Build your leg workout around these motions, and you only move straight ahead in something called the “sagittal” plane. They train your muscles in one plane, the plane in which you walk and run. Thing is, your body is capable of so much more. It’s meant to twist and move laterally—but you need to train it to do that.
You’ll do that when you do the lateral lunge (or side lunge). And if that move feels too basic, you can always step things up to a lateral lunge level-up from Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., the lateral lunge to high-knee. Both moves have you moving from side to side, and while this trains the same muscles as more classic leg moves, you’re challenging those muscles in new ways. “Your muscles can generate force in multiple directions,” says Samuel. “But if you only train them to generate force going forward, as if walking or running, you’ll lose some of that ability to move laterally.”
“The lateral lunge is a move that will have you feeling great,” he adds. “One of your legs stays straight, getting a nice stretch along your groin muscles and through your hamstring. The other leg, meanwhile, learns to create power and velocity.”
The lateral lunge also preps you for the pistol squat more than you might think, says Samuel. “Essentially, that straight leg is functioning like a kickstand,” says Samuel, “as you load that single bent leg. This isn’t the best way to learn the pistol squat, but it certainly can help.”
You can do lateral lunges with bodyweight or, as Samuel shows here, with a kettlebell or dumbbell held in a goblet position.
- Start standing, holding a kettlebell or dumbbell at your chest, core tight.
- Step to the right a few feet with your right leg, taking a relatively large step.
- Land. Keeping your left leg straight, bend your right knee and push your butt back, lowering slowly. “Your torso may lean forward slightly,” says Samuel. “That’s OK and natural.”
- Lower as far as you can comfortably, aiming to get thigh parallel to the ground. Then explosively drive up and to the left, driving back to a standing position.
- Do 3 sets of 6 to 8 reps per side. “Keep the reps lower,” says Samuel, “to focus on being explosive when driving back to standing.”
- Want more of a challenge? Add the high-knee in at the end. “This will challenge your balance and your core more than you think,” says Samuel, “pushing you to redirect that side-to-side energy forward with control.”
The lateral lunge (or lateral lunge to high knee) should never be the first leg exercise in your workout, says Samuel. “You can’t load it up with enough weight to make it a worthwhile first move,” he says. So do your squats and deadlifts first. But include the lateral lunge as one of your last moves in a leg session to develop well-rounded leg strength. “Squats and deadlifts will always be the backbone of your leg workout,” says Samuel, “but every leg workout I do, I like to change planes at least once. This is a nice, easy move that anyone can do to change planes.”
For more tips and routines from Samuel, check out our full slate of Eb and Swole workouts. If you want to try an even more dedicated routine, consider Eb’s New Rules of Muscle program.
Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S.
Ebenzer Samuel, C.S.C.S., is the fitness director of Men’s Health and a certified trainer with more than 10 years of training experience.
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