The most common types of lunges—the forward lunge and walking lunge—do not activate the hamstrings as a primary muscle. Instead, they focus on the quads and glutes. Reverse lunges do a much better job of targeting the hamstrings. So, if you want to build hamstring muscle with lunges, it’s best to use reverse lunges. Pair them with Romanian deadlifts and leg curls for an incredible hamstring workout.
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What are Your Hamstrings Used For?
The hamstrings are a group of three muscles located at the back of your thigh: the semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. They play a crucial role in everyday movements such as walking, running, and jumping. Their primary functions are to flex your knee and extend your hips. Your hamstrings also help maintain balance and stability, especially during lower body exercises.
Do Lunges Target the Hamstrings?
Lunges mostly work the quadriceps (front thigh muscles) and glutes, but they also engage the hamstrings. When you perform a lunge, your hamstrings act as stabilizers, helping you maintain balance and control throughout the movement. This means that your hamstrings will get some work from lunges, but they won’t get a serious workout.
- Lunges primarily target your quads and glutes.
- During lunges, your hamstrings are recruited as stabilizers.
- You will not get a significant hamstring workout from lunges
As you lower yourself into the lunge position, your hamstrings contract eccentrically, controlling the descent. When you push back up to the starting position, your hamstrings work concentrically, assisting the other leg muscles to extend the hip and propel your body upward.
Different Types of Lunges and Their Effect on Hamstrings
There are various types of lunges that can be incorporated into your workout routine to target your hamstrings. Some popular variations include:
This classic lunge variation involves taking a step forward and bending both knees to lower your body towards the ground. Forward lunges engage the hamstrings and glutes, particularly during the upward phase of the movement. However, the hamstrings receive less targeted work during this movement, compared to other leg muscles.
Reverse lunges are performed by stepping backward instead of forward. This variation places a greater emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes, making it an excellent option for those looking to target these muscles. So, if you want to get a better hamstring workout from your lunges, start doing reverse lunges instead of forward lunges or walking lunges.
Walking lunges involve alternating forward lunges while moving across a room or space. This dynamic exercise requires more balance and coordination than stationary lunges, engaging the hamstrings as stabilizers throughout the movement. So, you will get slightly more hamstring engagement during walking lunges than forward lunges. Still, you’ll get a better hamstring workout by doing reverse lunges.
How Do You Maximize Hamstring Strength With Lunges?
To get the most out of your lunges and ensure you’re engaging your hamstrings, follow these tips for proper form and technique:
- Choose reverse lunges over other lunge variations.
- Maintain a tall, upright posture throughout the movement, keeping your chest up and shoulders back.
- Take a wide enough step forward or backward to create a 90-degree angle with both knees at the bottom of the lunge.
- Keep your front knee directly above your ankle and avoid letting it extend past your toes.
- Focus on pressing through your front heel to engage your glutes and hamstrings as you push back up to the starting position.
- Remember to exhale as you sink down into your lunge. Then, inhale as you return to the standing position.
- After an intense lunge workout, wait at least 48 hours before doing another leg workout.
Not only will close attention to proper form build stronger hamstrings, but it will also help you prevent injury. Allowing your muscles to recover between lunge workouts is also key for injury prevention and proper muscle development.
3 Common Mistakes to Avoid While Performing Lunges
To ensure the effectiveness of your lunges and prevent injury, it’s important to avoid these common mistakes:
Taking too long of a step during lunges can put unnecessary stress on your joints and reduce the engagement of your hamstrings and glutes. Step out far enough that both knees bend at a 90-degree angle at the bottom of your lunge. If your rear thigh is angled forward at the bottom of your lunge, you are overstriding.
Collapsing Your Knee Inward
When lunging, avoid letting your front knee angle inward. If your knee tilts toward the center line of your body, it can cause knee pain and injury. Focus on keeping your knee in line with your foot throughout the movement. This will allow your muscles to power through the lunge without putting stress on your knee.
Rounding Your Back
Maintaining a neutral spine is crucial when performing lunges. Engage your core muscles and keep your chest up and shoulders back to prevent arching or rounding of your back. It helps to focus on keeping your shoulders in line with your hip joints throughout the lunge. It may feel like you are leaning backwards at first, but soon the form will become second nature. It’s a good idea to do lunges with one side facing a mirror, so you can be certain your shoulders don’t come forward.
How Do You Add Lunges to Your Workout Routine?
Lunges are a versatile exercise that can easily be added to your workout routine. For optimal hamstring development, incorporate lunges and other hamstring-focused exercises into your lower body workouts. Aim for 3 to 5 sets of 8 to 12 repetitions per exercise. Here’s a sample lower body workout, along with the muscles they target:
- Squats: 5 sets of 10 reps (Quads/Glutes)
- Reverse Lunges: 5 sets of 8 reps (Hamstrings/Glutes)
- Bulgarian Split Squats: 3 sets of 8 reps (Quads)
- Single-Leg Deadlifts: 3 sets of 8 reps (Hamstrings)
- Calf Raises: 3 sets of 10 reps (calves)
Each of these exercises can be performed at home with no weights, resistance bands, or dumbbells. Or, you can go to a gym and add heavy weight to these movements. Just remember to start small and slowly add resistance, so you build strength safely.
What are the Best Exercises to Strengthen Hamstrings?
While lunges are an excellent exercise to engage the hamstrings, it’s essential to include other exercises that specifically target this muscle group. The most effective hamstring exercises include:
- Romanian deadlifts
- Glute-ham raises
- Single-leg deadlifts
- Swiss ball hamstring curls
- Hamstring curls
In addition to reverse lunges, I like to use Romanian deadlifts and single-leg deadlifts as hamstring workouts. Rather than relying on knee flexion to engage the hamstrings, these deadlift variations use hip drive to work your hamstrings. This takes stress off your knee, which is helpful if you have knee pain or past knee injuries.
Are Lunges Good for Your Hamstrings?
Here are the facts about how lunges work your hamstrings:
- Forward lunges work your hamstrings minimally, as stabilizers.
- Walking lunges engage your hamstrings more actively than forward lunges, but still do not build significant hamstring strength and muscle.
- Reverse lunges are the best lunge variation for building your hamstrings.
- Focus on maintaining a straight back and a controlled stride to get the most out of lunges.
- In addition to reverse lunges, use other exercises to strengthen your hamstrings.
- Combine hamstring, quad, glute, and calf exercises in your lower body workouts to prevent muscle imbalances.
Although not all lunges are great hamstring exercises, knowing which muscles each lunge targets allows you to build a complete and effective leg workout.