian twist.
- Push yourself back up through the lead leg, reset, and repeat.
Pro Tip: When you step forward, you need to keep your front foot down. If you fail to do so, you may feel knee pain in the lead leg.
10. Lunge Jump
The lunge jump is a plyometric lunge that targets the quadriceps and calves. The quads are used in this primary when you make sure that you jump vertically, and not out forward.
- Start by taking a knee, making sure that your front foot is flat (heel and toes on ground). Your back knee should be bent, and on the ground.
- With your chest slightly leaned forward over your lead leg, explosively push away from the ground using your front leg.
- You can also swing your arms upwards simultaneously to aid you in starting the jump.
- At the top of the jump, make sure you are vertical, and are not jumping up and forward.
- As you land, you can either land on two feet in a squat, or you can go back down smoothly into the lunge.
- You can also pause and reset between reps, or land and react going directly into the next rep.
Pro Tip: You need to make sure that when you land, you do not come crashing to the floor. If you are doing this, try not jumping as high and work on landing under control at first, and build up from there.
11. Overhead Barbell Lunge
The overhead barbell lunge is a challenging lunge variation that targets the quads primarily due to the need to stay upright, but also the glutes, upper back, and shoulders. This also requires a great deal of mobility and shoulder stability.
- Grab the barbell and press it overhead. Your grip can vary based on your mobility. The wider your hands, the less mobility you will need, but the harder it will be to stabilize. The narrower the grip, the more stability you can have overhead, but it requires more shoulder mobility.
- Once the bar is overhead, make sure your elbows are locked out and the barbell is lined up over the back of your head. From the side angle, you should be able to see your ears (not covered by the arms).
- Perform a lunge, either walking style, reverse style, or forward style, based on preference.
- Stand back up, keeping the weight overhead, and repeat.
Pro Tip: If you struggle with holding the barbell overhead properly, try thinking about reaching your arms to the sky. Stay actively pressing upwards under the weight at all times.
Lunge Variations for Bad Knees
Lunges are not bad for knees unless you currently have knee pain or poor form.
If you find your knees hurt during lunges, you first need to establish basic strength in a range of motion, perfect your form, and progress from there.
If any of these exercises give you more than low levels of discomfort, then you should stop, as pain in the knees when lunging is not normal.
- Related Article: How To Work Your Hamstrings At Home
12. Pulse Lunge
The pulse lunge is a great way to build in slow tempos, increase tension on a muscle, and restrict the range of motion to isolate areas of weakness.
- This will be best if you perform a split lunge, in which you are not stepping back and forth but rather lowering and elevating yourself in the same spot.
- Start by taking a knee, and setting yourself up so that your front foot is flat and your back knee is bent, with the majority of your weight on your lead leg.
- Stand up and hover your rear knee above the ground about 3 inches. This is the deepest you’ll go in your lunge.
- Stand up until you are about 90% of the way to the fully locked-out position (lead leg). This is the top part of your lunge.
- Lower yourself back down between the bottom and top position, under control, without stopping for rest for time or reps, then switch legs.
Pro Tip: Your goal here should be to never lose tension on the muscles. By not going all the way up or down, you can keep tension on the muscle at all times.
13. Static Lunge
This is an isometric lunge, which is great for building strength specific to the angle at which your knee is. This is a great way to also rehab a sore knee, train strength at a certain depth, or add extra intensity to your workouts without weights.
- Start in a split lunge position, like above.
- Lower yourself down to any height (the lower you go, the harder it is)
- Hold this position for time, then repeat.
Pro Tip: For more of a challenge, you can hold weights or have weight on your back when doing this, or you can even mix static holds into regular lunges.
14. TRX Pulse Lunge
Using the TRX on the pulse lunge allows you to potentially train the muscles to failure since you are not limited by balance. By using the TRX straps, you provide some lateral stability to help you during the pulses, and can even help aid yourself standing up when muscles fatigue.
- Start by grabbing the TRX handle straps.
- Perform a pulse lunge as described above
Pro Tip: Try not to use the straps to aid in the movement, until you absolutely need to.
15. TRX Crossing Balance Lunge
The TRX cross-balance lunge is similar to the curtsy lunge, however, the straps allow you to have some additional balance support. If you struggle with balance or leg strength in the cross-over lunge, the straps can also allow you to use your upper body to pull yourself up if needed.
- Grab the straps and stand tall.
- Shift your weight to one leg, and then perform a reverse lunge without putting your back leg on the ground.
- As you back leg goes back, let it cross over to the other side, almost like the curtsy lunge (except it doesn’t touch the ground)
- Stand back up through the lead leg, and repeat.
Pro Tip: Depth is the key here, so if you cannot perform the crossover lunge to the point where your back knee almost touches the ground (like 1” off the ground), try doing a curtsy lunge but using the back leg as little as possible.
16. Split Squat
While the split squat is not a “lunge” per se, it is in the lunge family. The split squat is a unilateral stationary lunge. Since you are stationary (you are not stepping your legs back/forwards), you provide your body with stability while still training one leg primarily.
- Start by taking a knee.
- Your back foot should be up on the toes/balls of your feet, with your lead leg being fully planted.
- Shift most of your weight into the lead leg, and keep your torso over the front thigh.
- Stand up, making sure to not shift weight back into your rear leg.
- Once you have straightened your front knee, flex the quad, then lower yourself back down to the ground, making sure to keep your heel down on the ground in the lead leg.
Pro Tip: Keep your front heel down at all times. If you are having trouble with that make sure that your back knee is allowed to bend as you lower yourself.
17. TRX Split Squat
The TRX split squat can be done to help minimize any balance issues you may have when performing a split squat. This can be helpful for beginners who may struggle to perform split squats without some balance assistance.
- Grab the handles, and get into a kneeling position.
- Perform a split squat, as described above, while holding the TRX strap handles.
Pro Tip: The straps are there to help you only if you need them. If you are relying on them too much you may be losing the benefit of this movement altogether.
18. Step Up
The step-up is another relative of the lunge, yet can be a great movement to do with bad knees as it can be done at a variety of heights and ranges of motion, and trains the legs in a way that helps mimic real life.
- Choose a step up height that you are comfortable with. The higher the step up, the more challenging it is and the more quad and glute growth you can get.
- Step one foot on top of the box, making sure your foot is flat. Be careful not to step on the edge of the box just in case it tips over.
- Push through the lead leg, and stand up.
- Slowly lower yourself back down, taking time to control the movement.
- You heel should never lift up (front leg)
Pro Tip: try not to jump off the back leg to assist you in the step up. This defeats the purpose.
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Other Lower Body Resources
- Have bad knees? Here are 10 knee-friendly glute exercises to add to your lower body workouts.
- No weights, no problem. Try these leg exercises that you can do with only a bench.
- Try these Smith machine glute and quad exercises to take your hotel and commercial gym workouts to a whole new level.
About The Author
Mike holds a Master’s in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor’s in Exercise Science. He’s a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), USA Weightlifting Advanced Coach, and has over 10+ years of experience working with collegiate athletes, national level lifters, and beginners alike. Mike is Founder of J2FIT Strength and Conditioning, a growing global training company with gyms in New York City, Cincinnati, and online offering personal training, online custom coaching programs.