Lunges vs Squats | Which One Is Better?


a comparison of a lady squatting (picture on the left) vs a lady lunging (picture on the right)

Lunges vs squats – What should you pick and why?

There is a wide variety of leg exercises that can help us develop the thighs, hamstrings, gluteus medius and Maximus, as well as calves.

Often times however, trainees start arguing about the superiority of given leg exercises.

We know for a fact that compound movements, which engage more than one muscle groups and joints, are what gives that prominent stimulus for growth.

To the ladies reading this, don’t be afraid when you read the word “growth”!

For you, growth would mean “toning” or “shaping” the muscle-up, as you will hardly reach the point where your muscle development is masculine.

Though muscle protein synthesis is the same in response to training in both genders, women have 45 times lower testosterone levels after a workout, as opposed to men. (Check this study) 

“Men and women have the same relative muscle growth response to exercise and nutrition (expressed as percentage of starting muscle mass). But women have lower absolute muscle growth response to exercise and nutrition (kg gained), because their starting muscle mass is lower. (Full article HERE)”

Now let’s get back to the topic.

When it comes to compound movements for the lower body, there are two main ones that come to mind first: Squats and lunges.

These two compound movements engage the lower body thoroughly and besides being great for developing the legs visually, they also give us a great deal of functional strength.

So far, you learned two things about these exercises:

  1. Both are compound movements
  2. They are great for functional strength

Now, without further ado, let’s analyze each movement separately and find out the specifics, to answer the question about lunges vs squats.

Squats

This exercise has long been crowned “The King” of all exercises.

It is without a doubt a natural human movement pattern, which every beginner should learn in the very start of their training.

The good thing about squats is that they are not particularly difficult to learn due to their nature; and on top of that, they engage pretty much all the muscles of the lower body.

In this case, the muscles of the quad are the main dynamically working muscle groups along with their antagonist (opposing muscle group) – The hamstrings.

The gluteus also gets a good deal of work throughout the movement and last but not least, the squat is stabilized by the calves, lower back and core. (Preventing lower back pain? Sign me up.)

If you are a beginner who REALLY wants to get in shape, but you don’t know much about training, then learning the right technique of this exercise and gradually overloading on it, will be of great use.

Should You Squat Regularly?

By including squats regularly in your strength training regimen, you will quickly improve the strength and functionality of your lower body musculature.

Of course, you can start off with just your body weight.

When you feel ready, you can add weights, by utilizing the following:

  1. The weight of a Barbell
  2. Dumbbells
  3. Machine squats
  4. Kettlebells
  5. Weighted plates

Besides improving your lower body visually and functionally, you may also prevent lower back injuries during everyday tasks that require you to squat low or pick something heavy off of the ground.

During such movements, bending over with straightened legs puts much more tension on the spine and the back.

Instead, you’ll be able to effectively squat down and use the power generated by your legs to help you during your tasks.

man working in a green house. As you can see, he is squatting down so that he can work at the bottom of the plant.

A man holding an isometric squat while working

Furthermore, as opposed to lunges, squats are less demanding in terms of balance, because the movement involves both feet and you move vertically.

With a forward lunge, it is a different story as you have to take a step forward and engage more balancing muscles.

Now, as we mentioned, though squats are highly effective for the thigh muscles, they also activate the core and the lower back, to maintain good balance and posture.

Last but not least, it is good to mention here that including squats will not only improve your legs visually, but will also improve the mobility of your hips, knees and ankles.

Lunges

If you’re more of an athlete than a bodybuilder and like dynamic movements, rather than moving a weight from point A to point B, then lunges are for you.

With this exercise, we take a step forward and lunge down.

This exact motion allows us to engage the entire lower body musculature and also stretch the hamstrings.

As opposed to squats, lunges engage the glutes and inner thighs a bit more.

That is due to the fact this is an exercise, done with one leg at a time.

