As a personal trainer I am frequently asked how does the walking lunge differ from the stationary lunge – is one better than the other for leg development?
Answer: The walking lunge works the same muscles as the stationary lunge, but the emphasis and involvement of those muscles differs significantly between these two popular leg movements. Incorporate both variations into your leg routine to avoid plateaus in muscle growth and keep your training fresh.
The lunge is a great movement for developing the thighs and strengthening the hips. Lunges target two primary muscles groups:
1) the hip extensors, comprising of the gluteal muscles (glutes) and hamstrings
2) the knee extensors, made up of the four muscles collectively known as the quadriceps. The muscles used in the lunge are the same as those utilized in the squat, but the lunge provides greater range of motion, allowing more substantial glute and hamstring development.
Bodybuilders are known to sometimes neglect less obvious muscle groups, especially as they become so focused on training the larger and more noticeable ones. The hip adductors (inner thigh) and abductors (outer thigh) are prime examples of overlooked muscle groups. Although they’re relatively small and barely visible, they add to hip stability and overall thigh mass and are critical to athletic performance. Lunges contribute significantly to their development.
The downward phase of the stationary lunge involves strong eccentric contraction of the glutes, hams and quads as your body is slowly lowered, its weight almost entirely supported by the forward leg. The trailing leg is not significantly involved, except for support and balance. On the way up, the glutes, hams and quads of your forward leg contract concentrically, straightening your leg and returning you to the upright position. At the same time, the glutes, hams and quads of the trailing leg contract to pull your body up.
The walking lunge mirrors its stationary counterpart during the downward phase, both in execution and muscle involvement. Yet the upward phase is markedly different, particularly with respect to muscle recruitment. All emphasis shifts to the forward leg, with the glutes, hams and quads of the front leg contracting maximally.
Performing the walking lunge requires that you stand straight up, so you’re essentially doing a one-legged squat. The trailing leg is minimally involved, serving only to support and stabilize your body. The walking lunge hits all the muscles of the forward leg harder than the stationary lunge, but doesn’t involve the rear leg muscles much at all. Each leg is alternately used as you literally walk the floor, making the walking lunge the apparent lunge of choice for maximal thigh and hip development. Even so, the significantly different muscle recruitment of the stationary lunge is enough to warrant including it regularly in your leg program.
Duane DeJager, M.Ed., BPE, B.Ed.