What Muscles Do Lunges Work the Most?

When you want to burn calories and work your lower body, lunges are the perfect exercises. This leg strengthening exercise comes with different variations to ensure that your workouts are interesting and you never experience workout plateau.

The Basic Lunge

The basic lunge workout is the same as the forward lunge that many people are familiar with. It recruits the calves, glutes, hamstrings, quads, core, and back muscles.

what muscles do lunges work

In this article we’ll look at the proper form for performing lunges, lunge variations, and the muscles worked doing lunges. We will also highlight the benefits of lunges and identify some common mistakes that people do when doing lunges and why you should avoid them.

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How to Perform the Basic Lunge

The forward lunge is considered the basic lunge from which all other variations are derived from. This basic lunge targets your hamstrings, quads and glutes.

Steps Activity
Step #1 Get a flat and stable ground and assume an upright standing position. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
Step #2 Now, take one big step forward with your left leg as you shift your weight forward. Keep your upper body in an upright position. As your left leg lands, the heel should land first.
Step #3 Start lowering your body until your left shin is vertical and your thighs are parallel to the ground. Your right knee will slowly dip towards the floor as if to kneel. You can opt to touch the ground with the right knee or just reach an inch above the ground.
Step #4 Engage your core muscle to maintain a neutral position and press into your left heel and push back to the standing position.
Step #5 Alternate the legs and repeat. Aim at 10-12 repetitions for each side. Make sure your trunk maintains an upright position throughout your motion.

What Do Lunges Work on Your Body?

A lunge is designed to strengthen your lower body from the hip down. It also targets your core muscles because they are significantly involved in making sure your upper body maintains an upright neutral position.

This simple body weight exercise can also be used as a warm-up before engaging in more intense activities.

So what muscles on your lower body do lunges work? When done in the proper form, It effectively works your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip and core muscles. This is a light exercise that does not engage the target muscle so intensely.


This is the muscle group located on the front part of your thigh and which you activate when you step a leg forward during a lunge. You engage the muscle as you pull your leg and step it forward. Add the frog squat to your leg day for intense quad training.


This is a group of muscles found at the back of your thigh. During a lunge, they are mostly activated on the leg that remains behind to dip the knee to the floor.


These are the muscles of your buttocks. Maximum activation of these muscles happens on the leg that remains behind during the lunge.

Core Muscles

These refer to the rectus abdominis and the obliques (internal and external). Lunges work these muscles, though not intensely, throughout the exercise. Your core muscles are responsible for maintaining your upper body’s upright posture as you do lunges.

reverse lunge


Not only do lunges work your muscles, but they also work your hip joint. In other variations, the hip can be slowly twisted from side to side during lunges, and this improves flexibility at the hip joint.

How to Target More Muscles with Lunge Variations

For any form of exercise, each variation from the basic style means you intend to work more muscles. On the other hand, variations may work the same muscles but with a higher intensity. Lunges are not an exception.

Lunges come in variations like the reverse, side or walking, and the walking lunges. All these will help you hit more muscles and improve your muscle strength and overall flexibility.

Some of the variations, like the walking lunges, also help in raising the heart rate. To involve your abdominal muscles more, the torso twist variation comes in handy.

Reverse Lunges

Just as the name suggests, the reverse lunge is a variation that is done by stepping backwards rather than forward as it is done in the forward lunges. Apart from the quads, core and hamstrings, they also emphasize on the glute muscles.

Steps Activity
Step #1 Start in a standing position with feet hip-width apart.
Step #2 Engage your abdominal muscles and take one big backward step with your right leg.

Slowly lower your body into a lunge while maintaining your upper body in a neutral posture so that your right knee taps the floor lightly.

In this motion, clench your glute.

Step #3 Engage glutes and thigh muscles of you left leg (front) and push the heel into the floor to go back to the standing position.
Step #4 Switch sides and repeat. Aim at 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each side.

Walking Lunges

This variation works your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, abdominal. The amazing characteristic of this particular variation is that it also raises your heart rate due to the additional movements that you do. This makes it a good option for strength, flexibility and cardio fitness.

Steps Activity
Step #1 Start by standing in an upright position with feet shoulder-width apart just like in the forward lunge.
Step #2 Perform the forward lunge by taking a step forward with your right leg as your left knee lowers behind it to tap the floor.
Step #3 Push up to the standing position while pulling your left leg from behind to the front to make a step forward and lower into a lunge. You will be walking forward.
Step #4 Proceed with this forward motion as you lower into lunges by simply alternating the legs as if to walk. Aim at 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions for each side. Maintain an upright position throughout the exercise.

