Top 10 Benefits of Lunges (The Definitive Guide)
What are the benefits of including Lunges in your routine?
Lunges are the most effective lower body exercises for developing strength and muscle mass in the glutes and quadriceps.
Lunges are a versatile compound exercise that recruits multiple muscle groups in the legs, glutes and core to work simultaneous in one fluid movement.
Lunges can be used to develop mobility, stability, balance and functional strength that translates to improving sports performance.
The top ten benefits of performing lunges are:
Improve Balance and stability
Address muscle imbalances between each leg
Active stretch for the hip flexors (reduces back pain)
Improve your long distance running efficiency (more fluid movement)
Promotes unilateral leg strength (throw further, punch harder run quicker)
Superior glute activation (better then squats)
Increase lower body muscle mass and strength (scalable exercise)
Save time by working multiple muscle groups with one exercise
Increase functional strength (muscle work cohesively)
Reduces back pain (rely on leg strength rather then flexing the spine)
Improve Balance and Stability
One of the key benefits of lunges is that the exercise develops your balance and stability whilst increasing your strength.
These are key attributes for sports performance, improving your everyday movement patterns and preventing injury.
With lunges you are able to place the majority of the tension on one leg at a time. This fires up the stabilising muscles of the core and lower body more so then other lower body exercises, such as squats where you feet are parallel to each other which makes balance less of a concern.
By regularly practising lunges you can increase your body’s capacity for balance and stability to build a more solid foundation from which to generate force with other exercise, such as running and weightlifting.
Core strength in particular transfers to all compound movements and helps stabilise the spine and improve posture which will contribute to alleviating or preventing back pain.
Training lunges are also significantly better then isolation exercises are machines like the hamstring curl, leg extension and smith machine squat remove the element of stability and balance from the exercise.
These machines limit the involvement of key stabilising muscles and the core so that the individual muscle that is being trained become disproportionately strong then the surrounding supporting muscles, which leads to bad movement patterns, stiffness and a lack of balance.
Always choose compound movements such as lunges and squats over machine based exercises for better balance, movement and athleticism.
Address Muscle Imbalances Between each Leg
As the lunge emphasises one leg at a time, the exercise is well suited to objectively identifying and addressing muscle, strength and flexibility imbalances on either side of the body.
This gives us the opportunity to equalise these imbalances as you can perform lunges on the weaker or less mobile side of your body in order to balance the strength, muscle tone and flexibility out so that you are equally powerful through both legs.
Imbalances between each side of the body often occur after injury or because you unconsciously favour your dominant leg (almost everyone has one leg stronger and with better dexterity then the other, usually consistent with whether you are left or right handed).
I personally have broken my ankle on one occasion and spent 6 weeks recovering on crutches. When the joint had healed there was a significant strength and muscle imbalance between my legs. With lunges (and pistol squats) I was able to target the weaker leg to stimulate strength and muscle mass so that I could generate equal power through both legs and recover quicker.
I simply focused my efforts on the weaker leg until it match my other leg in terms of strength (with weighted lunges) and endurance (bodyweight lunges for a number of reps).
With other exercises it is more difficult to address these imbalances after injury as exercises like squats require drive from both legs simultaneously.
Unilateral leg will balance the strength between both legs which gives you a strong foundation, better body alignment and improved posture.
Active Stretch for the Hip Flexors (Reduces Back Pain)
One of the most common causes of lower back pain can be directly attributed to tight hip flexors.
Hip flexors are a group of muscles that are responsible for extend and flexing at the hip joint and play a role in stabilising the spine, hips and lower body.
They are recruited for any activity that requires requires you to bend at the hips and they coordinate movement between your upper and lower body, so everything from running to squatting and dead lifting.
The muscles originate at the lumbar spine and attaches to your pelvis and femur (thighbone), so when you are sitting your hip flexors are in a contracted position.
Because of sedentary lifestyles where we sit down for perhaps 8 hours a day at work, the hip flexors remain in a contracted position for a very long time. This causes the muscles to shorten and tighten up which consequently causes back pain as the contracted, tighter hip flexor muscle now pulls on your lower back, because of its decreased range of motion.
The lunge puts you in the ideal position to get the best possible stretch for the hip flexors (as well as glutes and quadriceps) to maintain and improve flexibility.
Performing regular lunges acts as an active stretch for the hips, which studies have shown is superior to static stretching, as the lunge takes the muscles and joints through the their natural range of motion and they warm up the muscle and connective tissue around the joints which studies have also shown is essential to prevent injury.
