Do Lunges Work Abs? (Definitive Answer)
Lunges are one of the most effective lower body exercises that not only build muscle and strength but also address different athletic qualities such as balance and coordination. Lunges are well know as a lower body exercise but…
Are the abs worked when you do lunges?
Lunges are a compound exercise that works the abs, obliques and core muscle group under significant levels of tension to provide stability, and balance throughout the unilateral leg exercise. The abs are engaged throughout the exercise and work in cohesively with the primary movers of the lunge (glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calves).
Continue reading to find out more about how to work your abs with lunges and which specific lunges variations work the core the most.
How the Abs are Engaged During Lunges
Lunges recruit the abs and core muscle group in order to provide stability, balance and coordination throughout this dynamic, compound exercise. Lunges are a unilateral exercise which means the tension is focused on one side of the body and one leg at a time.
Your leg muscles (predominately your quadriceps, hamstrings) and glutes are the primary movers of the exercise that are used to extend and flex at the knee and hip joints.
However the abs and core muscles are activated under high levels of tension due to the fact you are standing with a split stance and most of your weight is on one leg and therefore your balance and stability strength is tested whilst you are executing a difficult exercise and trying to generate force from predominately one leg.
The lunges place the tension on one foot at at time, therefore the exercise requires a lot abdominal and core strength to provide stability and coordination, which is why you will feel your abs activated more during lunges then conventional squats (which does not emphasis balance in the same way as the feet are side by side which is more favourable for maintaining balance).
One of your abs main responsibilities is to provide postural support and work in conjunction with all the muscles of the core (including the obliques) to stabilise the body as a whole and provide coordination during great range of motion of the lunge.
The obliques work hard alongside the abs during the lunge to rotate the trunk and keep your balance as you move your weight distribution from each foot.
Although the lunge may not be considered a direct abs exercise like a crunch or sit up, it is a very effective exercise and much safer way to add definition to your abs if you are working towards a six pack.
This is because the lunge works the abs and core in a way that respects the body’s natural movement and crucially does not flex the spine (like sit ups and crunches) which can lead to painful back injuries.
The spine is kept in a neutral position whereas sit ups an crunches work against the natural shape and curvature of the spine which can lead to back injury, whereas lunges work the core muscles as a whole muscle group in a way that supports the spine without repeated flexion.
The way you employ the abs during lunges emulates how you engage your abs and core in real life scenarios or during sports performance.
Lunges are a compound movement that engages multiple muscle groups to work together cohesively in a well integrated motion, so lunges don’t just work the abs but all the muscles in the core (as well as the large muscle groups of the lower body).
Lunges work all the core muscles together without focusing on one muscle group so that the abs and core muscles can all develop in strength and definition proportionally to one another so you get balanced look.
Compound movements such as lunges are key to developing full body strength and muscle and promotes more fluid movement and proportional muscle development then isolation exercises such as the abdominal crunch.
Lunge Variations to Target the Abs and Core
If you can do 15 or more bodyweight lunges without difficulty then you need to increase the intensity of the exercise to keep enough tension on your abs so that you continue to develop a stronger core and more definition.
You need to give the body a reason for it to adaptively respond to become stronger and more toned, and you can do this with lunges by adding weight for a progressive overload.
The two best options to scale the intensity of lunges with the goal of targeting abs are:
Add weight to the exercise with a barbell or holding dumbbells in each hand.
Hold one dumbbell or kettlebell in your hand only on one side of the body for increased abs activation.
You can add weight to lunges by supporting a barbell on your back in the same way you do for a squat.
This not only makes the exercise more difficult as you have increased the level of resistance, but the fact the the barbell on your shoulders increases the need for balance, stability and coordination, which are three forms of stimulus that activate the abs and core muscles.
With the weight on your shoulders the centre of gravity is now much higher and therefore there is an increased demand for upper body stability to control to stay balanced. This makes the exercise significantly more difficult as the core and abs are recruited to to coordinate and balance both the lower and upper body simultaneously.
Lunges with Dumbbells
Before you try to lunge with a barbell on your shoulders, I recommend just taking a pair of dumbbells in each hand and start off with a low weight that you feel is proportionate to your strength.
With the barbell variation, the balance required could be too high for your current ability and there is increased risk of dropping the weight, as you are already balanced predominately on one leg at a time.
Using dumbbells is also better for people who may not have the shoulder mobility to comfortably hold a barbell in place, whereas carrying dumbbells requires and develops grip strength which is a useful additional benefit of the exercise.
Holding the weight in each hand with your arms down by your side keeps the centre of gravity lower and therefore the exercise is less overwhelming for your ability to balance and coordinate.
However weighted lunges with dumbbells do still require more stability and tax the muscles (particularly the glutes and quadriceps) with more stress. Therefore there is still a higher workload on the abs and the other primary movers without the exercise becoming too difficult.
Unilateral Weighted Lunges
Another option for the more advanced gym enthusiast is to perform lunges carrying weight only in one hand at a time.
This creates more instability during the exercise, which in turn challenges the abs, core and glutes to to stabilise your entire body.
With this lunge variation you are specifically actuating the need for balance and stability to counteract and uneven weight whilst emphasising one leg at a time which specifically increases the activation of the abs and obliques better then any other lunge variation.
Balance, stability and coordination is primarily the responsibility of the abs and core muscle groups which is exactly what this exercise demands.
The considerable instability created by handling one weight at a time makes this a much more challenging exercise for the abs and the core so you will need to start slow with a low weight and work your way up so that you don’t overwhelm your stabilising muscles.
The body’s adaptive response to the increased instability is to strengthen the core and glutes so that they can cope with the increased workload. This exercise, in turn increases your body’s overall capacity for stability and balance which are useful attributes for everyday movement and improving sports performance.
Do bare in mind that you have to alternate each side of the body so you should do an equal number of reps with the weight in each hand to maximise the benefits of body control and strength through your entire kinetic chain.
Aim for 3-5 sets of 8-12 reps with a weight that you can handle and you can scale the amount of weight you use from there to meet your personal ability.
Bear in mind that this exercise is not just recruiting muscle groups but testing your stability strength and balance so the quality of the rep is what is most important here and not a specific quantity so take your time with this exercise.
What muscles do Lunges work?
The primary movers of the lunge are the:
The abs and core are under tension to maintain the balance and coordination of the exercise and work in conjunction with the glutes to maintain the correct body position and posture.
The two leg muscles groups that are emphasised most with lunges are the glutes and the quadriceps, but every muscle group in the lower body participates in this exercise. Compound movements such as lunges which engage multiple muscle groups are better for building strength and increasing muscle mass.
For more information on the benefits of lunges take a look at my article which discusses everything from the glutes building potential of lunges to why lunges are a much better exercise then squats from improving athletic performance.
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