If you want to increase strength and tone your legs, one of the best exercises you can do is lunges. Our bodies have muscle with different types of actions, some that perform slow powerful moves, and others that do quick explosive moves. The lunge is a great exercise to work both types. It helps work your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and even your calves. As with any exercise, however, if you don't increase the intensity or difficulty of your lunges, your body will eventually adapt and get used to it. The amount of gains you receive from doing lunges — strength or mass increases — will plateau. Making lunges more difficult and intense, and combining slow and explosive movements can help continually challenge your legs and body resulting in maximum gains.
Increasing the Intensity of Exercises
1Add extra weight to your exercise. A very simple way to increase the intensity of lunges (or any exercise) is by increasing the resistance by using weights. Grab a set of dumbbells or a barbell and start lunging.
- Anytime you add additional weight to an exercise, it makes that particular exercise much more challenging. In regards to lunges, the extra weight requires your legs to work harder to move against that weight.
- If you have only done traditional lunges before, start by using a light amount of added weight. A set of 5 pound dumbbells or a barbell with 5 pound plates on each side.
- Also, drop back the total amount of lunges you do. If you normally do three sets of 12, consider doing two sets of 12 to start. This will help prevent any injuries or overuse issues.
- If you feel that wasn't enough, you can add another set the next time. It's better to go slow and steady than increase the intensity abruptly and cause an injury.
2Do multiple exercises at once. Not only can you increase the intensity of your lunges, but you can increase the intensity of your overall workout while doing lunges.
- Try adding in additional exercises while do you a traditional lunge. The added weight helps increase the difficulty of the lunge and the movement of an additional exercise makes focusing on core balance more difficult as well.
- Upper body exercises are easy to do while you're lunging. You can try using a small set of dumbbells to do shoulder presses, bicep curls or deltoid raises.
- You can also work your core muscles as well. Hold a medicine ball as you lunge. When you drop your back knee down, twist the medicine ball over to the opposite side of your body. Repeat this exercise with the other leg and twisting the other way.
3Change your rep scheme. If you normally do two sets of 10 lunges, your body will eventually get used to this and adapt. Consider changing not only the type of lunge but also how you do your reps to increase the difficulty of your overall exercise.
- Overtime, the gains you'll see will diminish if you don't change the weight, resistance or difficulty of any exercise.
- In regards to lunges, you can: increase the amount of reps per set, increase the amount of sets you do, increase the resistance (by adding weights) or increase the amount of time holding the flexed lunge position.
- For example, instead of doing two sets of 10 lunges, try three sets of 12 lunges. Or you can continue with two sets of 10 lunges and change the variation of the lunge to something like an elevated or pulsing lunge.
Trying More Challenging Lunge Variations
1Do a stationary lunge. A great variation on the lunge that's easier to do is a lunge with a pulse, or a stationary lunge. It's a traditional lunge that adds a little difficulty by extending the time spent in a lunge position. This is great if you are trying to perfect your technique.
- To start this variation of a lunge, step out into a lunge position. Lower down until your back knee is almost touching the ground.
- Instead of pushing yourself back up to the starting position, only push yourself up a few inches. Then, drop back down closer to the floor. This is one pulse.
- Pulse for a 10–20 seconds on each side. Then, repeat your lunges with the other leg.
2Do multi-directional lunges. Instead of adding weights, you can change the direction of your lunge. Taking a lunge backwards and sideways not only makes this more difficult, but also recruits different muscles.
- Multi-directional lunges or clock lunges, require you to do lunges at a 45 degree angle all the way around your body. This recruits both your inner and outer thigh muscles in addition to requiring extra core stability to maintain your balance.
- To do clock lunges, start by lunging forward with your right leg for a traditional lunge. Then, take a large step to the right and lunge to the side. Follow this side lunge, by lunging backwards with your right leg.
- Repeat this three directional lunge on the other side. You can do a few sets on each side if you can.
- In addition to a clock lunge, you can try front to back lunges. Start by lunging forward with your right leg. As you push back towards the starting position, extend your right leg backwards instead. Drop your knee towards the ground for a backwards lunge. Repeat on the other side.
3Incorporate elevated lunges. The elevated lunge is a difficult variation on regular lunges. The elevated lunge helps target your quadriceps specifically and helps build additional knee stability.
- To start an elevated lunge, stand on a step, box or elevated bench.
- Step back about three feet with your left leg. Lower your left knee down toward the floor. Continue this movement until your back knee almost touches the ground.
- Take care to make sure your right knee does not pass over your toes — it should instead form a 90 degree angle and remain above your ankle.
- Use your left leg to push yourself back up and resume the starting position. Alternate legs, adding dumbbells to increase the intensity.
- Make sure you're performing these correctly in order to prevent injuring your knees. Make sure your front knee is directly in front of you — not twisted out the side. Make sure the front knee lines up directly over the front foot. In addition, your front knee must stay vertically aligned over your front foot, or undue strain may be placed on the knee. If you experience any pain, discontinue this variation and try something easier.
