Most lifters train their legs by standing up and down or stepping forward and backward with weight. That misses the lateral movement pattern, which is necessary for all aspects of life and sport. The lateral lunge, also known as the side lunge, should be part of any resistance training program because it emphasizes the adductors and increases hip mobility. In this post, we will explain how to perform the lateral lunge exercise (or side lunge) using the perfect technique so you get the most out of this amazing exercise and train your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and adductors.
Performing the exercise with the correct form
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to execute bodyweight lateral lunges (without any equipment). However, you are free to use barbells, dumbbells, or kettlebells to perform the exercise and make it harder and far more efficient.
STARTING POSITION (SETUP):
- Stand with your arms relaxed and at your sides. Keep both feet about 6 inches (15 cm) apart.
- Slowly flex your hip and knee of one leg until the knee is just below 90 degrees and your foot is off of the floor.
- Step laterally about 3 or 4 feet (1 m) with this same leg and land softly on your foot.
- Straddle your opposite knee with each arm while keeping your head up and back straight.
- Sit back with the majority of your weight on the stationary leg.
- Keep your toes pointed straight ahead and both feet flat on the floor.
- Drive off the laterally extended leg and return to the start position.
Coaching points (performance pointers) for lateral lunges
- Make sure you do not overstride on your lateral step.
- Work your way out slowly through trial and error.
- Keep your weight back and toward your heels; this will help you keep your knees in line with your ankles.
- How much the foot angles outward for the working leg depends on the genetic structure of the hip. Use the foot position that feels most natural.
- Focus on pushing your hips back, and avoid inward buckling of the working knee during the lowering phase.
- The torso and shin should maintain a consistent angle throughout the movement.
- From a side view, the loaded leg takes on similar mechanics to a bilateral squatting motion with the shin and torso angle in a parallel position. From a front view, the knee tracks over the foot, and the midline of the flexed torso is in a vertical or perpendicular alignment with the floor.
- The knee is loaded in a varus fashion, causing excessive joint stress (as seen from the front).
- The exerciser loses the vertical and perpendicular alignment of the torso (as seen from the front).
- The exerciser sits back excessively during the downward phase, causing faulty hip and knee flexion mechanics to minimize the amount of natural knee flexion occurring in the squat pattern, and this results in a poor shin-to-torso angle and excessive stress on the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (as seen from the side).
Key benefits of doing lateral lunges
- The lateral lunge emphasizes the hip adductors.
- It increases hip mobility.
- Real-life benefits. Most actions in sports – from running and jumping to throwing and kicking – are produced with force generated by one leg, while the other acts in support.
- Lateral lunge exercise allows for the correction of side-to-side imbalances. In other words, it allows you to take the dominant side out of the equation, isolating the weaker side (leg) and thus forcing it to become stronger and/or more developed.
- Improves neurological and motor movement function by training in the frontal plane.
Muscles engaged in lateral (side) lunge
Side lunges work multiple muscle groups throughout your lower body, including your quadriceps, abductors, glutes, adductors, and hamstrings.
Lateral lunge variations
The lateral lunge (also known as side-stepping lunge) can be performed with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, a plate, or body weight. The positioning of the load can be on the athlete’s back (like a back squat), front rack (like a front squat, goblet squat, or front rack with one or two kettlebells), or side hang (using dumbbells or kettlebells).
KETTLEBELL LATERAL LUNGE EXERCISE
Stand with your feet hip-width apart while holding the handle of a kettlebell with both hands in front of you down at arm’s length. Take a long step to the right with your right leg and plant your foot so it’s angled slightly outward, and then lower your body as far as your mobility allows while your trunk shifts forward. Push yourself back to the starting position through the middle of your front foot. Perform all your reps by stepping to the right with your right leg, then perform the same number of reps by stepping out to the left with your left leg.
BARBELL LATERAL LUNGE
Set up with your feet shoulder-width apart and a barbell resting across your traps. Step laterally with your trail leg extended and descend until the thigh is parallel with the floor. Drive through the weight-bearing leg and extend the knee as you push back to the starting position.
DUMBBELL LATERAL LUNGE
Lunge laterally, keeping your stationary leg straight. Extend the dumbbells to either side of the lunge foot. Drive the hands and body back to the starting position.
- Dumbbell lunge
- Barbell lunge
- Lying leg curl
- Dumbbell straight-leg deadlift
- Stability ball leg curl
- Barbell straight-leg deadlift
- Standing leg curl
- Seated leg curl
- Barbell or dumbbell lunge
- Cable leg curl
Closing thoughts about the lateral lunge exercise
The majority of sports movements are performed on one leg, which is what makes lunge movements so valuable to every athlete. Lunging improves strength and the ability to change directions while accelerating, decreases injury potential by building side-to-side symmetry, and works to develop stabilizers and balance in a way bilateral exercise (like squats and deadlifts) cannot.