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Dumbbell Lunge: Muscles Worked, Form, Variations and Mistakes

Want to build big, strong legs? Give the dumbbell lunge a try!


Fit and athletic man doing dumbbell lunge to grow leg muscles

The dumbbell lunge is one of the best exercises you can do for your lower body, and is great for building both functional strength and muscle mass.


It's a very useful exercise due to its versatility and minimal equipment requirements, and is definitely an exercise that you should be looking to incorporate into your workouts!


In this post we'll go over exactly how to do the dumbbell lunge, as well as the form for this exercise, some variations ad finally common mistakes that people make when performing this exercise.


How to Do the Dumbbell Lunge


The dumbbell lunge is a relatively simple exercise to perform.


Basically, it's a big step forwards with a focus on using your lower body muscles to stand yourself back up.


Here's how to do it:


  1. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, and a dumbbell in each hand.

  2. Inhale, then take a big step forwards and go down until your front leg is parallel to the ground. Ideally, your knees should stack on top of your ankles.

  3. Catch yourself with the front leg and really try to feel the tension on your legs.

  4. Press yourself up by thinking about forcefully driving your front foot forwards and down into the ground (exhale as you press yourself back up)

  5. Try to use your rear foot as little as possible.

  6. Return to the starting position (standing upright with the dumbbells in your hands).

  7. Repeat for the other leg, and then repeat for desired number of reps.


Check out the video below by Extreme Fitness for an awesome demonstration!



Muscles Worked During the Dumbbell Lunge


It should be pretty clear already, but the dumbbell lunge is an exercise that works the muscles of the lower body.


This includes the:


  • quadriceps

  • glutes

  • hamstrings

  • calves.

Additionally, you'll also get some core activation as you have to stabilize yourself and keep in that split-legged stance.


This stabilization role makes the dumbbell lunge a very popular exercise for competitive athletes to use during their strength and conditioning workouts.


It's pretty tough to balance yourself on this exercise, especially when you're carrying external weights!


And on top of that, the dumbbell lunge is also going to work your forearms and improve your grip strength as you hold onto the dumbbells for extended periods of time.


This is going to come in extremely handy when you perform other exercises such as the deadlift or pull up, where having a strong grip is vital to performing the exercise well.


So while the dumbbell lunge does primarily work the lower body muscles, it's actually great at hitting lots of the other muscles across the body.


It's an incredibly athletic exercise that anybody would have lots to take away from.


Dumbbell Lunge Variations


The dumbbell lunge has a couple of variations that you can do as alternatives to this exercise for one reason or another.


Here they are below.


Bodyweight Lunges


The first and probably most straightforward variation of the dumbbell lunge would be the bodyweight lunge.


This is an exercise that many exercise beginners will start off doing to build up some foundational strength in their lower bodies.


Essentially, it's a small step down from the dumbbell lunge.


They're identical exercises, only one has external resistance to add an extra challenge for the lower body, and one is more geared for beginners learning the basic form of the exercise.


Lunge Jumps


The lunge jump is a more explosive variation of the dumbbell lunge, and can be done either with dumbbells, or just with your own bodyweight if you're not strong enough to do it with external resistance yet.


This is an exercise that lots of athletes will do to build functional strength and power, as it's an exercise that has great applications to lots of competitive sports of all sorts.


You might see lots of rowers, rugby players, basketball players, sprinters and other athletes doing exercises like this (or very similar to this).


By having to push yourself off the ground and into the air, you're going to recruit more muscle mass for each rep that you do and train your body to be able to produce more force, at a faster rate.


Dumbbell Reverse Lunges


Female athlete doing dumbbell lunges to build muscle in her lower body

Dumbbell reverse lunges are another great variation of the dumbbell lunge that work you through yet another similar range of motion.


However instead of stepping forwards and pressing yourself back up with your front foot, you step backwards and produce the force with your rear foot.


This variation is going to target your glutes and hamstrings a little more than the quadriceps, due to the fact that it doesn't take you through as much of a knee extension as the forwards lunge does.


The reverse lunge also generally causes trainees to learn forwards a little more (to help with balance), which is going to shift more of the emphasis onto the hips, hamstrings and glutes.


Many people also find that the reverse lunge has a lower bar for entry than the forwards lunge does.


Compared to the forwards lunge, the reverse lunge is much easier to learn and also doesn't require as much of a skill component to master the technique and balance yourself.


