Dumbbell Lunge

The dumbbell lunge is a functional exercise that offers many benefits in daily life. For instance, it can help prevent injury caused by bending and reaching, such as when vacuuming or gardening.

But that’s not all. 

The dumbbell lunge is a unilateral movement, meaning it is performed on one side of the body at a time. Performing this exercise can ensure you don’t create muscular imbalances. It can also help improve lower body stability and mobility. 

In this article, we explore how to perform the dumbbell lunge, the muscles it works, and its benefits.

How To Do

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and hold a dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should be facing inward.
  2. Step your right leg forward. Keep your core engaged and your torso upright.
  3. Bend your right knee, lowering your body until your right thigh is parallel to the ground. Your right knee should be stacked over your right ankle and foot.
  4. Pause, then push back up and bring your right foot back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat the same sequence on your left side.

Tips From Expert

  • Avoid hunching or leaning your trunk forward. Instead, maintain an upright position while engaging your core throughout the movement. Keep your chest up and your gaze forward.
  • Keep your knee stacked above your ankle. Don’t allow your knee to protrude past your big toe.
  • If you’re new to this exercise, start with your body weight or a light dumbbell. Once this becomes easy and you get your form down, gradually increase the weight.
  • Maintain a slow and controlled pace. Consider counting to three on the descent and two on the ascent.

Optimal Sets and Reps

The number of sets and reps you perform depends on your specific goal or training style. Check out the chart below for more information.

Training Type Sets Reps
Strength Training 3–5 5–8
Hypertrophy 3–4 8–12
Endurance Training 2–3 15–20
Power Training 3–5 4–6

How to Put in Your Workout Split

Whether you are a beginner or an advanced lifter, you can include the dumbbell lunge in your workout routine. As mentioned previously, this exercise involves one side of the body at a time, helping correct muscular imbalances. It can prevent injury to the quadriceps. It also improves the stability of the lower body and strengthens the glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.

Here are a few options for incorporating this exercise into your routine:

  • Leg — If you perform your workout splits into upper body and lower body days, this can be a great unilateral addition to leg days.
  • Full-Body — Dumbbell lunges can be added to any full-body routine. They can be performed alongside squats, chest presses, and deadlifts, for example.
  • Interval Training — For endurance or cardiovascular goals, these lunges offer an excellent interval exercise option. They can be added to circuit training or high-intensity intervals.

When loading this exercise, select a weight that feels challenging but allows you to perform the minimum number of reps for your goal. When the weight you selected feels less challenging, you can gradually increase it. However, do so in small increments. Small steps forward can make considerable changes in the long run.

Primary Muscle Groups

Quadriceps

Muscles located at the front portion of your upper legs, below your pelvis and above your knees. Consists of four parts.

Quadriceps

The quadriceps are the muscles located on the front portion of the thigh. Each quadriceps consists of four parts and helps extend the leg. 

The lunge significantly activates the quadriceps, especially when maintaining an upright torso. During the forward dumbbell lunge, the quadriceps muscles are engaged during the eccentric (lowering) and concentric (rising) phases of the movement.

During the lowering portion of this exercise, the quadriceps prevents the knee from falling inward or bending past 90 degrees. During the rising portion, the quadriceps allows the knee to straighten, returning your body to standing.

Secondary Muscle Groups

Gluteus

Large, superficial muscles located at your buttocks just below your lower back area.

Hamstrings

Muscles located at the back of your upper leg, below your glutes and above your calves. Consists of three muscles.

Hip Adductors

Muscles located at the upper inside part of your legs between your quads and hamstrings.

Gastrocnemius

Muscles located at the back of your lower leg and consists of your calf. Starts just behind your knee and extends to your ankle.

Soleus

Muscles located behind your gastrocnemius sitting slightly deeper. Runs down your leg and connects with the gastrocnemius to make your Achilles tendon.

Erector Spinae

Muscles that span the entire length of your spine on either side.

Gluteus

Lunges, along with squats, hip thrusts, and step-ups, activate the glute muscles, particularly the gluteus maximus. The glute muscles work to stabilize the pelvis and torso. The glutes typically include three main muscles: the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus.

For example, as the right leg lunges forward, the left glutes support the hip extension on the opposite side. This ensures the proper form is maintained. 

The glutes also play a role in the push-up phase of the lunge. When you rise from a lunge on the right side, the glutes on the right contract and extend the hip. This further contributes to increased strength and power of the glutes.

Along with the gluteus maximus, the gluteus minimus and medius are also activated during the dumbbell lunge. These muscles act as stabilizers, ensuring proper form and reducing the risk of injury.

Hamstrings

The hamstrings are the major muscles that make up the back of the thigh. In contrast to the quadriceps, this muscle helps bend the knee.

Almost any movement involving the quadriceps will also engage the hamstrings to some degree. The hamstrings become mainly activated during hip extension which is the movement that happens when standing from the lunge. They also help support the knee during the lunge movement itself.

Research indicates that lunges can improve lower body strength, including hamstring strength. 

Hip Adductors

The hip adductors are the muscles located on the inner portion of your thigh. They work to bring your legs toward the center of your body. This often means they are stabilizer muscles when walking, jumping, or performing almost any movement.

Studies demonstrate the importance of the hip adductors in stabilizing movements like the lunge or squat. These muscles support the knee and hip, limiting inward movements. They also work to maintain balance throughout the lunge.

