November 29, 2021 10 min read

The lower body gives us the base for everything we do. Even when performing upper body exercises and movements, the lower body is always working to keep us balanced and in proper form.

That’s why it’s vitally important to give it enough attention in the gym. The lower body contains some of the largest muscles you have, and it takes a lot to develop them and keep them healthy. The barbell walking lunge is one of the best ways to ensure that your legs are in tip-top condition.

The ability to load heavy on a barbell along with the fact that it’s a unilateral movement makes the walking lunge a must-have in any lower body workout routine. However, to reap all of its rewards you’re going to have to learn the perfect form.

Beautiful young sports people are doing lunges with barbell while working out in gym

The Benefits of Lunges

Although the movement itself is relatively simple, the barbell walking lunge used to be a favorite exercise in the old school, golden age of bodybuilding. Not only does this lunge variation give you serious leg gains, but it’s also great for toning because of the cardio conditioning it provides as well. With this lunge in your lower body repertoire, you’re going to experience leg gains like never before.

Strength and Muscle Gains

It goes without saying, but the barbell walking lunge is a great way to build lower body strength and muscle mass. Although you can use dumbbells or kettlebells—depending on your needs and available equipment—the addition of the barbell allows for even more muscle-building potential.

With dumbbells, for example, you’re also going to be battling fatigue in your posture and grip while also trying to emphasize the legs. A barbell not only avoids these issues, but you’re also able to load it up much heavier than you would be able to with a dumbbell lunge. All of this works to give your legs a bigger and better workout, allowing these muscles to be the center of your attention. 

A Unilateral Movement

The lunge is a fundamentally unilateral movement, meaning you’re going to be training each of your legs individually (unlike with the conventional squat, for example). Training either side of your body individually is a good way to address muscle imbalances that might get in the way of aesthetics, and could even lead to training injuries down the road. And as a cherry on top, unilateral movements also develop bilateral movement patterns.

Range of Motion and Hip Mobility

The lunge can be modified to either have a greater or lesser range of motion. Each method targets a different muscle group (either the quads or the glutes), but the range of motion is developed nonetheless. Training at the higher ranges of motion allows your hips to slowly develop more mobility and strength over time. Not only is this a great way to help you avoid injuries in the future, but it’s also good for older folks who might be experiencing issues in this area.

Functionality and Injury Prevention

We’re reminded of the importance of our legs almost all the time. Almost any movement in our daily lives requires some level of lower body strength and mobility. Our legs also provide a base through which to carry out other actions, and so they’re important for giving out bodies some overall stability. Ignoring leg training is a great way to put yourself at a disadvantage—not only in the gym but also in day-to-day life.

For example, the lunge is a great way to develop glute strength and our glutes are essential for keeping our knees and hips stable. Ensuring that these joints are stable is the best way to avoid injuries and unnecessary stresses in these areas. All of this leads to higher quality training and a higher quality of life.

The Muscles Worked in the Lunge

The quadriceps are the primary movers in the barbell walking lunge. They consist of four different muscles that come together to form one of the strongest muscle groups in your body. Your largest single muscle is the gluteus maximus which makes up the majority of your butt. As we saw above, the glutes’ role is to keep our hips and knees stable and in good functioning order.

The hamstrings also come into play since they attach to both your thigh bone and your thigh muscle. Along with the glutes, the hamstrings also give your knee joint some added support. Working together with the glutes, they add to your mobility and balance. Finally, the hip flexors and the hip adductors allow you to go through the wider ranges of motion that your legs can do. It makes sense that the lunge is a great way to train this muscle group as well.

How to Lunge

Before you begin remember to warm up your lower body by doing a few stretches, or performing some cardio. This will get your blood pumping and your muscles primed to start working. If this is your first time performing a barbell walking lunge, it’s best that you first try the movement as a bodyweight exercise.

You’ll need enough leg strength and balance to successfully use the barbell. Down below we have a good progression guide to get you on your way to barbell lunging. You’ll want to set up a barbell with your weights on a squat rack. Set the supports so that the barbell is just a tad lower than your shoulders.


 

 

  1. Face the barbell and step underneath it, wrapping your hands around either side of it. Hook your thumbs around the bar and allow it to settle comfortably on your upper back muscles. Engage your upper back muscles and lats to better support the barbell. This will be a similar position to either the deadlift or squat.
  2. Unracking the bar, walk over to where you’ll be lunging. Ensure that you have enough space to continue lunging forward for at least several feet.
  3. Once you get to a good place, ensure that you have a tall posture and a neutral spine—but you don’t necessarily have to be completely upright. Choose whatever angle helps you be most comfortable. Your feet should start at a shoulder-width distance from each other, with a slight bend in the knees. Make sure that your core is engaged so that you can more easily keep balanced.
  4. Initiate the movement by stepping forward with one of your legs, bending both of your knees at the same time. You should continue bending your knees until your back knee is almost touching the floor. Both of your knees should be bent at about 90-degrees at the bottom of the movement.
  5. Pause at the bottom of the movement before driving through your front foot and extending the knee. Focus on pushing through your heel and midfoot while using your toes to keep you stabilized. You should feel your quads and glutes engage as you push yourself up.
  6. Stand up fully and come back up with both your knees extended. Continue by taking your back leg and stepping forward, continuing the same movement on the opposite side. If you’re walking forward with the lunge, make sure that you have enough room in front of you. Repeat for the desired number of reps, or a set distance—depending on your training program.

Programming the Lunge into Your Routine

Like we mentioned further above, you can either give yourself a set distance to walk in the walking lunge, or you can aim for a set of reps. Reps tend to be more consistent so we’ll stick to those, but feel free to tweak the amount for your personal goals and the amount of space you have.

