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February 11, 2022 9 min read

The Smith machine lunge is a variation of the lunge and an excellent exercise choice for isolating muscles of the leg. Smith machine lunges can be used by bodybuilders hoping to isolate a particular muscle in the leg or any other lifter whose goal is to strengthen or build their leg muscles.

The Smith machine lunge is a good substitute for other lunge variations if you're looking to limit added volume to other muscle groups during their leg workouts.

Pre-Workout Tips

Just like when you start any new form of exercise, you should take a few precautions to avoid any type of risk of injury to your lower back or to your shoulders.

When beginning your lunge session, be sure to do a proper warm-up and learn the proper form so that you can do this exercise in a way that will give you the maximum benefit. 

Muscle Groups Worked

The primary muscle group targeted during the Smith machine lunge is the quads.

However, depending on the width of the split stance you take during the Smith machine lunge, you can focus more on the hamstrings and glutes. These lower body muscles  work both concentrically (shortening) and eccentrically (lengthening) during lunges. Specifically, there are many muscle groups that work together to mobilize and stabilize your body.

These include:

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteals
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves (gastrocnemius and soleus)
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Obliques
  • Multifidus
  • Erector spinae 

Looking at Lunges in General

The lunge in general is a popular leg-strengthening exercise with plenty of variations to add variety to your workout. Varying your technique allows you to emphasize different muscles or parts of those muscles. This exercise is beneficial for injury prevention, as well as rehabilitation after injuries occur. It is sometimes part of a foundational strength program, because it helps athletes and other exercisers to return to their sport or activity as quickly as possible. 

The lunge is also a functional exercise that prepares you for movements needed in daily life.

For instance, the lunge is a common movement people make to get up from the ground, and it mimics many of the movements and muscle-activation patterns of other daily activities like walking and running and ascending or descending stairs.

The lunge is a useful movement with numerous benefits including  developing your overall strength.

Below, we’ll discuss some of these points and describe some variations to adjust the difficulty level and emphasize different muscles. 

The most basic version of a lunge is the forward lunge.

It involves stepping forward, lowering your body toward the ground, and returning back to the starting position. First, your leg muscles have to control the impact of your foot’s landing. Then, you lower your body to the ground further during the eccentric phase of the movement. During this phase, your muscles lengthen under tension to control the movement. The quadriceps decelerate your landing and work with the hamstrings and gluteals to control the descent.

The muscles in both the front and back leg work eccentrically, but the glute and hamstring muscles work a little harder in the front leg. 

The forward lunge’s step-back phase involves a dynamic push back to the starting position. The same muscles forcefully contract to push the body upright. This is called the concentric phase of the movement, as the muscles are shortening (contracting) to move the body. One of the reasons lunges are so effective is due to the work required of the body in the eccentric phase.

Eccentric muscle contraction is more effective than concentric muscle contraction when it comes to hypertrophy and muscle size. 

Since lunges mostly work the gluteals, quadriceps, and hamstrings, these muscles lengthen during the eccentric phase as you lower to the ground, and they contract during the concentric phase to return your body to the starting position. In a similar way to the leg press, lunges are some ideal ways to train the  strength and stability of your legs and core muscles.

Simply do enough reps of the exercise with proper form.

Core Stability, Mobility, and Strength

Your abdominals, obliques, and deep core muscles like the transverse abdominis are also very important when it comes to the Smith machine lunge.

Your core has been considered by some to be the basis for all of your weightlifting strength.

Lunges generally make your core work a lot harder than in many other types of exercises. Because your torso is elongated, the tension in your deep inner-core muscles will be very intense. The main jobs for your core should be anti-extension and anteflexion, which is similar to the benefits you gain from doing back squats.

Benefits of Doing Lunges

Lunges are considered unilateral exercises due to the workload required of the lead leg compared to the rear leg. This offers an easy way for you to better improve any asymmetries in strength between your legs. Also, lunges can really challenge and improve your balance and stability across a wide variety of unilateral movements. 

Lunges offer multiple benefits.

  • Lower body work: Perhaps the biggest one is that they work several muscle groups of the lower body at the same time. This makes them an important exercise to use as part of many strengthening and injury prevention programs, such as for  anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury prevention
  • Boosts running performance: The lunge is useful for runners because the mechanics are similar to running. The step out to landing is similar to the movements of a running stride, but without the large ground reaction force that comes with running. This makes the lunge a good way to build stronger muscles with which to absorb the impact of higher intensity movements. 
  • Compound exercise: Opposing muscles of the legs are worked at the same time in leg exercises like the lunge. This can mean increased efficiency for a resistance program. If you only have time for a few exercises, always choose exercises that work multiple joints at the same time.
  • Injury Prevention: Lunges are important for both strengthening and injury prevention. They work multiple muscles across the hips, knees, and ankle joints at the same time.
  • Core Stability: They also challenge upper body core stability in unilateral movement patterns.

How to Do Lunges in General

 

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Step forward longer than a walking stride so that one leg is ahead of your torso and the other is behind. Your foot should land flat and remain flat while it’s on the ground. Your rear heel should rise off of the ground. 
  3. Bend your knees to approximately 90 degrees as you lower yourself. Remember to keep your trunk upright and core engaged. 
  4. Then, forcefully push off from your front leg to return to the starting position. 

