Six Lunge Progressions For Functional Leg Strength
The lunge is a great lower body movement and a staple in our programming at Breakthrough Fitness. It is also a movement that I have seen done very poorly. The poor mechanics usually come from people doing an advanced variation before mastering the basic lunge.
Perfecting lunge progressions one at a time will give you functional leg strength in your daily routine without creating bad habits that risk injury.
Why Are Lunges Important?
Lunging patterns require mobility through the hips, knees, ankles, feet, and toes. Doing lunge progressions with proper form can not only increase mobility in these areas, they put your entire lower body to work!
And while there are plenty of other lower body exercises (such as squats), lunges are great because they work one leg at a time, meaning each leg works harder. This also mimics the way our body works throughout most of our day.
Because they are done in multiple planes of movement, lunges also improve balance and coordination.
- Sagittal plane – The body moves front to back (sit ups, bicep curls, lunges forward or backwards)
- Frontal plane – The body moves side to side (lateral dumbbell raises, side lunges)
- Transverse plane – The body can rotate in each direction (medicine ball side throws, transverse lunges)
But the thing we love most about lunges at Breakthrough Fitness is that everyone can do them. We have the ability to decrease or increase the axial load (compressive force on the spine) with lunges, which means there is usually a variation for everyone.
Six Lunge Progressions
The lunge is just about as perfect an exercise as you can get, but it’s important to build your strength gradually to reduce your risk of injury. At Breakthrough Fitness, we introduce our client to a series of six lunge progressions designed to increase functional leg strength at a controlled rate.
1. Stationary Lunge
For beginners, the stationary lunge is a good way to ease into the other lunge progressions.
You begin by stepping one foot in front of you, engaging your core and keeping your back straight. This is your starting position. Then, lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor, then straighten your legs to come up. This is one rep.
Because your feet are staying in one spot throughout your set, this is an easy introduction to lunges. But once you’ve mastered it, move into a forward lunge to add a “forward/back” aspect to your workout.
2. Reverse Lunge
Once you’ve mastered the basic lunge, we then progress into the reverse lunge.
Start out standing tall with your feet next to each other. Step your left foot back and bend your right leg until your thigh is parallel to the floor. Stand and bring your left foot back next to your right. Once you have completed one set, repeat on the other side.
3. Bulgarian Split Squat (Rear Foot Elevated Lunge)
For this one, you will need a box, a step, or other object that is about knee-height. Stand in front of it and rest your foot on the step. Jump your other leg out so that your rear leg is slightly extended. Keep your spine straight and make sure your front knee never leans forward over your toe.
Like the stationary lunge, your feet will not move throughout this exercise.
4. Lateral (Side) Lunge
The lateral lunge is a definite shake-up! Instead of moving forward/back, you will be moving from side-to-side.
If you’re just starting out, try a stationary side lunge first. Start out in a “split” stance with your feet wider than hip width apart and your arms straight out in front of you. Bend one leg and lean into the lunge, keeping your other leg straight. Keep your weight on your heel and hips back. Come up to stand.
Once you have mastered that, we can shake it up even more! Start out with your feet next to each other, then step sideways into the lunge the same as you did before.
5. Curtsy Lunge
For a curtsy lunge, start off standing tall with your feet next to each other. Step back into a reverse lunge with your right foot, but instead of bringing your foot straight back, you will cross it behind your left foot and bend your left knee in a deep lunge.
By crossing the midline of your body, you’re forcing your muscles to work in new ways (this is good for your brain, too).
6. Transverse Lunge
The transverse lunge is a dynamic, complex movement that combines movement across multiple planes, giving you the maximum results from one exercise.
Start out with your feet next to each other, standing tall with your shoulders back and chest out. Step back and to the side with your left leg, turning your foot out as you do so and rotating your shoulders so that you’re in “side lunge” position. Sink down into the lunge. As you come up, push off with your left leg and rotate back to your original starting position.
If you’re having trouble visualizing these instructions, here’s a helpful video showing all of these lunge progressions:
Lunge Progression Tips
As you’re working on these lunge progressions, focus on proper form and positioning. It’s much harder to unlearn bad habits than it is to get it right in the first place. Master stationary lunges (in each progression) before moving on to more dynamic versions. Remember, everything can and should be customized to your abilities!
Before starting out down the “lunge progression path,” build a foundation of strength on both legs with squats and deadlifts. This gives your muscles the chance to get used to exercise before you start overloading them.
Above all, allow yourself some leeway with lunge progressions. Be cautious with your repetitions so you aren’t too sore to move the next day. (“No pain, no gain?” More like “In pain, can’t train!”) And as always, listen to your body. A past knee injury or history of knee pain might mean that lunge progressions aren’t for you.