4Do plyometric lunges. Another very difficult variation on a lunge is the plyometric lunge, or split squat. This exercise not only helps build strength and mass, but also is a cardiovascular exercise.
- Plyometric exercise uses the weight of your own body repelling off the ground or the floor. These jumping exercises help build strength but also increase your endurance.
- To do plyometric lunges, step out into a lunge position. Push yourself up in an explosive movement into the air. You'll be jumping up from this lunge position.
- Mid air, switch the orientation of your legs — so your back leg is forward and vice versa — and land back into a lunge position. Repeat as many times as you can.
- The quicker you do this exercise, the more difficult and challenging it will be; however, make sure to go for correct form over quickness.
5Add a knee raise or front kick. One way to increase the difficulty of a lunge is by adding on an additional movement after you actually complete a lunge. Adding a knee raise or a front kick helps extend the length of the exercise. This is also known as a runner's lunge or runner's start.
- To do a lunge with a front kick or knee raise, you'll need to do a reverse lunge instead of a traditional lunge. Adding a front kick or knee raise will recruit abdominal muscles as well.
- Start by stepping one leg backwards. Slowly bend your knee down towards the floor so it ends up in a 90 degree angle.
- Use your front leg to pull yourself back up to the starting position and bring your back leg forward up into a front kick. This should be a quick, explosive movement. Your other leg should be straight when you do your front kick. Repeat on the other side.
- To do a knee raise, follow the same step except instead of the front kick pull your knee up towards your chest. Again, this should be an explosive move. Return your leg down to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- To make this exercise even more challenging, add a jump as you kick your back leg into the air.
Meeting General Exercise Guidelines
1Add in 150 minutes of cardio each week. Although lunges and other lower body exercises are great for your fitness level, it's also important to include an adequate amount of cardiovascular exercises as well.
- Cardio provides additional health benefits to strength training. It can help you lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, improve your mood and even improve your sleeping habits.
- Health professionals recommend that you include 150 minutes or 2 1/2 hours of aerobic or cardio exercises each week. These should be moderate intensity and be done for at least 10 minutes at a time.
- Exercises that can count towards your cardio include: plyometric and walking lunges, walking or jogging, using the elliptical, cycling, dancing or hiking.
2Include other strength training exercises one to two times a week. Lunges do count as strength training exercises; however, you should include other exercises as well.
- Strength training exercises like lunges help keep your bones strong, maintains your muscle mass and can even raise your metabolism.
- Strength training exercises like lunges should be done at least one to two times a week. In addition, you need to focus on working every major muscle group - not just your legs.
- Include a variety of exercises and workout for at least 20 minutes in total. You can lift weights or even take a yoga or pilates class.
3Work your legs with lifestyle activity. In addition to strength training exercises, there are other ways to increase the strength in your lower body. Include more lifestyle activities to help support your legs.
- Lifestyle activities are those exercises that you do as part of a regular day. It could be taking the stairs, parking farther away or even doing household chores.
- Lifestyle activities do not burn many calories by themselves and do not attribute to large strength gains alone, but over the course of an entire day and week, they can really make a difference.
- Think about ways you can move more or take more steps. Instead of the elevator or escalator, take the stairs. This works your glutes and legs. Try taking a load of laundry up the stairs or carry other weighted objects to increase the difficulty of taking the stairs.
4Add in a rest day. Increasing the intensity of lunges can help improve your endurance, strength and even provide additional gains in muscle mass; however, if you don't include some rest days or time off, your progress will be limited.
- Health and fitness professionals often recommend including regular rest days in your fitness routine. This is the time where your muscles get adequate rest and can recover.
- In addition, it's actually during rest the your muscles grow in both size and strength. Without adequate rest, you will not progress as well as you'd like.
- Include at least one to two days rest days a week. You should not aim to be working your lower body. In addition, take it easier on cardio exercises as well.
- Lunges are a great lower body exercise to work your thighs and glutes. Including some of the tips above can help increase the intensity of this exercise.
- Although lunges are great, do a variety of lower body exercises so you get the most well rounded workout.
- Advance slowly to more intense versions of lunges. This can help prevent injury and unnecessary soreness.
Sources and Citations
- ↑ http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/take-the-lunge-build-your-lower-body-with-this-overlooked-move.html
- ↑ http://www.muscleandfitness.com/workouts/workout-tips/increase-intensity-weight-vest
- ↑ http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/8-easy-ways-to-increase-training-intensity.html
- ↑ http://www.health.com/health/video/0,,20886098,00.html
- ↑ http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/clock-lunge
- ↑ http://www.bodybuilding.com/exercises/detail/view/name/elevated-back-lunge
- ↑ http://running.competitor.com/2014/02/training/the-benefits-of-plyometrics-for-runners_65392/3
- ↑ http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/reverse-lunge-with-front-kick
- ↑ http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm
- ↑ http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/
- ↑ http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm
- ↑ http://www.med.umich.edu/painresearch/patients/life.html
- ↑ http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/behar2.htm