5 Challenging Variations for Strong Legs, Great Glutes
The standard lunge is alright. But if that’s all you do, your legs and glutes are missing out. Add a couple of these variations to your plan.
Training longevity matters more than the number of plates you can stack onto a leg press machine. All lifters eventually come to that realization. We want to be strong but also athletic, mobile, and injury-free. If your usual exercises don’t require much stability, you’ll soon find a gap that needs to be filled. This is where lunges can come in.
- Improved Balance and Coordination: Lunges require proprioceptive awareness. You can’t do them without using other neuromuscular synergies and cognitive awareness.
- Adjustable Muscular Emphasis (Gains Wherever You Want): You can hit the glutes harder with small adjustments like a forward lean, or emphasize the quads with an upright torso angle. Lunges are also massively beneficial for hamstring and even calf development. You can adapt any lunge to build lower-body symmetry.
- Minimized Injury Risk: The need for joint stability and control (in the ankles, knees, and hips) raises muscular demands. Some claim lunges hurt their knees, but this is nonsense, often stemming from poor execution, a loading issue, or prior knee damage.
Here are five unique lunges to rotate into your program. The beauty is you can load them all differently: dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, or a weighted vest. There are several options for increasing the stress demands and challenging different areas of your body.
These are deceptively difficult. Just as running uphill is easier on the joints than on flat ground, the same applies to lunges. It’s also more demanding on the legs and lungs, with a little more emphasis on the glutes, especially with longer strides. Just make sure to use the full range of motion. With the incline, there’s a tendency to cut it short.
The steeper the incline, the harder it gets. Do 8-10 reps on each side and rest by walking back down the hill. Do 3 sets as a nasty finisher.
The hinging lunge is unique because it lengthens the glutes a bit more. Think of it as a lunge and one-leg Romanian deadlift (RDL) combined. You’ll need heavier dumbbells. Straps help, too.
You isolate the leading leg and hit the glute and quad, one side at a time. Reach with the opposing arm to create a more natural shift towards the inside of the front foot as you descend. Reaching for the lead leg allows you to get the most benefit.
Some people avoid lateral lunges because they’re hard and a little awkward. This walking variation makes it easier to maneuver and adds a hinge element. You build even more posterior chain strength and size while hitting your legs.
Holding the weight in the arm furthest from the lead leg allows you to keep the weight lowered and minimizes the stress on the low back.
Try it uphill! Work your way up a hill for 10 reps going in one direction and 10 reps going the other way. It’ll set your legs, glutes, and lungs on fire.
This is a great go-to for its easy setup and effectiveness. Not too many lunge variations allow you to work the entire hip complex, but this one will fire up the glutes and the undertrained areas like the tensor fasciae latae (TFL).
Start perpendicular to the bar. Lean into the landmine to create more stability. Make it even more effective for hypertrophy and sprinting power by doing it with lighter loads. Do 8-10 reps for each leg.
The swing lunge doesn’t require much space and creates a lot of dynamic instability. It’s a great lunge variation for athletes.
You’ll be tempted to stop mid-way and pause. Instead, step through. Fatigue sets in quickly. This also helps with proprioceptive awareness – balancing is a major component.
Knee Health, Squat Strength, Leg Growth, and More
Researchers found that while squats were better for muscle activation, lunges offered more comfort for people with knee problems. The same study found people recovering from any leg injury benefit from adding lunges into their rehabilitation routines.
Furthermore, some research shows that single-leg strength outweighs bilateral strength when it comes to squatting. Keying in on this is a huge help for your overall leg development. And less spinal loading means less back pain.
Lunges develop transitional power and strength. Think about sprinting or any sport where you’re moving on one leg at a time. (So, like, all of them.) Lunges are a staple for muscular strength, stability, and connective tissue strength.
Make any workout work better. Fuel it.
- Irish, Sian E; Millward, Adam J; Wride, James; Haas, Bernhard M; Shum, Gary LK The Effect of Closed-Kinetic Chain Exercises and Open-Kinetic Chain Exercise on the Muscle Activity of Vastus Medialis Oblique and Vastus Lateralis, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: May 2010 – Volume 24 – Issue 5 – p 1256-1262 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181cf749f