The key benefit of lunges as an active stretch, is that they do not decrease muscular force production prior to working out (which happens with static stretching). This means bodyweight lunges are the ideal warm up to stretch and prepare the body for exercise (particularly squats) and competitive sports.
Lunges improve your long distance running (You can become a faster runner)
The flexibility acquired from performing regular lunges helps stretch out the muscles of the lower body and hip flexors which can drastically improve your running efficiency.
As we know modern life styles do not prioritise movement (such as sitting in an office) and the result is our muscles and joints do not regularly go through their natural range of motion and consequently become tighter.
Over time this seriously restricts our movement, especially in our hips which is to the detriment of our ability to run over long distances…
Improve your Long Distance Running Efficiency
For perfect running form our body needs to be able to move with fluidity. Excessive muscle tightness in the hips will resist your movement with every step and tax your muscles energy even more, particularly over long distances.
Over the course of your running circuit or even a race, this extra energy that you need to expend fighting the stiffness and resistance from your hips will lead to fatiguing faster and cost you time.
Muscle tightness has more of a pronounced affect over longer distances where energy efficiency is a important priority and tightness at the hips is particularly restricts the range of motion required for running.
If you warm up with lunges before running and really concentrate on pausing at the peak of the movement to emphasise that deep stretch of the hips as much as possible.
Performing lunges regularly (both bodyweight lunges and as a warm up and weighted lunges for muscle and strength) will help open up your stride, prevent injury, improve your daily movement patterns help improve your running efficiency.
Promotes Unilateral Strength (Good for Athleticism)
When it comes to athletics, most sports require leg strength either as a solid foundation to generate force from or to provide power and drive.
Lunges mimics how you would deploy strength and power in a sporting context better then any other lower body exercise, even more so then squats.
Squats are a great exercise with many benefits but with squats, you are generating the power whilst you feet are parallel to one another. Standing with your feet parallel to each other at shoulder width apart and generating force is an uncommon position or scenario in most sports.
However generating strength and force unilaterally and balancing on one leg at a time emulates more accurately how you would move in sports.
A take down in wrestling or MMA
Throwing a punch in boxing (you are either in a south paw or orthodox stance with your feet apart)
Driving forward in a Rugby scrum
Tackling in football
Track and field throwing sports (javelin, discus shot put)
Pitching or hitting a baseball
…and many more sports all require drive and power to come from one leg at a time as this is a more stable position and better for generating force. In non of these sports do you deploy force with your feet spaced evenly and parallel to one another.
Lunges are a more sports specific exercise to develop strength, power whilst developing balance, stability and mobility as you learn how to generate force one leg at a time.
If you compete in sports you should prioritise lunges as part of your lower body routine to reap the benefits and become a better athlete.
Superior Glute Activation (Better then Squats)
Lunges are one of the most powerful exercises to build the glutes that you have in your arsenal.
Lunges are not an isolation exercise as they activate multiple large muscle groups but they are a compound movement that focuses the tension on the glute muscles.
This means you get all the benefits of a compound exercise whilst loading up the tension on a target muscle group, so there is more potential for strength and muscle gain.
The lunge is a unilateral exercise which concentrates the intensity of the exercise on one side of the body at a time so you can address any strength disparity and really get the most intense muscle activation from each glute muscle.
The fact you can load up the tension in this way means that lunges actually have an edge over squats for glute activation, so there is clearly huge potential for adding mass to your ass!
Developing stronger glutes is also advantageous as an accessory move for the deadlift.
Glutes are often underdeveloped compared to the other large leg muscles so dedicating some time towards building strength with lunges can help the lower body body function more efficiently and give you more power to extend the hip, which is essential for a strong deadlift.
Firing up underactive glutes also has profound benefits for alleviating lower back pain.
Weak glutes causes the surrounding muscles (hamstrings and muscles of the lower back) to compensate for their lack of strength which causes muscles tightness and a restricted range of motion.
Tight hamstrings in particular put a lot of stress on the lower back resulting in pain and general discomfort.
Activating the glutes so that they perform their function will alleviate the extra workload from the lower back and hamstrings which will help (along specific hamstring stretches) to improve the efficiency of your movement patterns and reduce back pain.
Increase Muscle Mass and Strength (Scalable Exercise)
The lunge is a very easy exercise to scale in difficulty. If you find bodyweight lunges too easy and your goal is to add muscle mass and strength to your lower body then you can increase the intensity of the exercise by adding weight.
