With so many lunge variations out there and different techniques used, it can be difficult to determine how to perform a lunge correctly to get the glutes contracting as much as possible to build muscle and get stronger.
Luckily there are some easy tweaks that we can implement, that work for all lunge variations, to get the glutes more active while we’re lunging.
Here are my 6 tips to feel your glutes in lunges:
- Keep The Shins More Vertical
- Incline The Torso Slightly Forward
- Maintain A Neutral Spine
- Keep Weight Distributed Evenly Through The Front Foot
- Keep The Knees In-Line With The Toes (No Knee Cave)
- Choose Reverse Lunges Instead Of Forward Lunges
To fully understand how to implement these tips, it’s important to know how they are involved in the lunge and how we can use this to our advantage to make a lunge more hip-dominant and therefore more glute dominant.
In this article I’ll discuss the role of the glutes in a lunge, provide 6 tips to feel the glutes more while lunging, and explain 4 lunge variations that are the best for targeting the glutes.
Lunges: The Role Of The Glutes
During a lunge, the glutes are responsible for:
- Hip Extension
- Hip Abduction
- Hip External Rotation
1. Hip Extension
The glutes play an important role in extending the hips, which is a key component in the lunge movement pattern because as we are lowering into the bottom position of the lunge we are flexing the hip and in order to stand back up out of hip flexion we need to extend the hip.
We can use this to our advantage in feeling the glutes more while lunging by inclining our torso to increase the amount of hip flexion that occurs, so that the hip extensors (primarily the glutes) have to be more active to extend the hip.
2. Hip Abduction
The glutes are also involved in hip abduction which is a motion that brings or keeps the leg away from the midline. The glutes work to keep the hips abducted when we’re lunging to keep the legs away from the midline.
This is an important action because to maintain our balance we need to ensure that the knees are not caving in while we’re lunging, because if the knees cave we will be in a weaker position, we will be off balance, and we will be stressing tissues that are not meant to be loaded in this way.
Related Article: Is It Better To Do Forward or Backward Lunges?
3. Hip External Rotation
The glutes are also important in external rotation (outward rotation of the thigh), that work to keep the hip externally rotated rather than caving into internal rotation (thigh rotates inwards). The external rotation component of a lunge comes into play when we include lunge variations such as the lateral lunge and the curtsy lunge which typically involve rotating to the toe of the working leg outwards.
If we’re not successful in maintaining the motion of external rotation at the hips, we will not feel the glutes as much while lunging and we could be allowing the hips to internally rotate – which would likely cause a pinching sensation at the hip because we would be impinging the hip flexors.
The glutes are involved in these motions when performing the hip thrust as well. If you’re struggling to feel your glutes in the hip thrust as well, check out our other article for 9 Tips To Feel Your Glutes In The Hip Thrust.
How To Feel Your Glutes While Lunging (6 Tips)
Let’s now dive into how you can feel your glutes more while lunging.
1. Keep The Shins More Vertical
To feel our glutes working in a lunge pattern, it is important to keep the shin of the front leg most vertical because this shifts the demand onto the glute rather than the quad.
When the knee is more forwards it has a larger amount of knee flexion, which causes the quads to work harder in order to extend the knee and stand back up; however, when we’re trying to target the glutes we want to limit the amount of knee flexion that occurs so that we are loading the hips instead.
By increasing the amount of hip flexion (rather than knee flexion), we are relying more on the glutes to extend the hips back to a standing position.
Allowing for more knee flexion is one of the ways we can engage our quads more than our glutes, if you’re looking to learn more about how to engage the quads instead – check out our article for 8 Tips To Feel The Quads While Squatting.
2. Incline The Torso Slightly Forward
By inclining the torso forwards in a lunge, we are emphasizing the use of the posterior chain by once again increasing the amount of hip flexion that occurs as we lunge. The more hip flexion we have, the more the glutes will work to extend the hips.
When we are restricting knee travel forwards to emphasize the glutes, we want to ensure that we are also inclining the torso forwards to get more hip flexion in the bottom position of the lunge. This will allow for increased activity in the glutes to extend the hips as we stand back up.
The more the hip flexes in the bottom position, the more the hip extensors must work to extend the hips back to a stacked position at the top of the movement. It is important to note that although we are inclining the torso, we are still maintaining a neutral spine; therefore, the torso should not be rounding or arching during the movement.
3. Maintain A Neutral Spine
Maintaining a neutral spine is important to feel the glutes working in a lunge, because in order to engage the glutes safely and effectively we need to have our pelvis oriented a certain way.
If our back is arched (pelvis anteriorly tilted) while we are lunging, then we will not be able to engage the glutes properly because our pelvis will be in a position where we are lengthening the glutes rather than contracting them.
