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How To Bias the Glutes and Quads With Walking Lunges

I love the walking lunge. It’s one of my favorite lower-body exercises for packing on mass and building strength. To be quite honest, I usually have more leg gains when programming heavier lunges more often than squats.

The walking lunge is awesome because there’s also the balance component that you have to focus on. So not only are you getting a sweet strength and hypertrophy stimulus, you’re also improving balance and athleticism while doing them.

How To Walking Lunge

Step 1: Start with the feet together

Stand with the feet together. Before your first rep, decide whether you’re going to step into each rep or step and bring the feet back together before moving into your next rep.

How To Do Walking Lunges Step 1

In general, stepping into each rep will be a little more advanced compared to standing back up with the feet together before starting your next rep. If you’re just getting into walking lunges, I’d suggest using the latter.

Step 2: Step and control your descent

Step outwards and ground the lead foot fully displacing your weight and balance evenly. Ideally, you want to lunge to a position where your front and back legs are around 90 degrees of flexion.

How To Do Walking Lunges Step 2 Descent

Absorb your weight and slowly lower yourself down to the ground and tap the knee or hover on the ground. I typically coach and prefer to do a light knee tap because it’s a cue for your next reps and it forces lifters to slow down their descent.

Note, your stance length can vary in length and the knees don’t need to be a perfect 90 degrees. Perform what feels most comfortable for you and I’ll discuss how changing stride length can bias different muscles below.

Step 3: Drive through the leg and step again

As you start to stand back up, think about keeping a majority of your weight on the front leg and evenly displacing your weight on the front foot. Drive the lead leg down through the floor.

How To Do Walking Lunges Step 3 Ascent and Next Reps

Think of the back leg as a secondary actor and if you want to get additional work for the back leg, think about lengthening the back quad and driving the heel backward during the descent and ascent. You should feel this back quad stretch.

As you step into your next rep, absorb the load once again and displace your weight evenly over the feet to maintain balance and consistency with your body positions. I like to cue, “stay over the front leg.”

The walking lunge involves starting with the feet together and then stepping forward into a lunge. Once your knee taps or hovers the ground you’ll step in your next rep hitting the opposite leg or stand up with the feet together before starting your next rep.

Walking Lunge Muscles Worked

The walking lunge is going to work a wide range of muscles on the legs. Primarily, you’ll be training the quads, glutes, and adductors, and you’ll also train stabilizers of the hips and hamstrings.

What Muscles Do Walking Lunges Train?

Walking Lunge Muscles Worked

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Adductors
  • Hamstrings
  • Gastrocnemius (calves)

*bolded indicates a higher degree of involvement

With walking lunges, it’s important to recognize that you can change “how much” you’re hitting different muscles by changing how you’re loading this exercise and how you’re performing reps.

How To Do Walking Lunges for Quads

I love programming variability within certain exercises, especially when the goal is hypertrophy. By changing joint angles with a little more strategy we can do things like quad-biased walking lunges.

This is great because you don’t have to necessarily program or add more exercises to your workout to achieve the goals you’re after. For quad-biased walking lunges you’re going to want to focus on two key elements.

How To Do Walking Lunges for Quads

Quad-Biased Walking Lunges

  1. First: You’ll want to shorten your stance slightly. By doing this, you’ll naturally create more forward knee translation over the toes which will result in greater lengthening of the quads which will result in more stress which can correlate to more gains.
  2. Second: You want to focus on really staying over the front leg when standing up. I like to cue, “Feel the ground with the big toe.” This will typically result in more intent of staying over the front leg and really utilizing the quads to stand up.
  3. Bonus: Try using an anterior load or dumbbells for biasing the quads. I find that these loading styles typically allow for easier quad loading.

If you find that your heel is lifting off the ground when doing quad-biased walking lunges then try using weightlifting shoes. Their heel elevation can help support the mechanics you’re after without changing too much.

Testing the Velaasa Strake Weightlifting Shoes for leg days

With specific variations like this, don’t be afraid to play with different positions based on what “feels” best for you regarding working the quads. How you load these can also play a role in your quad-building efficiency.

How To Do Walking Lunges for Glutes

To bias the glutes in the walking lunge we’re going to want to focus on your hip and torso angle and you’re loading this exercise. These two factors can play a huge role in how you’re loading and stretching the glutes.

When trying to manipulate hitting muscles like the glutes there are consistencies that carry over from exercise to exercise. In this context, we want more hip flexion as that will give us “more” regarding the glute max.

How To Do Walking Lunges for Glutes

Glute-Biased Walking Lunges

  1. First: You’ll want to lean forward a little more and take a slightly longer stance when your goal is biasing the glutes. Don’t fold over with the torso. Think pocket knife and lean forward with a relatively neutral torso position.
  2. Second: When driving through the front leg, think about biasing a little bit of your weight and intent through the posterior lateral heel. This can help cue more glutes at times with this lunge variation.
  3. Bonus: Doing variations like barbell walking lunges and safety squat bar walking lunges can be awesome for naturally biasing the glutes as they’ll typically result in you leaning forward a little more naturally.