My favourite way to do this is to grab a dumbbell in each hand and perform walking lunges rather then use a barbell rested on your trapezuis muscle.
The barbell requires more shoulder mobility and loading up weight on your shoulders may overwhelm your stabilising muscles for a unilateral leg exercise that already requires significant stability strength and balance.
Using dumbbells puts the focus on the target muscles (particularly the quads and glutes) so you can use a higher level of resistance and stimulate your muscles (particularity the quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves) to grow.
Loading up the resistance with extra weight will put more stress on the muscles and force them to adaptively respond by increasing in size and strength.
As you get stronger you can progressively overload the muscles by using heavier weights, so you can consistently increase your strength and add muscle mass.
The lunges recruit some of the largest muscle groups in the body as its primary movers (the gluteius maximus is the largest muscle of all) so there is huge potential for muscle gain with weighted lunges.
Lunges Work Multiple Muscles in One Exercise (Saves Time in the Gym)
Compound exercises that recruit multiple muscle groups in one movement are far more time efficient then other leg exercises.
With Lunges and squats you can work every muscle in the lower body and the core simultaneously with high levels of muscular tension. To achieve the same intensity from isolation exercises you would need to perform sets with:
Leg press machine
Performing 3 sets of ten of each exercise, and factoring in rest time between each set would take well over an hour.
Most people do not have this sort of time to spend in the gym and may need to get a workout done in 45 minutes during lunch break or after work.
With just lunges and squats (see the benefits of squats) you can hit the same muscle groups with higher intensity for higher muscle and strength building potential and promote muscles to work more cohesively with one another for better athleticism.
If you only have 45 minutes to workout, don’t waste time on isolation exercise and instead train functional exercises such as lunges and achieve superior results.
Functional Strength (Promotes Muscles Working Cohesively)
Lunges engage multiple large muscle groups in the lower body to work together simultaneous either by providing force (glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves) or by providing stability (both posterior and anterior muscles of the core).
Recruiting different muscle groups to all work together to participate in the exercise promotes more fluid movement that emulates how the body should work and how you would move in real life scenarios and in competitive sports.
This is contrasted by isolation and machine based leg exercises which promotes individual muscles to work one at a time independently of one another. This can result in stiff movement with particular muscles that are overly tight or under/over developed compared to the other muscles of the lower body.
Working one muscle at a time without other muscles participating in the exercise goes against how your body is supposed to move and you will miss out on developing stability strength and balance.
With lunges your muscles will develop proportionally to one another which is better from both a natural aesthetic looking point of view and to develop strength that can transfer to other functional movements, without being imbalanced.
Simply put lunges are far better for improving your overall movement and full body strength then machine based exercises such as hamstring curl and leg extension machines.
Better for Lower Back Health to Lunge or Squat down Rather then Flex the Spine
Back pain can be the result of inefficient movement patterns where you bend at the lower back to bend down and pick something up. This can cause or exacerbate a bad back particularly if you are picking up something heavy and loading up in an unfavourable position.
This type of movement is completely unnecessary as the muscles in the legs are the biggest and strongest muscles in the body. The tension should be on your muscles and not your spine.
Practising lunges and squats will help strengthen your legs, glutes and core so you can bend at the knees and hips to lift with your legs rather then bending at the back.
Bending at the back taxes your anatomy unnecessarily where the legs have a high capacity for strength and therefore can easily take the muscular tension when lifting.
The increase in core strength resulting from training lunges will help stabilise and protect your spine. The active stretch that you get from lunging will help increase mobility from tight muscles that restrict your natural range of motion.
If you have strong legs there is no need to sacrifice your back and endure pain because of bending and lifting with poor movement.
Make a conscious effort to either lunge or squat when bending to pick something from the floor and you will train your body to be stronger, improve you balance and move more efficiently, and eventually moving like this will become your natural course of movement.
Lunges are the best lower body exercise for developing functional strength and athletic qualities such as balance, stability, mobility. There is also huge potential for increasing muscle mass, particularly in the glutes which is the biggest muscle in the body and has a great capacity for increasing in size and strength.
In addition to this the core strength that you gain from regular lunges helps stabilise and protect your spine, whilst the glutes activation improves your posture and helps to alleviate tight hamstrings to reduce pain in your lower back.
If you would like to know more about the benefits of squats and how they are key to increasing muscle mass and strength in the lower body please check out my article about the benefits of squats.
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