It’s worth noting that effectively targeting the adductor muscles usually involves moving the leg toward the midline of the body. However, the dumbbell lunge can be a great way to engage this muscle group indirectly.

Gastrocnemius

The gastrocnemius is the muscle that makes up the bulk of your calf. Generally, this muscle is targeted via calf raises

However, it also has supportive capabilities during movements like the lunge. For example, the calf muscles play an essential role in maintaining balance and helping push off from the ground back to the initial starting position.

Soleus

Like the gastrocnemius, the soleus is also part of the calf. This muscle is smaller and is located deeper in the calf and lower than the gastrocnemius. Similarly to the gastrocnemius, the soleus contributes to better stability during the lunge and assists in the push-up portion of the movement.

Erector Spinae

The erector spinae muscles run along the sides of the spine. They work to stabilize the spine during movements like the dumbbell lunge. This activation reduces the risk of a back injury and maintains an upright posture.

In turn, you can continue to enjoy an active lifestyle without pain standing in your way.

Equipment

Dumbbells

Dumbbells

You can use these for a wide range of unilateral and bilateral exercises. Avoid using momentum to lift. Ensure a secure grip to prevent drops.

Variations

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the same equipment.

Alternatives

Exercises that target the same primary muscle groups and require the different equipment.

Hack Squat

Bodyweight Squats

Bodyweight Bulgarian Split Squats

High Knees

Standing Quadricep Stretch

Burpees

Jumping Jacks

Lunges

Side Lunges

Jump Squats

Jogging

Jump Rope

Chair Pistol Squats

Reverse Lunges

Dynamic Side Lunges

Frog Jumps

Skater Hops

Walking Lunges

Jumping Lunges

Tuck Jumps

Broad Jumps

Squat to Jumping Jack

Reverse Lunge to Knee Drive

Split Squats

Goblet Squats

Wall Sit

Heisman Lunges

Burpess & Jacks

Who Should Do?

Gym Goers Looking To Improve Lower Body Strength

Anyone who wants to increase the strength in their lower body can benefit from this exercise. Dumbbell lunges can easily be added to full-body or leg days. They are the perfect addition alongside squats, deadlifts, and leg presses.

Active Individuals Post-Injury

If you’re bouncing back from a knee, hip, or ankle injury, lunges can help you regain strength in affected areas. Since the dumbbell lunge activates various lower body muscles, it can be particularly effective at targeting weakened areas. This can be especially useful for athletes or active individuals eager to get back to their sport or activity. 

Older Individuals Who Want To Improve Balance

More than one in four individuals over 65 fall each year. The risk of falls also increases significantly for those 80 years and older. 

As part of a supervised balance program, dumbbell lunges can improve balance. As a result, this can reduce one’s risk of falls and associated health ailments.

Who Should Not Do?

Individuals With Knee Or Hip Injuries

If you’ve recently experienced a hip or knee injury, dumbbell lunges might not be appropriate. Instead, it’s important to seek out the help of a rehab professional. They can help determine a suitable exercise plan for your needs and goals.

They can also help guide you toward performing dumbbell lunges when it makes sense during your recovery.

Older Individuals With Poor Balance

While lunges can be excellent for improving balance, those with severe balance problems should approach them cautiously. It might make sense to start with supported exercise before performing lunges.

For example, your healthcare team might direct you to perform assisted one-leg stands and similar exercises. Eventually, once your balance improves, lunges may be appropriate. Always listen to the advice of your doctor or healthcare team.

Benefits Of The Dumbbell Lunge

Lower Body Strength And Hypertrophy

Since the lunge activates almost the entire lower body, it can be excellent for increasing strength. Of course, this will depend on the number of sets and reps as well as the frequency of your training. If your goal is hypertrophy, aim for three to four sets of eight to twelve reps.

Enhanced Balance And Stability

As mentioned above, lunges offer a lot in terms of balance and stability. This is largely because they are unilateral movements. In this way, they prevent muscle dominance of one side and increase strength equally.

Improved Functional Strength

The lunge movement provides benefits to our daily lives. Improving your dumbbell lunge strength can help prevent injuries or pain during the following activities:

  • Vacuuming.
  • Gardening.
  • Picking up heavy objects.
  • Walking upstairs.
  • Playing with children.
  • Participating in sports.

Improved Athletic Performance

As mentioned previously, lunges build strength throughout the lower body. This can help improve power, endurance, and speed in various sports. Lunges can be a great option for cross-training for skating, soccer, football, and running.

Maintained Bone Health

Research shows that resistance training has a positive effect on bone health. It can improve bone density, as it forces the body to lay down new bone in response to this activity. This can also reduce your risk of fractures (bone breaks) or diseases associated with low bone density.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are dumbbell lunges as good as squats?

Both are great exercises. However, lunges are unilateral, meaning both sides are activated separately. This can help prevent muscle imbalances and associated injuries.

Why are dumbbell lunges so hard?

Lunges can feel challenging because they force you to distribute your weight unevenly on your legs. One leg must carry your body weight, which can appear more difficult than a squat.

Are dumbbell lunges push or pull?

Technically, lunges are a lower-body push exercise. However, push-pull is usually used to refer to upper-body workout variations.

What happens if you do lunges every day?

If you perform lunges every day, you’ll significantly improve your lower body strength. However, when using heavier weights and focusing on building strength or hypertrophy, allow rest periods of one or two days between performing them to ensure proper recovery.

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