Why Mr. Olympia Derek Lunsford Believes Walking Lunges Are “Essential”

Bodybuilders know a thing or two about strength training exercises. The movements that comprise a bodybuilder’s workout plan will, quite literally, shape the physique they bring to the competition stage on show day.

In a Dec. 30, 2023, training vlog on YouTube, 2023 Mr. Olympia Derek Lunsford discussed his perspective on one of the most underrated leg exercises for bodybuilding — the walking lunge.

[Related: 5 Lunge Benefits For More Muscle and Improved Movement]

“I’ve always considered lunges as an accessory exercise when, in reality, I should think of them as an essential exercise,” Lunsford says, sharing his thoughts on reprioritizing exercise selection in 2024. 

Derek Lunsford: “[Lunges] Are a Must-Do”

“I usually thrive on exercises that stimulate the muscle, as far as getting a pump, and I don’t really feel that from lunges,” Lunsford concedes when asked why he doesn’t enjoy performing lunge variations during his workouts.

However, Lunsford notes the benefits lunges provide far outweigh the discomfort of performing them. He touches on several key points for making lunges a priority on leg day:

Lunges significantly stretch the working muscles, including the glutes and quadriceps.

When performed at the end of a workout, lunges can help establish and maintain mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles.

Lunges develop tissue tolerance in the tendons and ligaments, which is important for remaining resilient to injury. 

Lunsford’s sentiments were echoed by training partner and fellow bodybuilder Ryan Crowley. Crowley feels the importance of lunges goes beyond the physiological: “[Lunges] are one of those exercises that you really have to prioritize early on in your career,” he says, touching on the skill and work capacity required to perform the movement in a fatigued state. 

For Lunsford and Crowley, the walking lunge does more than bulk the lower body. A well-rounded exercise should have the potential to improve flexibility and athleticism.

Benefits of Walking Lunges

One look at Lunsford’s legs is more than enough justification to add walking lunges into your workout routine. If you’re not fully convinced that a lunge belongs in your next leg day, check out these other benefits:

Develops Balance and Coordination

Unilateral (that is, one-limbed) exercises like the lunge are as rehabilitative as they are stimulative. Some clinical studies assert that the walking lunge helps “produce muscle coordination” (1) and establish better balance.

[Related: The Best Supplements for Muscle Growth in 2024]

Lunsford specifically mentions that these tertiary, skill, and stability-based benefits gained from lunging can carry over to other more stable exercises, thereby improving intensity

Easy To Incorporate

While lunges certainly come with a learning curve, they are accessible. Most gyms will have areas dedicated to sport-specific or cross-training with lots of open space. If you have lunges in your workout routine, you don’t need to wait for a free squat rack. Grab a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells and get to stepping. 

Balanced Muscle Growth

Unilateral exercises like the lunge have clinical support as a means of addressing muscular imbalances. Some studies have shown that single-limbed training can remedy discrepancies in size between muscles, especially after periods of inactivity. (2)(3)

How To Do Walking Lunges

As Lunsford mentions, lunges are effective even without any extra weight, especially if you perform them at the end of your workout. However, if you want to up the difficulty, hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands or even lunge with a barbell on your back.

Step 1: Find some open space — at least 30 to 40 feet — to perform walking lunges for sufficient reps.

Step 2: Begin by stepping forward and slightly out with your dominant leg. Plant your foot in front of you, then sink the hips down and forward. Allow your knee to travel in front and over your toe.

Step 3: With most of your weight in your forward leg, push into the floor and contract your quads and glutes to ascend to a standing position.

Step 4: Step forward with the opposing leg and put your weight into it. Sink into the lunge again and repeat the process. 

Coach’s Tip: Avoid tilting or swaying your torso from side to side. Brace your core to keep stable as you step. 

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Marchetti PH, Guiselini MA, da Silva JJ, Tucker R, Behm DG, Brown LE. Balance and Lower Limb Muscle Activation between In-Line and Traditional Lunge Exercises. J Hum Kinet. 2018 Jun 13;62:15-22. doi: 10.1515/hukin-2017-0174. PMID: 29922373; PMCID: PMC6006536.

Malliou PC, Giannakopoulos K, Beneka AG, Gioftsidou A, Godolias G. Effective ways of restoring muscular imbalances of the rotator cuff muscle group: a comparative study of various training methods. Br J Sports Med. 2004 Dec;38(6):766-72. doi: 10.1136/bjsm.2003.009548. PMID: 15562178; PMCID: PMC1724971.

Andrushko, J. W., Gould, L. A., & Farthing, J. P. (2018). Contralateral effects of unilateral training: sparing of muscle strength and size after immobilization. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 43(11), 1131–1139.

Featured Image: @dereklunsford_ on Instagram

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