If our lower back is rounded (pelvis posteriorly tilted), then we will be able to engage the glutes but it is not the safest position to be in as we will be loading the spine and this can create shear forces on the vertebral discs, which can result in injury over time.
The safest and most effective way to engage the glutes in a lunge (and a squat) is to maintain a neutral spine.
4. Keep Weight Distributed Evenly Throughout The Front Foot
To feel the glutes more while lunging, we should keep most of our weight in the front leg and have even pressure throughout the whole foot to push through the ground and extend the hips.
While we’re lunging we want to keep the front leg loaded because it is the working leg, the back leg is simply there for support. We should avoid using the back leg to launch ourselves back to a standing position, and instead focus on pushing through the front leg to bring us to a standing position.
To ensure that we are able to engage the glutes in a lunge, we must have even weight distribution through the entire foot. If we have our weight shifted towards our toes then we will favor the quads over the glutes.
While some lifters prefer to have their weight in the heel of the front foot, in my experience lifters are more likely to lose their balance with this technique; instead, I suggest the tripod foot (as we would use when squatting).
5. Keep The Knees In-Line With The Toes (No Knee Cave)
It’s important to prevent the knees from caving in while lunging because in order to activate our gluteus medius and minimus, we need to keep the legs abducted (away from the midline) rather than adducted (towards to midline).
The glutes play a role in hip abduction (bringing/keeping the leg away from the body) and external rotation (rotation of the leg outwards), therefore to feel the glutes while lunging we need to reinforce these movement patterns by keeping the knees tracking in-line with the toes rather than caving in.
When our knees cave inwards they go into the opposite actions of adduction and internal rotation, which puts the glutes in an unfavorable position to exert force and will prevent us from feeling them while lunging.
In addition, these positions put us at more risk for injury while lunging because knee caving while under load puts strain on other tissues that are not strong enough to withstand the load.
6. Choose Reverse Lunges Over Forward Lunges
To feel our glutes working while lunging, we should choose to include reverse lunges instead of forward lunges in our workouts, because reverse lunges are better suited to posterior loading than forward lunges.
When performing forward lunges, it is harder to place the working leg (front leg) consistently where we need it to ensure a vertical shin angle and to avoid shifting our weight forward, which would emphasize the quads over the glutes.
With reverse lunges, we have more control over our shin angle and weight distribution because we are stepping back with the non-working leg while keeping the load in the front leg the entire time. This makes it easier to keep the emphasis on the glute rather than quad by controlling the position of our torso, the weight distribution through our foot, and the angle of our knee.
Want to target your glutes more during the leg press? Check out my article on How To Leg Press Using Your Glutes (6 Tips).
Lunges Variations To Target The Glutes (4 Variations)
We discussed using the reverse lunge instead of the forward lunge to emphasize the glutes while lunging, but there are also other lunge variations that we can include that can help us feel the glutes in lunges.
Walking lunges are a lunge variation that involves lunging continuously while alternating sides for a predetermined number of reps, which is more challenging than traditional lunges because it requires additional ankle and hip stability.
- Starting with feet shoulder-width apart
- Step forward with one leg and bend both knees towards the floor
- Ideally the knees are both at 90 degree angles
- The back knee should be hovering or slightly touching the ground, but should not make hard contacts with the ground
- Push through the front leg to come to a standing position
- Swing the back leg through to take another step forward to repeat the process
The walking lunge is a good lunge variation for targeting the glutes because we can keep the shins more vertical by placing the front leg at a 90 degree angle with each step, we can focus on loading the working leg, and we can incline the torso to increase hip flexion – all of which will better engage the glutes through hip extension.
Walking lunges are a great option for those who need to work on their stability because it requires us to alternate legs – which involves standing on one leg for the amount of time it takes us to swing the other leg through to the forward position.
If we struggle with ankle and/or hip stability, then the walking lunge will help us practice controlling our movements – in order to perform the movements properly and feel them in our glutes.
Banded lunges are a stationary lunge variation that involves using bands to challenge and remind us to keep the knees abducted (not caving in) while we’re lunging to engage the glutes.