If you’re brand new to barbell lunges, you’ll want to incorporate them into your workout about 2 to 3 times per week. As we said, it’s best to stick to the bodyweight version until you know what you’re doing. But if you are using a barbell and are new to the exercise, aim for 10 to 12 lunges every time you train.

For those looking to supplement their other lower body workouts with some barbell lunges, aim for 3 to 4 sets of around 10 to 15 repetitions. Alternatively, you can try going until failure to really gas out your legs. Although there are differences between strength training and training for muscle mass gains, you’ll likely respond better to a high repetition routine that gives you a good pump.

When it comes to your training goals, try to incorporate variations of the lunge that work for your needs. For example, the barbell lunge is great for those looking to supplement their leg day with some heavy workouts—hence the barbell. However, if you’re looking to tone or lose weight, try incorporating lunges into a circuit.

Jumping lunges are a great way to get a cardiovascular workout along with your leg workout. If you want to tone your upper body, include a bicep curl during each lunge. This will give you a great full-body workout that’ll leave you sculpted and powerful.

Tips for a Better Lunge

The barbell lunge is a relatively straightforward movement, but it’s always important to perform them with the best possible form.Perfecting the form will not only allow you to get the most benefits out of the workout (since the correct muscles will be engaged and developed), but you’ll also better avoid injuries.

If you’re new to lunges, try simply using your body weight until you feel very comfortable with the movement pattern that’s expected under a load. Here are some of the key things to remember when performing the barbell walking lunge during your next leg workout.

Upright Torso?

You’re often asked to keep an upright torso in most exercises, and the walking lunge is no exception. However, this isn’t necessarily that important even though most lunge instructions will advocate for it.But in fact, the angle of your torso should be kept in a way that allows for you to easiest maintain a neutral spine. If your spine is kept straight, you don’t really have to worry about the uprightness of your torso.

Choosing an angle that works best for you will also help in properly engaging your core, optimizing the range of motion, and ensuring that your knee joints hinge properly and comfortably. Oftentimes, people will go into the lunge thinking that they have to stay upright. However, this can sometimes cause a rounding of the lower back, which is something you definitely don’t want.

Driving Through the Lower Body

The legs are the muscles of the hour when it comes to the lunge, so make sure that they’re putting in all of the work—not your upper body.You want to go down far enough where your knees form 90-degree angles and your back knee almost touches the floor. This will guarantee a full range of motion and allow for most muscle fibers to be engaged, and therefore, developed.

But when you drive through the front leg to stand back up, you want to make sure that you’re feeling it in your quads and glutes—and only the quads and glutes. Avoid trying to get yourself back up by leading it with your shoulders. Leading with your shoulders this way often leads to hyperextending your spine. Not only does this take away emphasis from the muscles you’re supposed to be emphasizing, but it can also be dangerous at heavier weights.

Quad vs Glute Emphasis

Although all lunges will hammer the quads, there is a method for focusing on either the quads or glutes more.If you’re looking to really gas out the quads, you’ll want to take a smaller step during your lunge. A smaller step means that your front knee is going to track further in front of your front foot during each lunge.

Go as far past your toes as your ankle mobility will allow you, but also pay attention to comfort in the knee joint. While you can go as far as mobility will allow, don’t overdo it or else an injury will completely shut down your training. Emphasize driving through the ball of the foot to give the quads some extra work.

On the other hand, a larger step will place a greater emphasis on the glutes.

Taking a wider stride with every lunge means that your knee isn’t going to be able to track as far in front of your toes. Maintaining a more vertical shin stance will allow the glutes and hamstrings to be better engaged. For these, focus on driving through the heel of the foot if you want to give these muscles some extra work.

Slow and Steady

This goes for every heavy exercise out there, but you want to take things slowly until you’ve built up a solid base of mobility, strength, and balance. All of these aspects are going to be important when looking to lunge successfully.And because this is a unilateral exercise, you also want to progress with unilateral exercises that challenge each of your legs individually. For example, a complete beginner should begin with simple step-ups in order to develop the muscles and balance you’ll need.

Then, you can progress to things like reverse lunges, lateral lunges, Bulgarian split squats, and then walking lunges with a barbell. After you’ve built up this solid base in your lower body, you can move on to things like pistol squats and single-leg skater squats. These are much more challenging variations that are a true test of lower body strength.

Lunge Variations and Alternatives

Forward lunges, reverse lunges, and lateral lunges are all great ways to train your legs in different planes of movement. Although they’ll all target similar muscle groups, they will emphasize different parts depending on the movement pattern.

 

Bulgarian split squats and step-ups offer good alternatives if you’re not looking to do the lunge. They both offer similar muscle engagement while being unilateral movements that can be loaded up with heavier weights on a barbell.

Lunging for Stronger Legs

Our legs give us the stability, strength, and power that we need to go about our daily lives. Taking care of them by strengthening them is a guaranteed method for reaching better, overall health.The barbell walking lunge is just one fantastic method of developing your legs into powerful tree trunks that can’t be shaken. Your legs have some of the largest muscles in your body, so you need to be giving them an appropriate amount of engagement for optimal results.

But big muscles also need big amounts of food and nutrients. If you’re going to be gassing out your quads, glutes, and hamstrings with lunges galore, you’re going to need to give them enough gas as well. This means plenty of proteins, fats, and healthy carbs. If you’re not experiencing the gains that you expect, try upping your protein intake.

quality whey protein is a solid choice for anyone serious about training.

Complexity isn’t needed to build an enviable base of strength, mobility, and balance. And the lunge is an amazingly beneficial exercise in simple packaging.All it takes is some hard work, good food, enough rest, and a little patience.