Testing the Nike Metcon 9 for Leg Day

Walking Lunge Benefits

When clients and athletes ask me “why” we’re doing so many walking lunges, I’ll usually give them three reasons or walking lunge benefits to help contextualize why we’re doing them.

Benefit 1: Great for Overall Leg Strength and Mass

The first walking lunge benefit is that they can be great for building overall leg strength. You’ll be training the legs almost in their entirety when doing walking lunge reps so it’s a good “bang for your buck” exercise.

On top of this, you can typically perform them at slightly higher volumes so they’re great for accruing a lot of quality leg work when your goals revolve around building your leg mass and strength.

Me testing the Nike Free Metcon 5 for lunges

I also like that reps can vary slightly as you perform sets and get more fatigued so you may find that you’re training the stabilizing muscles more deeper into sets in a strategic means. There’s power in meaningful and slight form deviations, at times.

Benefit 2: Real World and Sports Carryover

Another benefit of walking lunges is that they can have some serious benefits for real-world scenarios and sports performance. The ability to balance, be strong, and produce power on one leg can greatly influence our daily lives.

For example, I would argue that if you’re strong on one leg then you’ll be a lot more dynamic with your performance in all realms of life. Additionally, high levels of single-leg strength will also have positive benefits for bilateral contexts.

How To Reverse Lunge Step 2

I think another underappreciated real-world benefit of walking lunges is that they could be useful for contexts where you might find yourself falling. The ability to quickly move out one leg to catch yourself can have some serious long-term benefits.

Benefit 3: Help Mitigate Spinal Loading While Training Legs

The final benefit of walking lunges is that they can be awesome primary exercises for workouts when you want to limit overall spinal also referred to as loading. 

If I have a client who just came out of a heavy back squat or front squat training block, I’ll often program walking lunges instead of these exercises because we can accrue an awesome amount of quality work and limit some neural fatigue.

Reverse Lunge Guide and Foot Placement

In addition, single-leg work can often benefit overall performance by limiting potential muscle imbalances, as this exercise will expose some of these.

If you’ve only been training bilateral squat movement patterns and you’re feeling a little burnt out, then it might be time to program a block or two of walking lunges. Report back how awesome you feel after these training blocks.

Walking Lunge Mistakes

Without overcomplicating walking lunges and shouting a bunch of “potential” mistakes at you I think there are two common mistakes that you’ll want to keep in mind and avoid.

Mistake 1: Rushing Reps, Slamming the Knee

The first mistake is rushing your walking lunge reps and slamming your knee on the ground. With walking lunges, there is a ton of benefit to executing them with a nice slow tempo.

Lunge Versus Split Squat differences

Far too often, I see beginner lifters rush reps and slam their knee on the ground just to move more weight. This is problematic because it can take away from the efficiency in how you’re loading your exercise and it can lead to knee discomfort.

When in doubt, think about using a 2-4 second eccentric tempo and either lightly tap the knee on the ground or hover it if you feel more comfortable doing this.

Mistake 2: Stepping With the Feet Directly Inline With One Another

Another walking lunge mistake that I see lifters make all of the time involves stepping with the feet right in line with one another. You want to stagger the feet slightly so you feel comfortable and balanced with your reps.

Walking Lunge Mistake Foot Alignment

You do not want to perform walking lunges like you’re on a tightrope as this can lead to weird mechanics and it can take away from how you’re efficiently performing this exercise. The photo above is how I like to naturally stagger my feet for walking lunges.

If you’re having trouble conceptualizing this, stand with your feet together then fall forward and catch yourself on one leg. Pay attention to the nature of that leg and foot’s position as this is likely a comfortable position you’ll want to perform your walking lunges in.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What are walking lunges good for?

Walking lunges are great for building the quads, glutes, and adductors. They also have benefit for training the stabilizers of the legs and hips and can have carry over to sports and real-world scenarios.

Are walking lunges better than squats?

Whether a walking lunge is better than a squat will depend on the context of their use. If your goal is building dynamic single-leg strength then the walking lunge could be better than the squat. However, both are great, it just depends on the context of use.

What is the difference between walking lunges and lunges?

A walking lunge involves on going steps whereas a normal lunge also referred to as a forward lunge will return you to your starting position. For example, with the forward lunge you step out then back up and return to your same starting position.

Why are walking lunges so difficult?

Walking lunges can feel difficult because they require an additional level of balance when moving from rep to rep. Additionally, they can require a good amount of work which can leave you feeling winded and taxed after sets.

Takeaway Thoughts

The walking lunge is a great lower-body exercise for all types of lifters and athletes. This exercise is extremely dynamic and it comes with a ton of benefits.

Whether you’re just starting out your lifting journey or you’re looking to change up your leg day, the walking lunge deserves a look in the context of your programming for your training goals.

If you need additional help with walking lunges and programming them, drop a comment below or reach out via Instagram (@jake_boly or @that_fit_friend).

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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