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Three Lunges to Build Strong Legs

By Nike Training

Train your body to run faster and move with more strength and stability.

Strong legs are the engines that power you through all kinds of movements and workouts. We’ll take you through a series of three lunges from Nike Master Trainer Kirsty Godso that will help you hit new training goals.

If you want strong legs capable of powering you through runs, lifts, and recreational sports, we have two words for you: forward lunges. The fundamental bodyweight exercise strengthens your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, and the tiny muscles around your knees and ankles, all while correcting imbalances. That means that over time, you won’t just upgrade your ability to handle heavier loads, you’ll also boost your balance and stability, which benefits all kinds of movement.

Change the direction, speed, or explosiveness of the forward lunge and you fire additional muscles, tap into cardio benefits, and prime your legs for serious power that’ll transfer to any sport.

Not sure how to branch out? No sweat. These variations on the lower-body staple from Nike Master Trainer Kirsty Godso will train your body in fresh new ways.

Three Things to Do Before You Get Started

  1. Warm up.
    Take a few minutes to wake up your legs and hips. Try a runner’s lunge stretch on both sides, fire hydrants and giant circles on all-fours or mountain climbers to activate your glutes and core and loosen your hip joints for better range of motion.
  2. Consider your speed.
    If your goal is to fully activate as many muscle fibers as possible to build muscular strength and endurance, move through each rep slowly and with control. Brace your core to stay steady. If you’re looking to crank up your heart rate, power through reps as quickly as you can, or even add a jump out of the bottom to switch legs. As long as you can maintain proper form (more on that in a second), there’s no need to hold back.
  3. Master the OG: the forward lunge.
    You can’t (well, you shouldn’t) move on to more advanced variations if you can’t execute the foundational movement pattern with proper form. So here’s how to do it:

    Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides, to start. Brace your core and bring your hands to your hips as you step one foot forward. Bend both legs to form 90-degree angles. Make sure your front knee doesn’t extend past your toes. Keeping your weight in your front leg (your back leg should just help maintain balance), press through your front foot to return to the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Switch legs and repeat.

Three Lunge Variations to Try Now

This trio will move your body through different angles and planes of motion than the typical forward lunge does. Start with 1 set of 8 to 10 reps per leg for each exercise, or choose one exercise for 2 to 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps per leg. Aim to perform quality reps (that means move slowly and maintain control) with just your body weight. As you advance, you can add weight or increase the amount of reps and sets, but always start with a quick form check.

1. Lateral Lunge

Muscles worked: abs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves

3 Lunges to Build Strong Legs
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides, to start.
  2. Engage your abs and clasp your hands together in front of your chest for counterbalance as you take a wide step to one side, shifting your weight into this leg and bending it as you send your hips back to lower into a squat, opposite leg extended and both feet pointing forward.
  3. Though you will have to lean forward slightly from your hips, try to maintain a tall torso, open chest, and natural arch in your low back.
  4. Push through the foot of your bent leg to return to the starting position. That’s 1 rep.
  5. Switch legs and repeat.

Make It Easier

Move even more slowly through the move. Or do fewer reps and sets until you improve your balance and strength.

Make It Harder

Add weight. You could hold a barbell across your upper back, dumbbells in either hand, or a kettlebell, dumbbell, or medicine ball in the goblet position (aka at your chest with arms bent). To work your upper body more from the goblet position, press the weight forward as you lunge.

2. Isometric Curtsy Lunge

Muscles worked: abs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, inner thighs, calves

3 Lunges to Build Strong Legs
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands clasped together in front of your chest for counterbalance.
  2. To curtsy, transfer most of your weight to one foot as you step the other leg back, crossing it behind and across your front leg. Bend both legs to form 90-degrees.
  3. Keeping your weight in the front foot, engage your abs as you step your back foot to a reverse lunge. That’s 1 rep.
  4. Continue transitioning from a curtsy lunge to a reverse lunge, maintaining the 90-degree bend in your legs, then switch legs and repeat.

Make It Easier

Just perform a curtsy lunge (steps 1 and 2) without the isometric side-to-side action.

Make It Harder

Add weight by holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in the goblet position.

3. Forward Lunge With Knee Drive

Muscles worked: abs, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves

3 Lunges to Build Strong Legs
  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your arms by your sides.
  2. Engage your abs and clasp your hands together in front of your chest as you step one foot forward. Bend both legs to form 90-degree angles. Keep your weight in your front leg (your back leg should just help maintain balance).
  3. Explode through your front foot to jump as high as you can, driving your front knee up to hip height and swinging your arms down and back. Softly land in the starting position. That’s 1 rep. Immediately repeat.
  4. Complete all reps on one side, then switch legs and repeat.

Make It Easier

Perform a reverse lunge with knee drive. To do it, step one leg back into a reverse lunge, then push through your front foot to jump and drive your back knee up to chest height.

Make It Harder

Hold a light weight in each hand to add more resistance.

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3 Lunges to Build Strong Legs

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3 Lunges to Build Strong Legs

NTC Premium Is Free

Access our world-class experts and trainers for free so we can all stay active and healthy.