One thing that many trainees, especially women are after is a great set of legs. If more men put the same focus into their legs then there would be less conversation about the Johnny Bravo wannabes that litter most commercial gyms.
A trainee with completely developed and athletic legs is a testament to that trainees’ work ethic and programming. No one developed great legs or in that case a great back without hard, honest work.
The importance of legs to most women is equal to the importance of building arms to most men. And nothing looks better on the human body than a well developed set of quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
When it comes to building fantastic legs the first move that comes to mind for most folks is the barbell squat. The king of lower body exercises is a superb and time tested movement for building great legs. However if we dig deeper into the game there is another movement that is arguably equally just as great.
One of the amazing, but under-utilized movements that you can also use to build strong and sculpted legs is the lunge.
Lunges will force your quads, hamstrings, and glutes to grow and become stronger. Lunges not only hit the legs and core musculature but also if you are performing the dumbbell lunge you will hit the forearms and traps too. Every meathead can appreciate more traps, right?
Based on my years in the trenches with multiple training schemes and the testimony of those who I train and train with, the barbell walking lunge is the physically and mentally toughest lower body barbell movement.
This moves tests you in a way that no other move can. It is very easy to quit and rack the barbell. I have witnessed this more times than I would of liked too.
Yes, 20 rep widowmaker squats are brutal. RP-21 style sets of deadlifts are unsparing. I’ve performed both. But neither of these has the heart thumping, brain fatiguing, leg shredding feeling that the barbell walking lunge can offer.
Lunges also offer the quickest test to tell if a trainee is truly fit. An unfit trainee will get annihilated during a basic lunge workout. The heart-rate factor alone is enough to make most men tap out like they were locked in the SharpShooter.
The trump card with the lunge is that you are moving with a loaded barbell on your back or with dumbbells at your side. This factor alone make the move even tougher as your whole body must be engaged on each step or you will undoubtedly get folded.
The lunge is a fantastic movement and I want to present to you 4 variations of the lunge that will help you begin to develop supreme conditioning and legs like oaks.
Note: All lunge variations can be performed with dumbbells, a barbell, or no added weight. Use my video directly below to help you learn how to perform these 4 lunge variations.
1) Stationary Lunge
The stationary lunge is the most basic of the lunges. In the stationary lunge you start by taking a step as if you were going to perform a lunge. This will put you in your proper lunge position. The only movement of this lunge is to drop your back knee until it gently contacts the ground and then stand back up to the original starting position.
You will perform the required amount of reps on one leg before switching to the other side. If you are a rank amateur then this is the version of the lunge that you should start with. If you are unable to perform this lunge you can use a fixed object (a power or squat rack) to hold onto for balance. As you get stronger in this lunge you will eventually add dumbbells and then a barbell.
While stationary lunges are the most basic of the lunges they are still a very tough movement that will require strength and focus to properly complete.
2) Step Back Lunge
The step back lunge is a version of the lunge that you will rarely ever see completed with proper form at the average gym. When you add a barbell on your back with this lunge it presents the most risk of all the lunges presented here when it comes to getting injured. BUT if you start on the lighter side weight-wise and you progress properly, use correct form , and use the proper weight you will have nothing to worry about.
In a step back lunge you will take a step forward and get into the proper lunge position. With the step back lunge as you step forward your back knee is also simultaneously dropping down to the gently contact the ground too. When you stand up you will step back to the original starting position and alternate legs.
I will strongly advise that you perform the double step. The double step involves taking two steps to get back to the original starting position vs. just one. You would stand up straight and then step back two steps.
The first small step will make it easier for you to get back to the original starting position. This factor will be determined by your leg length. I personally use a double step as it is much safer based on how my body-type is.
You can check out how to perform the barbell step back lunge with the double step in the video below.
3) Walking Lunge
The walking lunge will let you know how exactly how fit and tough you really are. This movement requires not only leg strength and a good level of conditioning but also core strength and balance to perform properly.
With the walking lunge you begin from a standing position and lunge forward. After you gently contact the ground with your back knee, you will stand up and then lunge forward with the other leg. You will repeat this process for the determined amount of reps.
The dumbbell version will be the version most folks use most of the time. Most gyms just do not have the layout to allow for barbell walking lunges as most gyms are overcrowded with fruitless machinery. However if your gym has the space, then should definitely give barbell walking lunges a shot!
There are 2 ways to perform the walking lunge. One way is to stand up and gain your balance after each step. This will allow you have more control for each lunge and will allow your legs a slight rest between steps.
The second way involves no pausing up top in between reps. This is known as the constant tension method. As you are standing up from one lunge, you are stepping directly into the next lunge without pausing.
Your legs will feel like they are in a lake of flames after few steps. This is the harder of the two methods and is the way I prefer most of the time during training. This will allow you to create maximal stress and a put a constant tension on your legs.
You will typically be able to use more weight with the pause up top method but the strength differences between both versions should not be overwhelming.
Neither version is wrong. Use both situationally to get the best results.
4) Walking Stretch Lunge
The walking stretch lunge is a variation of the walking lunge that I came up with in 2012. This version of the lunge involves a slight forward lean of your torso along with pushing your front and back knee forward during the lunge. This will allow for more glute stimulation.