Torso Twist Lunge

Apart from your hamstrings and quadriceps, this wondrous variation comes with a trunk twist which helps you to also work your abdominal and glute muscles. The twist also engages the hip joint for more flexibility. It is characterized with outstretched arms that swing to either side as you switch the legs.

Steps Activity
Step #1 Stand upright just like in the forward lunge with feet shoulder-width apart only that in this variation, your arms will be outstretched in the front, parallel to the floor. You may opt to hold a ball or any object that does not exceed shoulder width.
Step #2 Perform the forward lunge starting with your left with arms maintaining the front outstretched position.
Step #3 Once you have lowered into a lunge, engage your core muscles and twist your torso to the left as your outstretched arms follow suit. Pause for 2-3 seconds. Your legs should maintain the forward lunge position.
Step #4 Slowly twist your upper body back to a neutral position, pause and push back to the standing position.
Step #5 Change the legs and lunge forward, and this time, twist your torso to the right. Repeat 10-12 torso twist lunges on each side. Aim at 3 sets.

Lateral Lunge

It is also called the side lunge. Since this variation involves side leaning motions, it helps you work muscles of your inner thigh.

These muscles are usually hard to target. It does this while still working the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles. Additionally, side lunges are good for stretching your leg muscles.

Steps Activity
Step #1 Stand straight with feet shoulder-width apart and put your hands together in a “prayer” posture.
Step #2 Take a side step to the left and then bend your right knee while pushing your hips backwards. This will put you in a side lunge position leaning towards the right side. Make sure your feet are kept flat on the floor during the lunge.
Step #3 Push with your right leg back to the standing position. Pause for 1-2 seconds.
Step #4 Change sides and repeat the same. Aim at 2 sets of 12 repetitions on each side.

Benefits of Lunges

lateral lunge

1. Strengthens and stabilizes your core

You activate your abdominal muscles during all the movements in a lunge. The core works hard to make sure that it keeps your upper body in an upright, neutral position throughout the exercise. Doing lunges in the proper form will strengthen your core and improve stability, promote good posture and balance, and prevent lower back pain.

2. Improves balance and coordination

This is a far much better stability and balance enhancement exercise than deadlifts and squats because lunges train different body parts independently in succession. This gives each side of the a high-level balancing challenge, tremendously improving the balance and coordination of different body parts and sides.

3. Strengthens legs and buttocks

This is an exercise designed to work the large muscles groups of your lower body, effectively recruiting thigh and buttock muscles and enhancing metabolism to help you lose weight faster. It will also leave you with a firm butt, thigh and leg muscles.

4. Improves hip flexibility

Lunges are an excellent exercise for training your hip flexor muscles which are often ignored in many exercises. The hip region gradually becomes rigid due to a passive lifestyle and lack of suitable exercises. By doing frequent lunges and its different variations, you help work your hip and improve flexibility.

5. Promotes spinal health

Most exercises that work your trunk also exert much pressure on the spine. Fortunately, that s not the case with lunges. A lunge is one exercise that works the lower body and takes much load off the spine. It uses the core muscles to hold your upper body in position, leaving only minimal pressure on the spine.

6. Improves overall fitness and functionality

Lunges are executed using motions that are applicable in our day-to-day activities, like walking, kneeling on one knee, standing, and so on. This enhances your posture as you engage in your usual activities.

Mistakes to Avoid During Lunges

1. Making far too big steps forward or backward

Doing this will burden your front knees too much, cause injuries like muscle and ligament strains due to muscle overuse and imbalance during a lunge.

2. Leaning backward or forward

Do not let your torso lean forward or backwards. This will make the hip joint and flexors to overwork. It will also result in straining your spine.

3. Don’t do lunges with injured knees

Your knees handle a significant amount of load as you perform lunges. Therefore, performing this exercise with injured knees will worsen the injuries.

4. Don’t move too fast

Rushing through the motions will compromise proper form, resulting in injuries and general inefficiency. It may even hinder you from achieving your intended fitness goals. Lunges need a lot of balance and going too fast will make you lose balance often.

Final Thoughts

The lunge exercise has many variations allowing you to intensify your workout per your needs. If you are a beginner, start with the basic lunge and work on your balance.

Toning your body needs consistency and proper exercises, and with a properly executed lunge done regularly, you’ll tone your glutes, quads, calves and hamstrings in no time.