The leg and lower body machines at the gym terrify me—especially the weird inner-thigh-squeeze thingy. What are some exercises I can do to get strong, toned legs without embarrassing (or injuring) myself? —Alyson M.
You are not alone—machines can be intimidating, even for those of us who know exactly how to use them. But here’s the thing: Hulking pieces of equipment aren’t the only way to get strong and healthy. Start with one leg exercise that rules them all: the lunge. It’s super effective, working not only your hamstrings, quads, and glutes—but also your abs. In fact, it’s one of the best moves for a six-pack.
The basic move: lunge
Just because a lunge is relatively simple doesn’t mean you can fake your form. Maintaining perfect posture makes the movement way more effective and prevents injury. We’re gonna throw some fun props and challenges into the mix, but it’s important to master the basics first. Here’s how to do it:
1. Stand tall
Start standing with your hands on your hips. Keep your back straight, your shoulders pulled back and relaxed, and your core engaged (think of bracing and tightening your abs here).
2. Step backward
Step one foot backwards about 2 to 3 feet away from you, depending on your height—the taller you are, the longer your lunge will be. Both of your knees should be bent at 90-degree angles; your shoulders should be lined up over your hips (so you’re not pitching your body forward). Most importantly, protect your kneecap by keeping your front knee aligned with your ankle—it shouldn’t jut forward over your toes.
Pause here, with your back knee hovering right above the ground. Breathe, relax your shoulders, and pull your abs in.
4. Switch to the other side
Step your feet together, and repeat on the other leg.
That’s it. Now you can start to add on and make it a little more challenging.
4 effective lunge variations
These four moves—all variations on the basic lunge—can amp up your lower-body routine big time. You can tack the whole series onto the end of any type of workout, or just throw one or two in whenever you’re feeling it.
Hay baler with the medicine ball
Need: 5 to 15 pound medicine ball
Do: 20 reps on each side
Swiss ball lunge
Need: A medium or large exercise ball
Do: 15 reps on each side
Do: 40 reps, alternating between sides
Front lunge knee lift
Do: 20 reps on each side (to really feel the burn, hold in the balancing position with a high knee for 20 seconds on each side)