Lunges are an effective lower body exercise that not only improve muscular strength and endurance, but also flexibility in the hips, knees and ankles. While lunges primarily target the gluteus maximus and quadriceps, they can also help strengthen the gluteus medius, which -- when weak -- can cause hip instability and lead to overuse injury, particularly in runners.
Walking lunges are one of the most common variations of the lunge. Using large steps will help isolate the gluteal muscles. Stand with your legs slightly apart. Keeping your torso as upright as possible, take a large step forward with your right leg. Flex your hips and knee to lower toward the floor until your front thigh reaches horizontal and your back knee nears the floor. Press through your right heel to extend your leg as you bring your left leg forward to return to the standing position. Immediately repeat the lunge with your left leg. Add weights to the walking lunge to make it more difficult.
The side lunge is effective for strengthening the gluteus medius due to the fact that you have to draw your leg away from your body, which happens to be the primary job of the muscle. Stand with your legs slightly apart, your back straight and abdomen stabilized. Take a large step to the right and transfer your weight onto your right leg. Bend your knee and hip to lower toward the floor until your right thigh is parallel to the floor and your left leg is nearly straight. Press through with your right heel to return to the standing position. Repeat the lunge to your left.
This lunge variation requires balance and flexibility in the hips. Stand with your legs slightly apart, torso tall, then take a large step back with your right leg. The larger the step, the greater the strength gains for the gluteus medius. Flex your knees and hips and lower yourself until your right knee touches the floor and your left thigh reaches horizontal. Press through your left heel to extend your hips and return to the standing position. Repeat the lunge with your left leg.
Plyometric lunges, also known as split jumps, are a challenging and dynamic variation of the lunge. These lunges will not only strengthen your glutes but also tax your cardiovascular system. Begin in a split-stance position with your torso tall, shoulders back and hands on your hips or together in front of your chest. Lower down into a lunge position then explosively jump upward. While airborne, scissor your legs so that the rear one moves to the front and the front one moves to the rear. Land back into a lunge position and immediately repeat the movement, continuing to alternate legs with every rep.
Jen Weir writes for several websites, specializing in the health and fitness field. She holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from Montana State University, is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist and maintains a personal trainer certification from the American College of Sports Medicine.