Photograph: Glen Burrows
The lunge, and indeed the reverse lunge, are fantastic lower-body exercises, but they have one serious flaw – they only require you to move forwards and backwards. That’s a problem since sometimes you’re required to move sideways, because life doesn’t always come at you head on.
As well as enlisting a couple of extra muscles on your inner and outer thighs that the forwards-and-backwards lunges can’t reach, the side lunge will also improve sports performance – you’ll be jinking around defenders like Lionel Messi and leaping to make astonishing diving catches like Jonty Rhodes in no time. (We’ll concede the former South African cricketer is not quite as famous as Lionel Messi, but hot damn was he one hell of a fielder. The man must have been side lunging 24/7.)
The main muscles worked by the side lunge are the quads and glutes, as is the case with the standard and reverse lunge, but the extra focus on the inner and outer thighs means it’s an exercise you should have in your repertoire even if you have no intention of playing sports because it will contribute to the functional strength of your lower body.
How To Do The Side Lunge
Start by standing tall with your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart. Your back should be straight and your weight on your heels. Take a big step to the side and, ensuring you keep your torso as upright as possible, lower until the knee of your leading leg is bent at around 90°, keeping your trailing leg straight. Push back up and return to the starting position.
The most common form issue with a side lunge is to collapse over the straight knee. Focus on bending and lowering from the hips, with your back straight and core engaged, as with a squat. Also make sure you’re keeping the heels of both feet on the floor as you lower.
You can do several side lunges on one leg then switch sides, or alternate legs. Shoot for 20 side lunges on each leg in total, or build them into a timed circuits routine.
Once you’re comfortable with the movement, the best way to increase the difficulty is to hold a dumbbell in each hand. Keep your arms hanging straight with the dumbbells in front of you as you move, but don’t let them pull your torso down and out of position while lunging.
Leaping Side Lunge
Adding in the leap between lunges also ramps up the cardio benefits of the exercise – and then there’s also the demands of maintaining good form throughout the movement, so your core strength should benefit all the more.
Start by standing with your feet together. Take a large stride out to the right and squat on that side with your bodyweight over your right knee, which should be bent at a 90-degree angle. Your left leg should be straight. So far, you’ve just followed the classic side lunge technique, but from here it gets funky. Instead of simply stepping your right foot back into the middle, you leap, moving your right leg back and then straightening it as you lunge out over your left side.
Continue to alternate lunges on each side, jumping between them for either three sets of 20 reps, or using them within a high-intensity interval circuit to ensure your heart rate stays sky high. Aim to land softly and move smoothly throughout – and part of the challenge is keeping your balance.