Barbell lunges: The best compound exercise for lower-body muscles

Barbell lunges are a multi-joint exercise.  (Photo via Instagram/linniccarmotomami)
Barbell lunges are a multi-joint exercise (Photo via Instagram/linniccarmotomami)

Barbell lunges are a very powerful compound exercise that targets multiple muscle groups at once. This single-leg exercise not only strengthens the lower-body muscles but can also be used to boost your coordination, balance, and more.

This variation of the standard and bodyweight lunges requires a barbell and good strength throughout your lower-body muscles. Regular practice of barbell lunges will help you to strengthen and shape every muscle in your lower body while strengthening your core and a few upper-body muscles.

The barbell lunge can also be a great supplementary exercise to several other lower-body workouts, such as reverse lunges, split squats, deadlifts, and more.


Barbell lunge form and technique

Barbell lunges target several lower-body muscles (Photo via Instagram/thelookfitness)
Barbell lunges target several lower-body muscles (Photo via Instagram/thelookfitness)

Follow these instructions to do this lower-body exercise correctly:

  • Place a barbell between your upper back and trapezius muscles and stand straight with your feet positioned at a shoulder-width distance. Make sure to hold the barbell slightly wider than your shoulder distance.
  • With your core muscles engaged and back stable, take a large step forward with your right hand and lower yourself into a lunge position.
  • At the bottom, squeeze your glutes and maintain an upright torso position.
  • Now slowly stand back up by pushing your right foot into the floor and take a step back to return to the starting position.
  • From there, lunge down with your left leg forward while holding onto the barbell. Push your left foot to return to the initial position and repeat the exercise.

Barbell lunges muscles worked

When performed correctly, this exercise targets several muscles in the lower body, including:

  • hamstrings
  • calves
  • glutes
  • quadriceps
  • transverse abdominis
  • obliques erector spinae
Barbell lunges work on the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings (Photo via Pexels/Anna Shvets)
Barbell lunges work on the quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings (Photo via Pexels/Anna Shvets)

This weighted variation of lunges works eccentrically and concentrically to strengthen and stabilize the muscles of the lower body, particularly the hamstrings, quads, and glutes.

To make this exercise even more challenging, modify it to barbell walking lunges and see how it works for you. To do this variation, just continue to walk your feet alternatively for a few steps without stopping in between.

Keep in mind that walking lunges are a bit advanced variation and should only be attempted once you have improved your core and hip stability.


Key tips to remember

When doing barbell lunges, it is imperative to remember these tips to keep the movements simpler and more convenient:

  • While lunging, do not allow your knees to go beyond your toes. Doing so will put unnecessary stress on your knee joints and cause pain and discomfort.
  • Make sure to keep your back and head straight throughout the exercise, as this will help you maintain your balance.
  • Do not round your back or move your neck.
  • If you have mobility or balance issues, avoid this exercise, as it requires a great deal of both. If you still want to give it a try, however, start with a very light weight and use a squat rack for the exercise.
  • Always choose a weight that allows you to work through a full range of motion. Don’t opt for too heavyweight too quickly, especially if you are a beginner.
  • As you lunge with a barbell on your back, lower down until your front thigh gets almost parallel to the ground and your rear knee gets closer to the floor.
  • Bring your foot forward enough that it’s comfortable and allows you to maintain your balance.
Choose a light weight for barbell lunges (Photo via Pexels/Victor Freitas)
Choose a light weight for barbell lunges (Photo via Pexels/Victor Freitas)

Barbell lunges benefits

Lunges are a multi-joint or compound exercise that helps strengthen and tone several muscles in the lower body. This includes muscles such as the quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.

During a barbell lunge, your hip flexors get stretched, which as a result, improves their flexibility and prevents tightening of these muscles. Additionally, this exercise engages the core, which boosts its strength and stability, helps promote good posture, and prevents injuries.

The best thing about the barbell lunge is that it is a single-leg exercise that allows you to target one leg at a time and helps you work with each leg more independently.

This lunge variation engages the core muscles (Photo via Pexels/Mikhail Nilov)
This lunge variation engages the core muscles (Photo via Pexels/Mikhail Nilov)

Safety tips to keep in mind

If you have a lower-body injury, particularly a knee injury, consult your healthcare provider before starting with this exercise, as lunging can aggravate the pain and worsen your injury. Avoid barbell lunges if you are pregnant, or practice them without using weights.

If you are a beginner, do at least two sets of 10 reps and add weight according to your strength and capability. Intermediate and advanced exercisers may opt for heavier weights and increased reps if they want.

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Edited by Rachel Syiemlieh