These variations will help you build lower-body strength, whether you're a newbie, have knee pain, or aim to target specific muscle groups.
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Welcome to Modify This Move, the ongoing series where you'll find everything you need to amend a standard exercise to meet your goals, your body, and your mood. Each story breaks down how to perform a foundational fitness move, then offers various modifications based on your current fitness or energy level, present or prior injuries, or the muscles you want to target most. So check your ego at that door and ensure every workout meets you where you're at today.

Thanks to their ability to give you solid quads and strong-as-hell booty, squats are often put on a pedestal within the fitness community as the best way to train your lower half. But they're not the only legs exercise worth including in your workout routine. In fact, lunges can help give you those same perks and plus so much more.

Specifically, lunges target the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calf muscles, and since they involve moving into and out of — or holding — a staggered stance, lunges also challenge your balance and stability, says Phyllicia Bonanno, a SWEAT yoga instructor. Although the lunge is technically a lower-body exercise, your upper half isn't overlooked. "Even though the main focus is on the lower body, you can still activate parts of your upper body at the same time," says Bonanno. "Posture is still really important — keeping your shoulders back and pulling your core in."

The forward lunge — which involves stepping one leg forward and lowering into a lunge just with your bodyweight — is the foundational movement pattern for a lunge. But you can practice different lunge variations and tweak your workout to match your own abilities, goals, and energy level. Whether you're just beginning your fitness journey or you're in the mood to tone down your training session, you can opt for a lunge variation that's gentle on the body and allows you to focus on your form while still building strength. Folks with knee pain can also swap the classic exercise with a lunge variation that will challenge the same muscle groups without causing discomfort. Regardless of the reason, there's no shame in modifying the move to meet you where you're at. 

If you're ready to spice up your workout, you have options, too: Some lunge variations are better at engaging specific muscle groups, such as the glutes, inner thighs, and core, while others are designed to get your heart rate up and improve mobility. Put simply, there's sure to be a lunge variation that works best for your body and needs. 

Ready to test out the foundational lower-body exercise? Follow the instructions below to master the classic forward lunge, and then watch as Bonanno demonstrates how to switch up the exercise with eight different lunge variations she shared that work for all abilities and fitness goals.

How to Do a Forward Lunge

A. Stand with feet together and hands resting on hips.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step forward with right foot and lower down until right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

C. Push through middle of right foot to rise out of the lunge, then step right foot back next to left, returning to the starting position.

8 Lunge Variations

Once you've nailed the forward lunge, you might be ready to mix things up. Whether the classic move feels a bit too iffy on your knees or you're hoping to target specific muscle groups, don't be afraid to try a lunge variation that will help you meet your individual needs and goals. 

Here, you'll find lunge variations that scale the exercise up or down, including a lunge variation for knee pain, lunge variations to target the glutes, core, and inner thighs, and lunge variations to build strength and mobility. No matter which option you choose, continue checking in with your body as you power through your reps and try a different exercise if it doesn't feel right. And if this is your first time trying lunges, consider performing the move on a padded mat, which will protect your knees if they hit the floor, suggests Bonanno.

Lunge Variation to Level Up: Plyometric Jump Lunge

When you're looking to build strength and break a sweat, try the plyometric jump lunge. In this cardio-style lunge variation, you'll press through the floor into a powerful jump and softly land. "This one challenges your balance, your stability, and your strength," says Bonanno. To up the coordination challenge, try switching legs in the air so you land with the opposite foot in front, she adds. 

A. Stand with feet together and hands resting on hips.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step forward with right foot and lower down until right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles. This is the starting position.

C. Lower down 1 to 2 inches to gain momentum, then push through feet and jump toward the ceiling. Land softly.

Lunge Variation to Scale Down: Chair Lunge

This lunge variation is ideal for beginners and other individuals who are working on improving their balance, as you'll keep yourself stable by holding onto a chair while performing the movement, says Bonanno. "Maybe you're not so coordinated or not so balanced, and when you're stepping forward into a lunge, sometimes it's difficult," she explains. "So having your hands placed on the chair just allows you to be a little bit more grounded." 

A. Stand with feet together and hands resting on the back of a chair in front of body.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step backward with right foot and lower down until left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

C. Push through mid-foot and heel of left foot to rise out of the lunge, then step right foot forward next to left, returning to the starting position.