This demands way more balance and hence, more muscles are recruited to maintain that position.

Lunges are without a doubt one of the best exercises to develop strength, coordination, balance and flexibility of the lower body and the core.

There are also different lunge variations, such as:

  1. Forward lunge
  2. Reverse lunge
  3. Stationary lunges
  4. Lateral lunges

And so…

Lunges vs Squats – Which exercise is better?

If you followed up with the logic so far, you’d know that both exercises are vastly different.

Squats are without a doubt one of the most powerful compound lifts you can include in your training.

They allow us to go really high on the intensity chart and as you know, intensity by nature is anabolic (constructive).

As a natural human pattern movement, squats can shape up the legs like no other exercise.

On the flip side, we have lunges, which are more demanding in terms of balance and coordination.

While they are not necessarily as intense as squats, lunges do have their place in your workout routine.

Bottom line: It’s not like you’ll be in a position where you will have to choose just one and eliminate the other.

Include both exercises in your workout routine, enjoy the diversity and see your gains skyrocket.

Note that both exercises are suitable for trainees of any fitness level.

Lower Body Workout

Now that we have explained the differences between lunges vs squats, we are happy to provide you with two effective lower body workouts.

We know for a fact that not all of you will have access to a gym, which is why we have dedicated one of the workouts to those of you who like training at home or outside.

Workout #1 – Bodyweight

This first workout is suitable for people who do not fancy going to the gym and using weights.

It consists entirely of bodyweight exercises that can also be done with added weights once the body adapts to the current tension.

Let’s have a look.

Exercise #1 – Bodyweight squats

Sets: 4

Reps: 15

Rest times: 60 seconds between sets

This first exercise will help us reap the benefits of the squat movement and will mostly be a warm-up for the more intense exercises later on.

That simply means you should go for a moderate pace and maintain constant tension, in order to maintain muscle activation of your leg muscles.

Execution:

  1. Stand up and place your feet at shoulder width
  2. Open toes out slightly
  3. Bend your knees out of lockout – This is your starting position
  4. Keep torso straight
  5. Place your hands crossed on your shoulders (or as comfortable)
  6. Look forward and let your butt go down slowly (Note that different knee position alters quadriceps activation (Check out the study HERE). There are many squat variations but don’t be afraid to let the knees go past the line of the toes, as this is natural)
  7. When your legs are parallel to the ground, squat up to the initial position

Note: You can optionally contract the glutes up top and if bodyweight squats get too easy at one point, utilize a barbell or kettlebells.

Exercise #2 – Jump squats

Sets: 4

Reps: 15

Rest times: 60 seconds between sets

Granted, with just bodyweight squats we cannot really activate 100% of the muscle fibers in the legs.

The more intense and explosive we go, the more fibers are recruited.

To up the intensity and explosiveness on the squat motion, we’ll add a jump.

Execution:

  1. Get into a squat position where your feet are at shoulder width and toes are out slightly
  2. Bend knees out of lockout slightly to place tension on the quadriceps
  3. Keep your torso straight and look forward
  4. Squat down (Again, let the butt go down, not the knees forward)
  5. Once your legs are slightly below parallel, squat up explosively and at the very top, jump off of your toes

Note that as you come up, you can swing with your arms to create momentum – This movement usually comes naturally.

Note #2: Maintaining proper form is a must.

Exercise #3 – Bulgarian split squats

Sets: 4

Reps: 15

Rest times: 60 seconds between sets

This next one is an underestimated, yet great exercise.

As you advance through the workout, you can start switching between squat-based movements, to lunges.

You learned that both exercises have their application in a leg workout, which is exactly why you shouldn’t just focus on one of them.

The Bulgarian split squats are a mix between squats and lunges and the only thing it requires is a bench to place your leg on.

