What Muscles Do Lunges Work?

The main lunges muscles worked are the quads, glutes and adductors, but the lunge variation you choose determines which muscles work the hardest.
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The lunge is of the best lower-body exercises to build strength and stability in your legs and hips. But there are a lot of muscles in your lower body. So what muscles does the lunges work, exactly?

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The answer largely depends on the type of lunge variation you do — and how you do it. Forward, reverse, and side lunges, for instance, all have different main muscles worked. Meanwhile, slight form adjustments like taking bigger or smaller steps affect what muscles do the brunt of the work.

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Here's your guide to which muscles you'll target with which lunge exercise.

The Main Lunge Muscles Worked

Lunges work what muscles? When it comes to your lower body, all of them.

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That said, the primary lunges muscles worked are the quadriceps, gluteus maximus and adductor magnus (in the inner thighs). The quads and glutes straighten your knees and hips to help you push out of the bottom of the move. The adductors, meanwhile, pull your thigh toward your midline so you end your reps standing tall with your legs together.

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Lunges also work the hamstrings, gluteus medius and, to a lesser extent, the calves.

The hamstrings play several important roles in your lunge, including helping you slow down as you lower toward the ground and working with the gluteus maximus and adductor magnus to extend your hips as you stand up at the top of the exercise.

The hamstrings also work with the gluteus medius (your side glute muscle) to stabilize your hips and knees. When you push through the balls of your feet to rise to standing, you work your calves.

While lunges primarily work the muscles in your lower body, everything is connected. This means that you're using your lats, obliques and other core muscles to stabilize and coordinate your movements.

Here's a breakdown of the four most common lunge variations and which muscles they work the hardest.

Move 1: Forward Lunge

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Main Muscles Worked:

  • Quadriceps
  • Adductors
  • Gluteus medius

The forward lunge is a knee-dominant variation, meaning it works your knees and quads more than it does your hips and glutes. It also puts less emphasis on the entire backside of your body, including your hamstrings and calves. It does, however, work the side glutes to a higher degree than some other variations do.

Choose this exercise if you want to zero in on your quads.

Move 2: Reverse Lunge

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Main Muscles Worked:

  • Gluteus maximus
  • Adductors

The reverse lunge is a hip-dominant variation, meaning it will light up your glutes while putting less stress on your quads and knees. While the hamstrings don't work a ton here, they do work harder in reverse lunges than they do in forward ones.

This leg exercise is ideal if you want to focus on your glutes or have knee pain during front lunges.

Move 3: Side Lunge

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Main Muscles Worked:

  • Adductors
  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteus medius

The inner thighs and quads do the brunt of the work here. The side-to-side motion also gets your gluteus medius involved. It's important to include some lateral movement in every workout.

Choose this move if you've mastered the lateral squat and are ready to add some impact to your moves.

Move 4: Walking Lunge

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Main Muscles Worked:

  • Quadriceps
  • Adductors
  • Gluteus medius

Walking lunges are a lot like repeating forward lunges, and they work your muscles that way. Expect to build your quads and strengthen your knees. You'll also build tremendous single-leg stability.

Do this on-the-move exercise as a way to progress your forward lunges.

How to Emphasize Certain Muscles With Lunges

The really cool part of lunges is that, by changing the size of your steps and even tweaking your back posture, you can control which lunges muscles work more or less.

Here's how different form adjustments affect what muscles you target in lunges and where you should feel your body working the hardest:

  • More forward lean​ = more glutes
  • More upright torso​ = more quads
  • Bigger step forward/back​ = more glutes
  • Smaller step forward/back​ = more quads
  • Bigger step to side​ = more adductors
  • Smaller step to side​ = more glutes

3 Benefits of Lunges

1. Muscle Gain

One of the biggest benefits of lunges is that they help you build muscle in your legs and butt. The combination of heavy load, time under tension and eccentric emphasis is a winning combination for muscle growth.

You can use different variations to focus on the glutes or quads.

2. Functional Strength

Lunges are a highly functional movement, which means getting better at them can improve athletic performance and make activities of daily life easier.

Running, biking and simply walking up and down stairs are all very similar movements to lunges. Building strength and stability helps your muscles and joints tackle these other activities with grace and ease.

Think of how many activities you do with both legs positioned evenly. Not very many, right? Most lower body movements we perform involve some sort of split or single leg stance. If you only train with bilateral (two leg) movements, you're missing out on many benefits that would make you stronger outside the gym.

3. Injury Prevention

By increasing stability at both the hip and knee joint, lunges can help reduce the risk of knee injuries.

If you're prone to knee pain, start with reverse lunges. Take a big step with each rep and, over time, you may be able to do more knee-dominant exercise like forward or front lunges.

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