Here’s something most of us can agree on: Lunges are awful. No matter the type of lunges you are doing side lunge, reverse lunge, forward lunge. Very few people jump for joy when it’s time to do lunges —even less are able to jump afterward because of the exercise’s brutality. Like downing bad-tasting cough medicine, you just get it over with, and afterward you’ll look and feel better.
Forward and reverse lunges are staples in many workout programs and are great for strengthening imbalance between sides, improving balance, and making your glutes pop. But among all this lunging fun, the side lunge is often overlookked. Why? Because it’s hard, and side lunges have you moving in a different plane of motion than your standard lunge, the lateral or frontal plane.
But strengthening your body in the frontal plane improves side-to-side movement, leads to better muscle development, and may reduce your chances of picking up the dreaded groin strain.
Here we’ll dive into all things side lunge for your lunging pleasure.
What is a Side Lunge?
A lateral or side lunge is a frontal-plane unilateral exercise involving a side step. The reverse and forward lunge consists of a step back or forward in the sagittal plane, but the side lunge consists in stepping to the side and turns this lunge into a mobility and strength exercise.
Mobility because the nonworking leg is straight, which stretches and mobilizes the adductors or groin muscle. Plus, strength because the working leg trains the adductors, glutes, and quads. Once you have mastered body weight, you can load this exercise in various ways for lateral strength and muscle.
How to Do a Side Lunge
- Stand in good posture with your feet together, and your toes pointed forward.
- Take one big step to the side with your left leg.
- Push back into your left hip while keeping your right leg straight with your toes pointed forward.
- You should feel a stretch in your right groin muscle.
- Push your left foot through the floor and return to the feet together position.
- Either alternate sides or do all the reps on one side and repeat on the other.
Side Lunge Muscles Worked
Almost all lunge variations train the same muscles but just from different angles depending on the version of the lunge you perform. With the side lunge, your lateral muscles are more involved due to the increased stability demands of stepping to the side. Here are the significant muscles trained by the side lunge.
- Gluteus Maximus, medius and minimus
- Calves (gastrocnemius and soleus)
These muscles work concentrically and eccentrically to get in and out for the side lunge.
- Transverse abdominis
- Erector spinae
The core muscles work to prevent flexion and extension of the spine and to prevent rotation of the torso when stepping to the side.
Benefits of Performing Side Lunges
The sagittal plane is great because it’s where many gains happen. But sleeping on the frontal(lateral) plane is a mistake. Your body is a three-dimensional machine, and you should train like it.
- Your Groin Will Thank You: Strengthening and mobilizing the adductors with the side lunge will better prevent groin strains. A review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015 concluded that a lack of adductor strength was one of the most common risk factors for groin strains.
- Improved Lateral Movement: Strengthening the adductors and the smaller glute muscles of the medius and minimus when training the side lunge will condition your body better for lateral movement. If your sport involves moving lateral movement, then training it will only make it better. When you strengthen the lateral movement, you will also increase your stability going forwards and backward.
- Better Knee Health: Nobody likes sore knees; if you’re an athlete or avid runner, you will do anything to keep your knees healthy. Having strong and flexible adductors play a vital role in hip and knee stability, minimizing lateral movement of the knee joint where the knee can get into trouble. Plus, having strong glutes, particularly the medius, and minimus, helps prevent knee valgus, where ligament injuries can sometimes happen.
- Stronger Squats And Deadlifts: When you strengthen the body in the lateral or frontal plane, you‘ll reinforce your lateral stabilizers (like obliques, glute med, and mini). Doing so means fewer energy leaks ( lateral flexion), leading to better performance and stronger squats and deadlifts.
Common Side Lunge Mistakes
Side lunges need strength and mobility to perform them, and if you have never done them before, stepping laterally is more complex than stepping forwards or backward. So, it is best, to begin with body weight before adding load.
Plus, the range of motion will vary because the adductors may be ‘tight,” which reduces hip mobility. But over time, this will improve when you regularly perform side lunges and mobility exercises focusing on the inner thighs. The moral of this story is don’t force any range of motion you don’t have.
Here are some things to watch out for when performing side lunges.
- Watch Your Feet: Keeping both feet and toes pointed forward throughout the exercise is vital for good alignment and properly engages all three glute muscles. If you see your feet bowing out, ensure you adjust them during the set.
- Don’t Bend the Non-Working Leg: Our body like to follow the path of least resistance, and bending the training leg makes this exercise easier. But doing so means all the adductor benefits go bye-bye. Ensure that you extend the training leg knee throughout your set.
- Keep the Torso Front-On: When stepping laterally, there can be a tendency to rotate the trunk to achieve a great ROM. Instead, while sinking into your side lunge, think about growing taller instead of rotating.
- Get In Step: If you step too wide, you’ll turn it into a circus trick, and if your step is too narrow, this will drive your knee too far over your toes. Ensure your foot, ankle, knee, and hip are in line. If unsure, perform it in front of the mirror to check alignment.
Unilateral exercises like the side lunge are ideal for strengthening imbalances, reducing injury risk, and improving muscle development between sides. They are not suitable for heavier weights and low reps. Nobody cares what your 1 RM for the side lunge is.
Side lunges, like most other lunge variations, are an excellent accessory exercise to perform after your big strength movement for the day to shore up imbalances and improve muscle and strength between sides. Although muscles are built across various rep ranges, training the side lunge between six to 15 reps per side works well.
Pairing it in a superset with core or upper body exercises is a great start. For example
1A. Goblet Side Lunge: 10-15 reps on each side.
1B. Half-Kneeling Shoulder Press:S 8-12 reps on each side.
Top 3 Side Lunge Variations
When you have the body weight side lunge down, take these variations and alternatives out for a spin to add to your inner thigh and glute goodness.