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ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, How to Do Side Lunges—Work Your Quads, Hamstrings, & Glutes

How to Do Side Lunges—Work Your Quads, Hamstrings, & Glutes

Reading Time: 4 minutes 28 seconds


DATE: 2022-02-15

The basic lunge is a fundamental strength training exercise. As a compound movement, it works almost all the muscle groups of the lower body and helps stabilize your core. You can even add in upper body with hand weights for biceps curls or shoulder presses while doing lunges.

It’s a versatile move with a lot of potential for variation. One you may overlook too often is the side, or lateral, lunge. Swing that leg out to the side for a lunge and you get a completely different feeling. Target new muscles and enjoy other benefits. Here’s how to do a side lunge right and why you should.

What is a Side Lunge and What Muscles Does It Work?

Side lunges are simply lunges in the lateral direction rather than forward or backward like a standard or reverse lunge. They work many of the same muscles as a regular lunge but in a different way. They also hit additional muscles.

Muscles worked in both the classic lunge and side lunges include:

  • Glutes

  • Hamstrings

  • Quadriceps

When you lunge to the side, you also work the adductors, or inner thigh muscles. These can be hard to hit with other compound movements, so they can fall by the wayside. These lunges also work your hip muscles.

While the front-back lunges work your large gluteus maximus muscle, a side lunge works the hard-to-get gluteus medius. This is the smaller glute muscle on the side. If you’re doing a lateral lunge right, you’ll feel it the next day.

Strengthening the gluteus medius is especially important for stabilizing the hips, which in turn stabilizes the knee. It’s important for good functional movements to prevent injury, especially in runners. Running with a weak gluteus medius can lead to poor form and knee pain.

Check out this definitive guide to working your glutes from every angle.

Why You Need to Incorporate Side Lunges into Your Leg Workout

Doing side lunges regularly has several benefits. The most obvious is strengthening the muscles mentioned above. Standard lunges and squats are great compound, lower body movements. Side lunges add in the gluteus medius, adductors, and hip muscles so that you really cover everything. Here are some other reasons to do side lunges more often:

Engage Your Core and Work on Stability

When doing a side lunge correctly, your core gets a workout too. Staying in proper form requires balance throughout the abdominals and lower back. Regular side lunges support a core-strengthening workout and improve stability.

Improve Mobility, Avoid Injury

Most of us are guilty of staying in the same plane of movement when working out. We tend to mostly go forward, and sometimes backward, but too often never move side to side. This lateral movement helps improve mobility, especially in the hip joint.

Side lunges are great additions for cross-training. If you run, are a cyclist, or mostly do forward-backward strength training, the lateral movement will take some stress off your muscles and joints. By increasing mobility and avoiding repetition in the same plane, you reduce the risk of muscle imbalances and injuries.

Stretch the Hips and Groin

Do one deep side lunge, and you’ll notice this immediately. Because most people don’t move laterally very often, these areas can get tight, contributing to poor mobility and increased injury risk. The more you move in a side lunge, the more you’ll open up these muscles and joints for easier, more functional movement in everything you do.

Try these bodyweight exercises to improve lower body strength.

How to Do a Side Lunge with Proper Form

As with any strength training move, if you don’t do it right, you can cause more harm than good. A lunge of any type with poor form will be less effective. You may stress your joints, cause muscle imbalances, and even strain your bank.

Lateral lunges can bring huge benefits, but be sure to perfect form first:

  1. Stand up straight with your feet together and hands clasped in front of you.

  2. Step wide out to the right and lower that leg down into a lunge with the knee bent and in line with the foot.

  3. Sink your hips backward as you lunge so that the right knee does not hyperextend over the toes of the right foot.

  4. Keep the other leg straight but not locked at the knee. Both feet should have toes pointing forward.

  5. Push your right foot off the floor to return to standing.

  6. Repeat with the left leg.

As you do the lunging movement, really focus on bringing your hips back. Like you would with a squat, think about sitting in a chair. You should be pushing the weight of your hips and glutes back, not bending forward.

Keep your chest up straight when you lunge and engage your core. When you push the lunging foot off the ground to return to the start position, focus on engaging the glutes on that side.

Side Lunge Variations and Progression

Doing these lunges regularly will provide serious benefits, but you can also vary the move. You can make it easier, and you can add progressions to make it more difficult. Try these:

  • Modification for beginners. If you haven’t done these before, the easiest way to modify a side lunge is to reduce the range of motion. Don’t step the leg out so far and don’t drop down as low. You can work up to bigger movements.

  • Adding weight. To progress, add weight to your lunges. Hold onto a kettlebell or hand weight to add a little more difficulty as the standard lunge starts to feel easy.

  • Jumping side lunge. Another progression that adds power and agility to your workout is a jumping lunge. Leap from side to side to get a similar workout with a cardio bonus.

  • Using a slider. Put a slider under the lunging foot to get a similar, yet slightly different, workout. Using a slider reduces the friction under your foot, allowing you to slide into position rather than raise your foot. You’ll feel something a little different in the muscle groups worked.

The side lunge is a great tool for your strength training repertoire. Use it for yourself, but also introduce your clients to this useful move. They’ll improve stability, core strength, glute strength, and hip mobility. Watch their form and make sure they have it down before progressing.

Learn how to break down, teach, and use every basic strength training move and so much more through the ISSA’s Certified Personal Trainer – Self-Guided Study Program. Learn at your own pace and become a qualified trainer.

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