The lunge is a fantastic exercise for anyone who wants to work all the major muscles of the legs in one simple workout. By varying the reps and resistance when performing a lunge, this exercise can be used to tone, strengthen, or increase the size of the leg muscles.
What’s not very common knowledge is that the lunge can be further modified to place a greater training stimulus on either the quadriceps and hamstrings or the gluteus. This is achieved by simply varying the length of the lunge.
When most people perform the lunge they use the long stride lunge variation. While this is a great exercise in itself, performing the long stride variation of the lunge places a greater percentage of the training stimulus on the hamstrings and gluteus. Long stride lunges therefore are great if you want to work the hamstrings and gluteus muscles to a greater extent. But what if you want to target the quadriceps during the lunge?
The answer is simple: vary the length of the stride.
Performing short stride lunges will make the quadriceps bear most of the load during the exercise. Therefore short stride lunges will work the quadriceps to a greater extent.
What about mid-range stride lunges?
Mid-range lunges equally distribute the training load between the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus. To target all three leg muscles equally, simply perform mid-range lunges.
Putting it all into practice.
To target the hamstrings and gluteus, perform long stride lunges. (See photo below.)
To target the quadriceps, perform short stride lunges. (See photo below.)
To target the quadriceps, hamstrings, and gluteus equally, perform mid-stride lunges. (See photo below.)
Targeting specific muscles of the legs using different stride lengths of lunges can be enhanced even further:
If performing short stride lunges to target the quadriceps, push off through your toes when performing the concentric part of the lunge. (This practice is not recommended for anyone that has knee problems.)
If performing long stride lunges to target the hamstrings and gluteus, push off through your heels when performing the concentric part of the lunge.
Taking it to the next level.
If you want a super intense workout for the leg muscles, you could include lunges as a superset with other exercise to really target the quadriceps, hamstrings, or gluteus. For example:
- Squats followed by short lunges to target the quadriceps.
- Or long lunges followed by straight legged deadlifts to target the hamstrings and gluteus.
- Another way to increase the intensity of the lunge would be to use all three lunge variations as one exercise. For example: a short lunge immediately followed by a mid-stride lunge immediately followed by a long lunge, equaling one rep. Perform 6–10 reps for each set. Go for 3–4 sets. This variation of the exercise targets all the muscles of the legs.
All of the examples above provide an intense workout for the targeted muscles. If you are new to this type of training, it’s highly recommended that you do not take your training to complete failure when following the suggested workouts. Instead, gradually increase the intensity in these workouts over several weeks, to provide a gradual adaptation to the training stimulus.
For those of you who have not experimented before with varying the length of a lunge, spilt squats may be the perfect introduction to varying stride length lunges. The split squat is less dynamic than a lunge so it would be the ideal exercise to gauge how the body responds to varying lengths of foot placement.
While any lunge works all the leg muscles and can be a good workout, try changing the length of the lunge to place greater emphasis on specific muscles of the legs. You’ll get the legs you want in no time!