Lunge Variation for Knee Pain: Reverse Lunge

A traditional forward lunge puts a lot of pressure on your front knee, which can aggravate any aches and pains you're experiencing. That's why Bonanno recommends performing the reverse lunge if you're dealing with any knee issues. "You're focusing more on the glutes and grounding on the leg going backward, as opposed to going forward," she says, so there isn't as much stress placed on the front knee.

A. Stand with feet together and hands resting on hips.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step backward with right foot and lower down until left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

C. Push through mid-foot and heel of left foot to rise out of the lunge, then step right foot forward next to left, returning to the starting position.

Lunge Variation to Target Glutes: Curtsy Lunge

Although this lunge variation targets all the same muscles as the forward lunge, it particularly emphasizes the glutes, says Bonanno. Specifically, the curtsy lunge activates the gluteus medius, a smaller glute muscle on the side of your butt that helps to externally rotate the hip.  

A. Stand with feet together, hands clasped in front of chest.

B. Keeping weight in right foot and hips square, take a big step back with left leg, crossing it behind right leg.

C. Slowly bend knees and lower down until right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees are bent at roughly 90-degree angles. 

D. Push through right heel to rise out of the lunge and bring left foot back next to right, returning to the starting position.

Lunge Variation to Target Inner Thighs: Lateral Lunge

In this lunge variation, you'll step out to the side rather than forward or backward, allowing you to more effectively target the hip adductors (aka the inner thigh muscles), says Bonanno. "The side-to-side motion opens up the hamstrings more as well," she adds. 

A. Stand with feet together, hands clasped in front of chest.

B. Take a large step out to the right and immediately sink hips back and bend right knee to lower into a lunge. Keep left leg straight but not locked, both feet pointing forward.

C. Push through right foot to straighten right leg, step right foot next to left, and return to the starting position.

Lunge Variation to Build Strength: Dumbbell Lunge

To up the challenge of a forward lunge without trying a completely new move, just grab a pair of dumbbells, says Bonanno. Increasing the load also increases the difficulty of the exercise, and doing so strategically — known as progressive overload training — will help you see improvements in your strength.

A. Stand with feet together and arms at sides, holding a dumbbell in each hand.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step forward with the left foot and lower down until left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

C. Push through middle of left foot to rise out of the lunge, then step left foot back next to right, returning to the starting position.

Lunge Variation to Target the Core: Medicine Ball Lunge

With each rep of this lunge variation, you'll twist your trunk to the right or left with a weighted medicine ball, which challenges your obliques (which, BTW, isn't the only core muscle), says Bonanno. "As you're twisting, you're also challenging your balance and your [core] stability to stay grounded in the lunge," she explains. 

A. Stand with feet together and hands in front of chest, holding a medicine ball.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step forward with the left foot and lower down until left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

C. Holding the lunge, slowly twist trunk to the left until medicine ball is in line with left hip, keeping hips square throughout the movement.

D. Slowly twist trunk back to center, then push through middle of left foot to rise out of the lunge. Quickly step left foot back next to right, returning to the starting position.

Lunge Variation for Hip Mobility: Around the World Lunge

This lunge variation combines four different moves — the forward lunge, lateral lunge, reverse lunge, and curtsy lunge — into one. "Once you've mastered each one individually, you can incorporate all four of them together to get the full range of motion in your hips, which benefits your hip mobility," says Bonanno.

A. Stand with feet together and hands resting on hips.

B. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step forward with left foot and lower down until left thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

C. Push through middle of left foot to rise out of the lunge, then step left foot back next to right, returning to the starting position.

D. Take a large step out to the left and immediately sink hips back and bend left knee to lower into a lunge. Keep right leg straight but not locked, both feet pointing forward.

E. Push through the left foot to straighten left leg, step left foot next to right, and return to the starting position.

F. Keeping core engaged, chest tall, and shoulders stacked over hips, take a large step backward with left foot and lower down until right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees form 90-degree angles.

G. Push through mid-foot and heel of right foot to rise out of the lunge, then step left foot forward next to right, returning to the starting position.

H. Keeping weight in right foot and hips square, take a big step back with left leg, crossing it behind right leg.

I. Slowly bend knees and lower down until right thigh is parallel to the floor and both knees are bent at roughly 90-degree angles. 

J. Push through right heel to rise out of the lunge and bring left foot back next to right, returning to the starting position.

Photography and art: Jenna Brillhart
Model and fitness expert: Phyllicia Bonanno
Hair and makeup: Tee Chavez

Wardrobe: Aerie