What Muscles Are Worked by Side Lunges?

For many of us, leg day just isn't any fun. With that being said, leg day is something that you should never skip, because your legs form your base, and without a solid base, finding the strength to do virtually any type of exercise becomes very difficult.

While deadlifts, squats, abduction, leg presses, and other such exercises are all excellent for the strength and mobility of your legs, there's one exercise that is generally overlooked.

The exercise we're talking about today is the side lunge. We want to take a closer look at the side lunge, what it is, how to do it, what benefits it has, and what muscles it works.


What Are Side Lunges?

What Are Side Lunges?

First, we have the normal lunge. This is when you place one foot forward, bend the knee, and lean into it, so that your body moves forward, with your rear leg staying stationary and stretched out behind you.

If you want to target your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and few other leg muscles. Even reverse lunges tend to be great for your legs, plus they come with the benefit of being better for your knees.

However, the side lunge is perhaps one of the least known types of lunges, but it's important to do it nonetheless.

Here, instead of taking your leading leg and putting it out in front of you, you put it to your side.

You keep your back leg straight and make sure that the knee you are bending stays in line with your toes.

The number one difference between a normal lunge and a side lunge is the muscles that you work.

Related: Learn the muscles worked by leg extensions.


Muscles Worked by Side Lunges

Muscles Worked by Side Lunges

First and foremost, just like front lunges target your quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, so do side lunges.

In fact, doing side lunges is nearly as good for all three of these muscles or muscle groups as front lunges are.

Doing a side lunge still involves squatting down to a certain degree, so you're activating your hamstrings and glutes, and you also have to use your quadriceps to straighten your knee when you push back up from the initial motion.

Now, the one muscle that the side lunge works that front lunges do not, and in fact that most other types of left exercises also do not work, are your adductor muscles.

The adductor muscles are the muscles located on the inner portion of your thigh, and they're very important because they help bring your legs in words towards your body. Without strong adductor muscles, you wouldn't be able to close your legs.

Some people confuse the adductors with the abductors, so if you are unsure see our guide which outlines the difference between adduction and abduction.

Working your adductor muscles is extremely important, with mobility and balance being the two biggest reasons.

In large, your adductor muscles are responsible for helping to keep you stable while walking, running, and doing any other such movements.

They are also what allows you to stand on a single leg. It's all about keeping you mobile.

However, side lunges are also beneficial for doing other single-leg movements, such as single-leg Romanian deadlifts.

Overall, besides helping you remain mobile and assisting with balance, doing side lunges just improves the overall strength of your legs.

What's nice about side lunges is that you can also add some weight to the equation to make them more difficult.


Tips for Doing Side Lunges the Right Way

Now that we know what side lunges are, we want to go over a few tips to help you do them properly. The reason for this is because they can actually be quite difficult, as maintaining proper form is much easier said than done during this exercise.

Keep Your Glutes Pointed Back

When you do front lunges, you naturally move your body forward, which is why when many people do side lunges, the same thing happens.

However, this is a mistake, because if your body moves forward, you'll end up hyperextending your knee, and that can lead to some serious issues.

You don't want to lean forward too much and have your knee in front of your toes on the leading foot, because not only does this run the risk of hyperextending your knee, but you might also cause long-term damage.

Make sure to keep your glutes pointed backwards, and only hinge at the hips to make sure that your knee stays in line and above your ankles on your leading leg.

This helps to place more tension on the glutes and takes it away from the quads, while also allowing for proper adductor activation.

Don’t Step Too Far

Something that you want to avoid doing when performing the side lunge is overstepping.

If you step outwards too far, you can strain your adductor muscles, which puts you at risk of pulling your groin.

Although the side lunge does involve moving one leg to one side, you don't need to spread your legs out too far. 

All you're really doing is keeping your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, leaning forward a little bit, and driving your glutes backwards. This is more than enough to activate your adductor muscles without putting you at risk of injury.

Tips for Doing Side Lunges the Right Way

Use Weights to Frame Your Leg

If you plan on making the exercise a little more difficult, you can always use some dumbbells or light plates to increase weight. However, holding the weights the right way is very important when doing side lunges.

For instance, if you're holding dumbbells, you want to make sure that your leading leg is being framed by your hands.

This means that you should be holding the dumbbells on either side of the leading foot, so you are able to maintain your center of gravity, allowing you to put a maximum amount of resistance on the main muscles being worked.

A big problem that many people experience is allowing the dumbbells to hang below the waistline, which prevents the dumbbells from actually adding resistance to your leading leg. Ultimately resulting in a waste of time because it adds no benefit.

If you want to make things a little simpler, using a single dumbbell and holding it like you would with a goblet squat is another option.


Using Resistance Bands for an Extra Kick

Tips for Doing Side Lunges the Right Way

If dumbbells aren't an option for you, another good idea is to use resistance bands.

You can use resistance bands wrapped around your legs to force your abductor muscles to work harder.

Related: Top 5 Leg Extension Alternative Exercises


Exercises Similar to Side Lunges – For the Adductors

Although there aren't all that many exercises that efficiently work the adductor muscles, there are a few besides the side lunge, so let's take a quick look at what they are.

Resistance Band or Cable Machine Adduction

Using resistance bands to do adduction is another option, and here we aren't talking about using resistance bands and adding them to your side lunges.

Instead, you can lay down on your side, like you're doing a side plank, wrap the resistance bands around your legs, and then try to move your legs apart in a steady and controlled manner.

Another option is to use a cable machine. You could hook up an ankle strap to a cable machine, with the pulley in its low position, stand sidewards to the machine, and move your leg outwards to put pressure on your adductor muscles.


Copenhagen Hip Adduction

There's a special exercise known as Copenhagen hip abduction, which is convenient because you don't need any equipment. The only thing you need is a chair or bench that you can put one foot on.

All you have to do is put your foot on the bench with your knee bent a little bit, while keeping your bottom leg underneath the bench. 

Contract or activate the adductor muscles on your top leg by slowly lifting your bottom leg until you touch the underside of the bench or chair.


Sumo Squats

Finally, we have sumo squats, which are like regular squats, but you have your legs spread out much wider, well past shoulder width. While this is still great for activating your glutes, quads, and hamstrings, thanks to the wide stance, it also works out the adductor muscles.


Rounding Up

At the end of the day, if you want to work those adductor muscles, and you find that other exercises aren't doing enough, then the side lunge is the perfect exercise for you.

Ensure that you maintain proper form to prevent injuries from occurring, and add it to your regular leg routine.

Author's Photo

William Parrett

Will, co-founder of Home Gym Supply, launched the company in 2019 after 15-years in the fitness industry. His expertise stems not only from his professional background but also from his athletic pursuits. A former competitor in the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion (WBFF) and a competitive rugby player, Will has always been dedicated to health and fitness.