Last updated on March 8th, 2023 at 06:03 pm
Are you looking to take your leg day workouts to the next level?
More specifically, would you like to produce muscular and sculpted quads without a barbell back squat in sight?
If so, check out the following 5 quad-focused lunge variations.
Lunges will primarily target the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. However, if you want your lunges to be more quad dominant then use the following 5 variations:
- Forward Lunges
- Walking Lunges
- Front-Loaded Lunges
- Static Lunge/Split Squat
- Bulgarian Split Squat
Table of Contents
The traditional forward lunge is actually a quad-dominant movement.
Granted, you’ll also work the glutes and hamstrings, but you’ll definitely be hitting the quads harder.
In fact, this is something I discussed when comparing forward lunges to reverse lunges.
That being said, there are a number of ways you can activate the quads even more during forward lunges.
Firstly, with most lunge variations your torso should be leaning forward ever so slightly.
But, don’t overdo it, a forward torso angle of 10-20 degrees will suffice.
Plus, it’s not great for your lower back either.
The same can be said for leaning back during lunges which will place undue stress on the lower back once more.
That being said, the more you lean forward during lunges the more you’ll activate the glutes.
So, be wary of torso angle during forward lunges.
The next tip to make forward lunges more quad-dominant is to take shorter steps.
Basically, shorter forward steps during lunges will target the quads more, whereas a longer stride will activate the glutes and hamstrings to greater effect.
However, you also need to be wary of your knee position when taking a shorter stride.
Personally, I don’t subscribe to the “knees should never pass the toes” theory when it comes to squats and lunges.
In fact, the greater knee flexion you have during these exercises the more you’ll hit the quads.
But, if you have a history of knee issues and/or poor ankle mobility it’s advisable not to take your knees past your toes.
This being the case you should maintain as vertical a shin angle as possible.
But still, reducing the length of your stride will definitely hit your quads much harder.
Push Through Your Heel
Now, you have a choice of pushing through the balls of your feet or your heel when it comes to returning to the starting position.
You’d initially think that pushing through the toes and balls of your feet would activate the quads more.
But realistically, once in the lunge position you are supporting yourself with the toes of the back foot and the heel of the front foot.
This is why it makes more sense to push through your heel when returning to the starting position.
The fact that your torso isn’t leaning excessively forward and you’re taking shorter steps is enough to activate the quads.
Slow the Lunge Down
I often see trainees performing lunges at a high speed.
This is absolutely fine if you’re lunging for conditioning purposes or even as part of a circuit or HIIT workout.
However, if you really want to activate the quads more, allow them enough time to engage by slowing the movement down.
Finally, ensure that you really squeeze and contract the quads of the front (lunging) leg as you push yourself back up.
I would hazard a guess that most people look at walking lunges as being more glute dominant.
Plus, due to the constant forward motion walking lunges are far more cardio-focused too.
This is actually very true, and the longer steps that you generally take with walking lunges will definitely activate the glutes to a greater extent.
That being said, it is the constant motion of walking lunges that can really fire up your quads.
Now, you can perform walking lunges by “stopping” after each rep.
What I mean by this is that you lunge forward and then bring your trailing leg alongside your front leg before striding out with the trailing leg first this time.
Yes, this is a form of walking lunge, but those few seconds where you allow yourself to “relax” by bringing your feet together takes a lot of the muscular stress off the exercise.
If you really want to get your quads more involved (as well as your glutes and hamstrings too) you should perform walking lunges continuously without bringing your feet together.
So, you would take a stride forward with your left leg, drop into the lunge, and then bring your right leg straight past the left and out in front of you.
Then simply continue “walking” in this way until your desired reps are completed.
You’ll immediately find the movement much harder and it won’t be long before you feel that burning sensation in your quads.
Loading weight at the front of the body is one of my favourite ways to perform lunges.
In fact, it’s one of my favourite ways to perform any exercise that allows for front-loading.
If you think about it we all typically perform lunges in the same way, a barbell across the back of your shoulders or holding dumbbells at your side.
This is absolutely fine, but you can definitely kick things up a notch by having a weight out in front of you.
Not only will this activate your quads better, but it is absolutely fantastic for your core.
In fact, I would credit much of ab definition to performing exercises like goblet squats and front rack carries.
So, when it comes to front-loaded lunges you get two for the price of one, great quads and great abs.
Furthermore, front-loaded lunges require you to keep your torso more upright in order to support your lower back.
So, once again, this activates your quads and core even more.
Think about the difference in torso position and how much you feel your quads when you perform front squats compared to back squats.
The same principle applies to lunges.
There are a number of ways in which to perform front-loaded lunges.
Plus, you can use various equipment too.
The main ways to hold the weight would be in the goblet position, front rack, or zercher (in the crooks of your elbow).
And I’ve personally used medicine balls, sandbags, dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells to perform all these variations.
Additionally, if you want to turn this into a fantastic conditioning and fat-burning workout you can incorporate front-loaded walking lunges.
I can guarantee that not only will your quads be on fire, but so will your lungs.
Static Lunges/Split Squats
For a long while I avoided static lunges, wrongly assuming that they were a regression, and easier variation of lunges.
While this may be true to some extent, boy did they give me a fantastic quad workout the first time I tried them.
A static lunge simply involves getting into a split stance, hence why they are also referred to as split squats.
Realistically, this isn’t actually a lunge exercise because you’re not actually lunging, but rather your feet remain fixed in the same position throughout your set.
But still, what a great exercise for your quads.
You can actually activate the quads even more by once more shortening your stride.
In fact, if you have good knee health and ankle mobility I see nothing wrong with having an extremely short stride and allowing your knees to shoot over your toes with each rep.
Trust me, this will get those quads burning, but be wary of any knee pain or discomfort.
If you do start feeling your knees then lengthen your stride to something more conventional.
Bulgarian Split Squats
Finally is the Bulgarian split squat.
In my mind, this is one of the greatest lower body exercises there is.
In fact, I have previously gone through times where I have completely replaced barbell squats with the Bulgarian split squat.
For me, I found it gave me better quad and glute activation, as well as being easier on the knees and lower back.
Plus, the fact that you’re working one leg at a time helps you to better train for balance and coordination.
Much the same as some of the other lunge variations I’ve mentioned, you’ll hit the quads more effectively by shortening your stride.
Basically, the more knee extension you achieve in a lower body exercise the more you’ll target the quads.
But, as always, be wary of your knees shooting too far out in front if you suffer with knee issues.
The only other thing to consider is the position of your rear (elevated) foot.
Now, when it comes to lunges and conventional split squats your toes and balls of your back foot are against the floor.
However, having your toes on an elevated surface can lead to foot cramps from Bulgarian split squats.
And trust me, the last thing you want is cramp while performing a heavy-loaded exercise on one leg.
Bulgarian split squats typically require you to have the top of your foot resting on the raised surface.
So, if you’ve never done this before it will probably take some getting used to.
Key Learning Points
- The best lunge variations for quads are forward, walking, front-loaded, static, and Bulgarian split squat.
- Take a shorter step to increase quad activation.
- Slow the movement down to really fire up your quads.
- Pushing your knees past your toes will increase knee flexion, which in turn increases the amount of work your quads must do. But, only do so if you have no history of knee issues and good ankle mobility.
- Don’t allow your torso to lean too far forward, as this will place greater emphasis on the glutes.
- Don’t lean back as this takes your lumbar spine out of its neutral position and can therefore lead to a lower back injury.
- Front-loaded lunges will also activate the core as well as the quads.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.