The Ultimate Guide to Lunges: Queen of all Glute Exercises

Mar 11, 2022 | Exercise guides, Strength & Conditioning

Your glutes are the largest muscle group in your body. They’re responsible for almost everything your legs do—walking, running, jumping, squatting, lunging, and just standing upright. As far as moving through space goes, strong glutes are the bedrock of overall athleticism & the lunge is the queen of all glute exercises. 

Master lunges for a rounder, more powerful booty

The most accomplished athletes have well-rounded glutes, especially if their sport demands a lot of explosive hip movement. Olympic gymnasts, sprinters, weightlifters, NFL athletes, and professional cyclists all have similarly intense demands required from their lower trunks. 

Full glutes have been featured in ancient works of art for centuries and as a more recent obsession in pop culture. It’s impossible to miss when someone is gluteal-endowed and we may be hard-wired to notice:

“It stands to reason that both males and females were attracted to nice glutes, instinctively making the connection to big, strong glutes and survival, reproduction, hunting and protection.”

Bret Contreras, Glen Cordoza (2019); The Glute Lab.

So how do you build yourself one of those coveted plump rumps that men, women, and nonbinary people alike pretend not to side-eye? First of all, if you don’t want a bigger butt, you’re lying (even if you’ve already got one), so let’s accept that fact. Second, it pays to understand your anatomy.  

Glute anatomy refresher

Your glutes are made up of three major muscles that articulate your hip joints in several different directions: 

  • Abduction (moving the leg away from the body, out to the side)
  • Extension (pulling the leg out behind you when running)
  • External rotation (butterfly pose or frog stretch)
  • Internal rotation (hockey goalie stance)

 

The largest and most known, gluteus maximus, does the bulk of the work and is the main muscle we have to thank for keeping us bipedal. Its number one job is to bring your body back to an upright position after stooping, crouching, or squatting.

The second largest muscle, the gluteus medius, is most responsible for internal and external rotation of the hip, while the smaller gluteus minimus helps to abduct the thigh.

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Why lunges?

Lunges hit all of the major muscles in your posterior chain: quads, hamstrings, calves, and of course, your glutes. Thinking back to our anatomy, lunges are the exact up-and-down movement that the glutes are in charge of. Weight training with lunges adds load to your glutes to make them stronger in their most purposeful movement: pushing your legs against the ground.

Lunges are excellent for unilateral strength—they also challenge your hip and core stability. They’re the perfect bodyweight movement to burn out your butt for accessory work, but if you want real glute hypertrophy and soreness, weighted lunges are the way to go.

Start working in a few sets of heavier or high-rep lunges once a week and check that dump truck in the mirror again after a few months. Use our guide and try every lunge variation out there to keep things spicy.

How to Do Barbell Reverse Lunges

Points of performance

 

Lunges are super versatile and can be done without any equipment or holding whatever weight you have available. The barbell lunge is pretty basic so we’ll focus on that to break down the form, then cover other variations later. 

 

No matter where you hold weight, your core should stay tight and stable. 

If you start to wobble, or your back loses tension and your core turns to mashed potatoes, scale the weight down to something more manageable.

 

Forward vs. Reverse?

Both variations work the entire posterior chain, but there’s a slight emphasis on the quads with forward lunges and a slight emphasis on the glutes with reverse lunges. For our booty-building purposes, we encourage step-back or reverse lunges.

 

Setup

Unrack the barbell on your back like you would for a back squat. With your feet about hip-width stance, keep your chest up and brace your core to make sure you’re not arching into your low back. Maintain a neutral spine with your eyes forward.

 

Lunge

Step one leg back landing on the ball of your foot and allow your back knee to kiss the ground. You only need to go back far enough to create about a 90 degree angle with your bent front leg. Most of your weight should be in that front leg, while the rear leg is mainly there for balance. Keep your front knee tracking in line with your toes, don’t let it cave in or flare out. Maintain an upright torso, no leaning.

 

Recover

Press into the ground with your front leg (feeling your glutes fire) and bring the rear leg up to meet the front, coming back up to a standing position. Repeat for reps on the same side, or switch legs to alternate. 

Lunge variations – change up how you hold the weight

Lunges are a natural movement that don’t require equipment. But if you want to hold weight for stronger glutes or mix up the way you lunge, there are a ton of ways to do it. Pretty much any of the ways to hold weight below can be combined with any of the ways to lunge, so pick your poison. 

As the name implies, hold a dumbbell, kettlebell, or soup can in each hand down at your sides, like you’re carrying two suitcases. Like a farmer’s carry, this variation works the stabilizers in your shoulders as well.

Hold the weight on your back like you would for a back squat (reference our Points of Performance above). Feel free to try this one using a sandbag, family pet, or small child. 

Hold a barbell, kettlebells, or dumbbells on your shoulders like you would for a front squat or when catching a power clean. Keep your elbows pointing relatively forward to support the weight.

This cutely-named variation is reminiscent of the goblet squat and a good way to lunge with lighter weight. Hold a single dumbbell under your chin, gripping each head in one hand (which looks like you’re wearing a bow tie).

Hold weight in one hand at a time for any variation of your choice. This will challenge your midline stability and balance more than supporting weight equally in both hands. 

Hold a weight overhead with one arm at a time or both. This is a more advanced variation, so be sure to keep your ribs down and core tight to keep from arching your back or overextending your shoulders.

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Lunge variations – change up how you lunge

Stepping forward is another way to lunge with slightly more emphasis on your quads rather than your glutes. Make no mistake, your glutes are working here.

Like walking lunges, but without going anywhere, just switch the leg that steps with each rep. The other option here is to focus on one leg at a time for multiple reps. 

All of the variations above involve stepping directly in front or behind you, but you can also step out to the side. Lateral lunges might require slightly more forward hinge to keep your balance and your weight back in your hips.

A combination of side and reverse lunges, the curtsey lunge challenges you to step back at a diagonal. For this variation, your front knee might lean a little toward the edge of your planted foot.

For more dynamic cardio work, jumping lunges are an awesome leg and glute burner. They require some explosive plyometric movement that gets your heart pumping.

Lily Frei Headshot

Lily frei

Lily is TrainHeroic’s Marketing Content Creator and a CF-L1 with an English background. She was a successful freelance marketer for the functional fitness industry until being scooped up by TrainHeroic. An uncommon combo of bookish, artsy word-nerd and lifelong athlete, Lily is passionately devoted to weightlifting, CrossFit, yoga, dance, and aerial acrobatics. Find her showcasing her artist-athlete hobbies on IG @lilylectric.

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