How-To (with larger band):
- Anchor band to a power rack or other sturdy object
- The band should cross the body and be looped around the leg the furthest away from the attachment point
- Insert the working leg into the band and position the band just above the knee cap
- Put tension into the band by walking out from the anchor point
- Position the feet at a distance that allows for both knees to bend towards the floor at approximately a 90 degree angle into a lunge
- The shins should be mostly vertical and the back knee (non-working leg) should be hovering or lightly touching the ground
- The band should be trying to pull the knee of the working leg inwards toward the midline (adduction/internal rotation), but the glute needs to be active to prevent this from happening
- If more resistance is needed to engage the glute further then step out further and put more tension into the band
- Complete all desired repetitions on one side and then switch sides
The banded lunge is a great variation for helping us feel the glutes while lunging because we can use the added resistance to target abduction which is an important movement that the glutes are responsible for. While doing so, we can reinforce a lunge pattern with vertical shins and an inclined torso which will also help us to feel the glutes – due to their role in hip extension.
This lunge variation is ideal for those who struggle with their knees caving in, whether it be from faulty movement patterns or a lack of strength.
The active pull into adduction will help remind us to engage the glute med to keep the hip and knee abducted throughout the entire set. This will help lifters improve their movement pattern and also improve their ability to feel the glutes while lunging.
Lateral lunges are a lunge variation that is performed side-to-side rather than forward and backwards, and can be used to target the glutes by loading the posterior chain – which is accomplished by altering the shin angle, the rotation of the femur in our hip socket, and our torso position.
Check out my article on the differences between the Lateral Lunge vs Cossack Squat.
- Starting with the legs in a stance approximately 1.5 to 2 times shoulder-width with the toes turned out
- Shift bodyweight towards one side to load the leg
- Keep shin of the working leg vertical and allow the torso to incline forwards
- The non-working leg should be mostly straight and the foot should still be in contact with the floor (if we’re not able to achieve this adjust the stance wider or narrower)
- Once we reach the bottom position of the lateral lunge, push the floor away by exerting force into the ground and extend the hips fully to a stacked position
- Repeat the repetition on the same side or alternate sides, until all the desired repetitions are complete.
The lateral lunge is a lunge variation that allows us to target the glutes by loading the posterior chain more easily than a traditional lunge.
Similar to a squat, we can externally rotate the hip (turn the toes out), take a wider stance to challenge abduction (keep the leg away from the midline), and increase hip flexion by limiting the amount of knee flexion that occurs. All of these tweaks will help us to feel the glutes more while lunging by challenging their specific roles at the hip.
This lunge variation is appropriate for those who struggle with maintaining their balance while lunging because the first progression of this movement is a stationary position that is more stable than a traditional lunge.
It is also important to include for those who do not currently have lateral (side-to-side) movements in their program, because this plane of motion is generally neglected but offers many injury prevention benefits.
A lot of people use blood flow restriction training to target a specific muscle group. Check out my article on using Blood Flow Restriction Training For Glutes.
The curtsy lunge is a lunge variation that is similar to the reverse lunge, as it involves stepping backwards into a lunge, but the curtsy lunge differs from the reverse lunge because the non-working leg steps backwards and across the body rather than straight back.
- Starting with both feet shoulder-width apart
- Shift most of the bodyweight to one leg (the working leg)
- The non-working leg will travel behind and across the body
- The foot of the non-working leg will plant and the knee should approach the floor and perhaps make light contact with the floor
- The shin of the working leg should be mostly vertical and the torso position can be inclined to further load the posterior chain
- As the non-working leg travels back, the hips should remain square and twisting at the hips should be minimized
- Once the curtsy has been achieved, push the ground away using the working leg (front leg) to return to a standing position with the hips stacked
- Repeat the reps on one side or alternate sides until all the desired reps are completed
The curtsy lunge is a lunge variation that primarily targets the gluteus medius and minimus because of the rotation that occurs at the hips as the non-working leg crosses the body. The glutes have to work harder in this position to bring the hips back to a standing position.
In addition, because the curtsy lunge is so similar to the reverse lunge we know that it is easier to load the posterior chain by having more control over the weight distribution between the working and non-working leg and the amount of knee flexion that occurs (less knee flexion = more glute engagement).
The curtsy lunge is an ideal lunge variation for those looking to change up their reverse lunges and challenge their stability. However, it may not be the best option for those who struggle to maintain their balance with traditional lunges.
What To Read Next:
- 3 Cable Glute Workouts For Mass (Complete Guide)
- Can You Train Glutes 2 Days In A Row? (Pros & Cons)
It’s important to understand that even though we may not feel our glutes as much as we might expect while lunging, it does not mean that the glutes are not doing their job or are “asleep”. Despite not needing to feel the glutes while lunging, these tweaks will help ensure we are loading the hips as much as possible to use the glutes to the best of our ability.
About The Author
Amanda Parker has a passion for competing and coaching in both powerlifting and weightlifting. She uses her knowledge from her Kinesiology Degree, CSCS, and Precision Nutrition certification to coach athletes and lifestyle clients for performance in training and nutrition. Connect with her on Instagram.