Execution:

  1. Stand with your back against a bench or a chair (Almost a meter away)
  2. With one foot, step forward
  3. Place the opposite foot on the bench/chair
  4. Keep torso straight and head looking forward
  5. Squat down on the front leg slowly
  6. When the leg is parallel to the ground, move up explosively, contracting the quadriceps (Avoid knee lockout)
  7. Once you complete the given number of repetitions on that leg, proceed to doing the same on the opposite side

So, lunges vs squats …? Why not Both?

Exercise #4 – Walking Lunges

Sets: 4

Reps: 15

Rest times: 60 seconds between sets

Alright, time for some lunge action.

For this fourth exercise, we’ll do the walking lunges which are even more demanding of balance.

Note that you don’t necessarily have to use dumbbells if you don’t have the strength to do so.

Start off with your own body weight and gradually move up from there.

Execution:

  1. Stand up straight with feet placed at shouler width
  2. Look forward and keep torso straight
  3. Bend knees out of lockout slightly
  4. Take a big step forward with one leg
  5. Go down slowly and avoid hitting your knee in the ground
  6. Move up on the leg you took a step forward with
  7. As you move up, proceed to the next step forward with the opposite leg
  8. Alternate between legs

Note: Your torso must not go forward as you go down

Note #2: If you are more advanced, throw some deadlifts into this workout to finish it off.

Workout #2 – Sprints

It is not always lunges vs squats

We have mentioned in a previous article that sprints shape up the leg like no other exercise, simply because they are a natural human pattern movement.

Not only that but sprints utilize our legs unilaterally, as each leg strikes the ground separately.

Sprints are by all means a constructive, anabolic exercise, as they are a short, power-burst movement.

athletic man sprinting with no shirt on the concrete road

How to do sprints

Going into a full-on sprint right off the bat is not a good idea.

As with any other intense workout, you must prepare the musculature and the joints for intense work.

Let’s have a look at the actionable steps you can take to complete an effective and non-dangerous sprint workout.

  • Dynamic stretching

Start off the workout with light movement – Stretch and contract the entire musculature and get each joint through a good range of motion.

  • Light cardio

Before you transition into becoming flash himself, do 5-10 minutes of light jogging to get the heart rate going and further warm up the leg muscles.

  • Progressively up the tempo

When you’re done with the 5-10 minutes of light jogging, start upping the effort and lowering the distance. Start off with 2 dashes of 50 meters at 50-60% of your maximum capabilities. Then, complete two more 50 meter dashes at about 70-80% of your maximum capabilities.

  • Full-on sprints

Now that you’ve done dynamic stretching, light cardio and slightly more intense sprints, you can proceed to full-on sprints at 90-100% of your capabilities.

Do 2-3 dashes of 40-50 meters, full-on sprinting and rest ~120 seconds between each dash.

Notes

  1. If you need more rest between the separate dashes, feel free to take them but don’t exceed 3-4 minutes.
  2. As you progress, you can increase the number of sets, the distance or even the effort, in an attempt to improve previous best
  3. If possible, track your time and try to improve on that
  4. Eventually, you can start utilizing uphill sprints or even running with a parachute to create more resistance
  5. Important – Do not sprint more than twice a week and avoid doing so the days before or after your leg day

Bottom line

Lunges vs squats – Which one is better?

Well, when it comes to selecting good lower body exercises, it is not always black or white.

In other words, choosing just squats or just lunges won’t be the best option.

Ultimately, your goal should be combining a variety of exercises, done with different movement patterns and under different angles.

Both the squat and the lunges have their advantages.

The first one is a perfect compound movement while the second one is more dynamic and demands more balance which in turn, activates more stabilizing muscles.

Last but not least, you should think outside of the box and include not only traditional exercises, but also ones like sprints.

All of this combined, will grant optimal visual and functional development of the lower body musculature.

Now that we’ve answered the questions regarding this topic, we can forward you to our article about “Weight loss” – Check out How To Lose Body Fat Fast 

Let us know how you liked this article and if you have any questions, ask them in the comment section below.

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