For this reason, many beginners will actually start off doing reverse lunges over forwards lunges (and don't worry, these can be done with both dumbbells and barbells as well).


Barbell Lunges


The barbell lunge is another great variation of the dumbbell lunge that's essentially the same movement, and only changes the type of weight that you're lifting.


By using a barbell instead of a dumbbell, you're likely going to find that you're able to lift a little heavier and/or do more reps with the weight that you're using.


By having all of the weight in one piece, it's easier for you to balance the external weight and therefore produce more force.


You aren't going to activate the stabilization muscles as much, but you're going to be able to stimulate the primary muscle groups a little more.


Dumbbell Walking Lunges


The dumbbell walking lunge is a great variation to the regular lunge that's going to challenge your balance and athleticism a little bit more.


Since you're actively 'walking' whilst carrying some extra weight, this is a very functional exercise that directly applies to lots of everyday activities such as walking, running, standing up, and more.


In terms of muscles worked, this variation is sort of a mix between a forwards lunge and a reverse lunge.


You're going to need to do both large amounts of knee extension as well as some hip hinging to stay balanced. This is going to recruit all the muscles of the lower body pretty well.


Out of all the variations, the dumbbell walking lunge is probably the most athletic variation with the most useful applications.




Common Mistakes During the Dumbbell Lunge


As with all exercises, there are some common mistakes that people make, which could end up costing them some serious gains in the long run if these mistakes aren't dealt with.


Here are a couple of the most common.


Thinking That Your Knees Can't Go Over Your Toes


Athletic woman does lunges in active clothing

Many sources online will tell you that you must refrain from having your knees go over your toes when you squat or lunge, as it places excessive and dangerous amounts of force on your knee joints.


However, this is not the case at all. This is just a myth that's been passed down from generation to generation.


In fact, according to Chris Cooper who spoke on livestrong.com, squatting or lunging actually doesn't cause knee pain at all.


This discomfort is most likely caused by muscle imbalances in the lower body, or insufficient ankle mobility.


We did some digging, and found several other credible sources such as squatuniversity.com, acefitness.org and Athlean X all support this idea that tracking your knees over your toes is a good thing to do during squats and lunges.


Don't be afraid of this myth!



Making 'Combo' Exercises


Exercises that consist a combination of two or more smaller exercises are known as 'combo' exercises.


And for the most part, these are a complete waste of time.


You can read more about why this is the case at our blog article here.


What's more, the lunge has become one of the most popular exercises to include in other 'combo' exercise, with lots of people doing bicep curls on top of them, shoulder presses, lateral raises and more.


This is one of the biggest mistakes you can make with the dumbbell lunge, that could end up costing you A LOT of gains in the long run if you're not careful.


Just stick to lunges, and don't try to add anything fancy.


Stepping Too Far Out


Stepping too far out in front of you is also a mistake that we see lots of trainees make when they first begin.


If you place your front foot too far forwards, you're going to cut your range of motion down slightly and reduce the amount of knee extension that you do.


This is going to have a big impact on the stimulation of muscle growth in your lower body, as it's been scientifically proven that training through a full range of motion is going to be superior for muscle growth.


A study conducted by Brad Schoenfeld concluded that: "When assessing the current body of literature, it can be inferred that performing RT through a full ROM confers beneficial effects on hypertrophy of the lower body musculature versus training with a partial ROM."


And from this we can train with confidence knowing that taking yourself through a full range of motion is going to be the best choice for developing our lower body muscles.


Using the Rear Leg Too Much


During the dumbbell lunge, it's also common to see lots of people using their rear legs a little too much when they're pressing themselves back up.


This is the wrong way to do it, as the whole point of a forwards lunge is to shift more of the weight onto one leg at a time (the leg in front), and emphasize knee extension to press yourself back up.


You're just going to be drawing attention away from the front leg and lessening the effectiveness of the exercise that you're doing.


Wrapping It Up



The dumbbell lunge is a great exercise that trainees and athletes of any kind could look to include into their programs for some awesome lower body development.


It's important that you understand the muscles you're working during this exercise and also take the time to learn the proper form for this movement, so that you can make the most out of each rep that you do on the dumbbell lunge.


And watch out for the common mistakes that we see so many people making! We'd hate for you to miss out on gains because you didn't know about them.


Do you currently perform the dumbbell lunge in your workout program?


Let us know down in the comments section below!

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