With the walking stretch lunge you will begin from a standing position and lunge forward. As you lunge forward your will lean your torso forward slightly. At the same time you will be pushing your front and back knee forward as the back knee will gently contact the ground. You will rise and then repeat with other leg for the desired amount of reps.
You will probably use the dumbbell version more often but if you have the space for the barbell version you can definitely perform it too.
With walking stretch lunges you will typically be using less weight than you would use on walking lunges. There is more of a balance factor with walking stretch lunges and you do not want to sacrifice your form for weight. The strength will eventually come. If you get injured trying to be someone who you are not, then you will derail your progress. Going nowhere fast is not fun. I’ve been there.
There are many ways to program lunges into your training. Here are a few schemes that you can use to make progress with your lunges:
1) 4 Down Lunges: Grab 2 dumbbells and plot out a distance of at least 25-50 yards. You will perform the walking lunges in a continuous fashion until you cannot perform another lunge due to muscle failure or unbearable fatigue. When you stop the play clock starts. Your rest in-between downs is only the same as an NFL play clock (40 seconds).
For a supreme challenge you can reduce the play clock even more based on your fitness level. I like to speed it up like the great Chip Kelly and try to work with a clock that is 30 seconds or less rest wise. You will feel very close to expiration running this scheme with a speed and pace like that.
If you are out of shape then I highly suggest that you start with light weight and build up. The clock is non-negotiable. Your next set must begin in at least 40 seconds. Trust me you do not want the 5 yard penalties to add up in this drill.
Based on the distance you choose and the weight of the dumbbells being used, you are in for a terrifically brutal drill. Your standard commercial gym will probably not have 50 yards of open space to perform this drill. You may have to make adjustments or even be forced to turn around during the drill.
The drill ends either when you reach the desired yards that you chose within 4 downs or if you fail to reach the goal line in 4 downs. The worst feeling is it being 4th down and you have 20 yards to go. 20 yards for me is exactly 18 lunges. At this point you need to do your best Freddie Mitchell interpretation and make a miracle happen!
The 4 Down Lunge is a drill that I have used extensively on myself and my young athletes not only to build muscle and improve conditioning levels but also to build a very overlooked characteristic…toughness.
Many trainees today believe that toughness is about talking smack about what they are gonna do or posting picture of themselves on Instagram during a lame workout. Toughness doesn’t need to talk. Trust me the 4 Down Lunge will expose any pretenders in the game.
2) The Chain Smoker Version 1.0: I have created many variations of The Chain Smoker. I have versions that are sprint based. I have versions that are barbell hip thrust based. There are versions that are kettlebell-swing based. There are even versions that are hill based. The bottom line is that your chain will be smoked by the end of the session!
For those that may not know, by chain I am referring to the posterior chain. This tri-set that I use in my own training will absolutely smoke the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back when performed effectively. The quads will work to an extent during the stretch lunges too. You will perform dumbbell walking stretch lunges, followed by glute-ham raises, followed by weighted back extensions.
The rep schemes can vary but for starters you could run a simple 8’s scheme like this:
Walking Dumbbell Stretch Lunge (8 steps each leg) rest 30 seconds then
Glute-Ham Raise (8 reps) rest 30 seconds then
Weighted Hyperextension (8 reps) rest 2-3 minutes and repeat for 3-6 sets.
Logistics wise this may be hard to pull off especially with the Glute-Ham Raise. I do not know how your gym layout is. Typically if you possess the strength, you will perform your Glute-Ham Raises on a lat pulldown machine that can hold your ankles down under the pad.
You could also have a partner hold your ankles while kneeling on the ground to perform them too if you are unable to perform the full version on the lat pulldown machine. Glute-Ham Raises are not easy initially but do not quit just because they are hard.
Cowards and quitters run when things are hard and that is not what you want to be known as. If all you can do at first is negatives then start there.
For the hyperextension, your feet will be turned outward to put more stress on the glutes during the movement. When you raise out of the bottom you will round your upper back to keep more stress on the glutes also. You will be visiting Glute City during this workout!
This is a very taxing, but rewarding scheme for someone looking develop a superior posterior chain and improve their conditioning levels.
Note: The same exact scheme could be run with Barbell Hip Thrust as the last move for even more of a glute emphasis.
3) Barbell Step Back Lunges (Straight Sets)
Scheme-wise straight sets will be more than enough for barbell step back lunges. This is the move that will require all of your attention on every single rep. I have seen folks lose concentration or perform this move incorrectly. It never ends well if you are not focused. Look to perform 3-5 sets of 8-16 total reps.
You will be absolutely gassed if you have never performed these before. Start with a lightly loaded barbell and build up from there. Please reference my video earlier in this article to learn how to properly perform the Barbell Step Back Lunge.
Lunges are an extremely effective but overlooked movement to develop stallion-like legs. Combined into a proper program with full squats, deadlifts, hip thrusts, barbell hack squats, and glute ham raises, you can really unlock the true potential of your lower body. And when you build the strength and the conditioning over time, the ultimate challenge in fitness is waiting for you below. Good luck!