Almost every lunge variation works your quads. However, certain types of lunges target your quads more than others. Forward lunges and walking lunges work your quads. Meanwhile, reverse lunges and side lunges use your hamstrings and adductors to perform the exercise.
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What are Your Quads?
Your quadriceps, or “quads,” are the four large muscles located at the front of your thigh. These muscles are responsible for extending your knee and helping you perform various activities like walking, running, and jumping.
- Quads are the muscles that make up the front of your thighs.
- Your quads are used to straighten your knee.
- Exercises that add resistance to knee extension work your quads.
- Lunges and squats are examples of quad exercises.
The four muscles that make up the quadriceps are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius. Together, they play a crucial role in lower body strength and stability.
How Do Lunges Target Your Quads?
When you perform a lunge your quads work during both the eccentric (downward) motion and the concentric (upward) movement. First, as you lower your body into the lunge, your quads contract to control your descent and prevent your knee from collapsing inward.
- Quads maintain your balance as you sink into a deep lunge.
- Pushing up from a lunge position targets your quads.
- During lunges, the quads in your forward leg do the most work.
As you push back up to a standing position after sinking into a lunge, your quads work to propel your body upward. This upward movement of the lunge really targets the quads in your forward leg.
What are the Benefits of Lunges for Your Quads?
Lunges are excellent for building lower body strength and balance for beginners. They can also be used to build quad muscle strength, definition, and mass.
- Improved balance and stability for functional movements.
- Increased lower body strength.
- Stronger, larger, and more toned muscles in your quads, glutes, and hamstrings..
- Working one leg at a time allows you to build strength evenly.
Lunges are great for building strength in a weaker leg. Since you are working one leg at a time during lunges, you can focus more on one side to balance out your quad strength and appearance.
The 3 Best Lunge Variations for Quad Activation
While most lunges target your quads, there are variations you can try to better activate these muscles. Some of these variations include:
Forward Lunges or Walking Lunges
Any lunge exercise that involves stepping forward will primarily focus on your quads. This is because the act of lifting your leg and striding forward is quad-dominant. Plus, pushing up and back to return to a standing position really targets your quads. You’ll feel the burn in your upper thigh.
Forward Lunges: Step-by-step
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
- Take a large step forward with one foot.
- Sink down in a kneeling position until the knee of your rear leg almost touches the ground.
- Rise up to a standing position.
- Step backward with your forward foot so you return to the starting position.
- Repeat for 8–10 reps.
- Do 8–10 reps for your other leg.
You can choose to do walking lunges instead of stationary forward lunges. Both of these variations are great for building stronger quadriceps. However, they do put more strain on your knee joint than other lunge variations.
Split Squats (Stationary Lunges)
If you’re new to lunges or have knee pain, split squats are a great way to get a quad workout and avoid discomfort. Instead of striding forward repeatedly, you will remain in a lunge position throughout most of this exercise. Here’s how to do it:
Split Squats: Step-by-step
- Sink down into the bottom of a lunge, with one knee on the ground and the other foot planted in front of you.
- Make sure that both of your knees are bent at 90 degrees in this kneeling position.
- From this position, rise straight up until you are standing with one foot behind you and one foot in front.
- Slowly return back to the starting position.
- Repeat for 8–10 reps, then switch legs.
One of the benefits of split squats is that you can plant both feet in the optimal position, with your knees bent 90 degrees at the bottom of the movement. This provides a better quad workout with less chance of injury.
Bulgarian Split Squats
If you really want an intense lunge-style quad workout, add Bulgarian split squats to your routine. To do this exercise:
Bulgarian Split Squats: Step-by-step
- Stand two to three feet in front of a weightlifting bench.
- Lift your leg and put it on the bench behind you, so that the top of your foot is on the bench.
- Sink down into a lunge position with your rear foot elevated on the bench behind you.
- Rise straight up to a standing position, with your rear foot still on the bench.
- Repeat for 8–10 reps
- Switch legs and repeat.
If you’re unsure about this exercise, just give it a try. I guarantee you’ll feel an intense workout in your quads. If it’s not challenging enough to perform this exercise with your bodyweight, hold a dumbbell in each hand.
What Lunges are Worst for Quads?
Although practically every type of lunge will work your quads, some lunge variations are designed to take the focus off your quads and work other muscles instead. Here are a few lunge variations that aren’t quad-focused.
Instead of striding forward, reverse lunges ask you to step backward before sinking down into a lunge. This is great for preventing knee pain, but not great for quad activation. This backward stride actually puts more emphasis on the hamstrings and glutes. It’s still a great workout, but not optimal for building your quads.
As the name implies, side lunges require you to step sideways, then sink down into a modified lunge. This lateral movement works adductors and other key stabilizer muscles, but it takes the workload off your quads.
Curtsy lunges require you to step backward and sideways with your rear leg before lowering yourself into a lunge. This variation builds your glutes and calves, but it comes at the cost of quadriceps activation. You’ll still get a quad workout with curtsy lunges, but it won’t be as effective for quad-strengthening as classic lunges.
Will Lunges Build Your Quads?
When evaluating lunge exercises to see what’s best for your quads, keep these facts in mind:
- Some lunge variations work your quads more than others.
- Lunges with a forward stride target the quads best.
- Walking lunges and forward lunges are the best “traditional lunges” for your quads.
- Split squats provide a lunge-like quad workout while reducing knee joint stress.
- Bulgarian split squats are an intense quad workout that’s even better than lunges.
- Reverse lunges, side lunges, and curtsy lunges aren’t the best for building stronger quads.
Lunges and similar unilateral exercises are key for building balance, stability, and symmetrical strength. So, it’s a great idea to add at least one of these exercises to your lower body workout routine.