Your lead knee should not go past your toes as you lower toward the ground. Your rear knee should not touch the ground. Aim to keep your hips symmetrical (at the same height, without dropping the hip of your back leg or hiking the hip of your front leg).

Contract your abdominals to help keep your trunk upright.

Keep your feet hip-width apart during the landing and return. Now that you know how to do lunges in general, it is time to try out the Smith machine lunge.

Smith Machine Lunge Instructions 

 

  1. Set up in a Smith machine with the bar on your traps in a split stance position. 
  2. Descend by flexing both knees simultaneously and continue until your back knee touches the ground directly beneath your hip. 
  3. Drive through your front foot and extend your knee to return to the starting position. 
  4. Repeat for your desired number of repetitions. 

If you want to emphasize the quads during these Smith machine exercises, take a smaller split stance and drive up through the ball of the foot.

If you want to emphasize the glutes and hamstrings, take a larger split stance and drive up through the heel of your foot. You may find it better to allow for slightly more torso lean throughout the drill as this will help load your front leg more effectively as you lift the Smith machine bar.

You will find this movement similar to a Smith machine squat.

When doing both exercises, if the front leg keeps collapsing as you reverse from the eccentric position to the concentric position, attach a band to a rack, loop one end around your knee, and allow it to pull you into a slight valgus position. 

Once you can get in that position, you can then push out against the band to engage the glute and keep yourself in a more neutral position. You don’t need to feel like you have to be completely upright as you complete the movement. However, you should have a slight forward lean as you keep your lumbar spine neutral.

Variations of the Lunge

There are multiple lunge variations. Each variation works the same muscles but places a little more emphasis on certain areas compared with other areas. You can perform a different version of each workout or combine different variations to add an extra level of variety and challenge to your workout. 

Static Lunge 

 

The static lunge, also known as the split squat, involves neither the step out nor the return step. Thus, it can be easier to perform for people with knee pain. Like the forward lunge, the emphasis is on the medial and lateral quadriceps muscles.

To do the static lunge: 

  1. Stand in a split stance position with your feet hip-width apart and one foot in front of the other. Your back heel will be off of the ground. 
  2. Lower yourself toward the ground by bending your knees to a 90-degree angle. 
  3. Initiating the movement from your glutes and then firing into the quadriceps to straighten the knee, push into both feet, and return to the upright position. 

To make this exercise an advanced plyometric exercise, try doing it as a jumping lunge.

From the bottom of your lunge, explosively push off of both of your feet, switch them in mid-air, and land in a lunge with the opposite foot in front. Jumping lunges are very difficult, so consult your personal trainer first.

Smith Machine Reverse Lunge 

 

The Smith machine reverse lunge (or rear lunge) is performed just as the forward-stepping lunge, except your rear foot is the one that moves. Because the motion of the exercise is backward through space, there’s less emphasis on the quadriceps muscles and more emphasis on the gluteals and hamstrings. This means there is less impact on your knees.

To do the smith machine reverse lunge: 

  1. Start in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Step backward longer than a walking stride so one leg remains ahead of your torso and the other behind it. Your back foot should land at the ball of your foot with your heel lifted. 
  3. Bend your knees to approximately 90 degrees as you lower yourself. Remember to keep your trunk upright and your hips level. 
  4. Forcefully push off from the ball of the back foot to return to the starting position. 

Lateral Lunge 

 

The lateral lunge involves a step out to the side instead of forward or back. Because of this lateral movement pattern, the inside groin muscles (the adductors) are more active in this variation than in the other types of lunges. It also emphasizes the medial quadriceps.

To do the lateral lunge: 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Step out wide to the side while keeping your other foot flat. Bend your “stepping” knee while keeping the other knee straight. Your body will hinge forward slightly, and your shoulders will be slightly ahead of your knee compared to when you do forward and backward lunges. 
  3. Forcefully push off from your foot to return to the starting position.

Walking Lunge 

 

The walking lunge is usually done as you are walking forward, but it can also be done walking backward. It puts a greater emphasis on the glute muscles, medial quadriceps, and hamstring muscles.

To do walking lunges: 

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Step forward and bend both knees, lowering until your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Shift forward onto the lead leg.
  4. Push off on both legs and step through, lifting your back leg and bringing it forward so your rear foot lands ahead of you in a lunge position. 
  5. Shift forward again and repeat. 

One variation of the walking lunge is to lunge forward, but instead of stepping through with the rear foot, you step it forward to land parallel to the lead foot, straightening both legs. This returns you to the starting position. Then you can alternate and step forward with the opposite foot. This version is easier and requires less balance than the version in which you step through. 

Lunges With Weights

If you decide to  add any weight to your lunges,start light. This is most important when performing a lunge that involves stepping out away from your center of gravity.

To add weight, you have a few options:

  • You can do it with kettlebells
  • You can hold two dumbbells
  • You can hold a barbell across your shoulders (called a barbell lunge)
  • You can also hold one dumbbell in the opposite hand as the lead leg. (This adds emphasis to the upper gluteal muscles, as well as the oblique muscles to stabilize the trunk.)
  • and much more

The lunge is a good way to work the lower body muscles because there are so many variations.

You can also add weight to increase the difficulty level and work your trunk muscles more. The variations allow you to scale the exercise according to whether you are a beginner or a more experienced lifter. Simply include this movement in your leg day exercise program and try out as many of the variations as you can. 

Post Workout Recovery

Doing lunges carefully and methodically like this can really lead to some impressive results.

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