Home Fitness Lunges vs Squats | Which One Is Better?

Lunges vs Squats | Which One Is Better?

by Tihomir Stefanov

This is a complete guide to Lunges vs Squats.

In this all-new guide, you’ll find out research-backed secrets into:

1. What exercise (lunges or squats) is best and why – including:

2. Research-backed breakdown of the squat including:

3. Research-backed breakdown of the lunge including:

4. A complete lunges and squats workout

5. Lunges vs squats for weight loss

Plus lots more!

So if you want to make sure that you know nearly everything you need about lunges and squats, you should get a lot of value from today’s guide.

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

Q. Are Lunges Or Squats Better And Why?

Answer) For overall muscle development and injury rehabilitation [1]: Both!

Key Summary Of Why Both Exercises Are As Good As Each Other

The standing squat and forward lunge are just as good as each other but this can depend if…

  • If you are looking to build muscle – If you’re looking to become big, the squat is the better option as you can add additional weight to this exercise. However, this doesn’t mean you should completely overlook single-leg training from your leg workouts because the lunge will increase your balance, stability, and flexibility, therefore enabling you to be as athletic as possible when it comes to performing heavy-load exercises such as the squat
  • If you are a beginner – A body-weight squat would be a better exercise because lunges require good balance, which if ignored, could result in a loss of balance and possible injury
  • If you’re overweight Body-weight squats would also be the better exercise for the same reason as the point above (lunges – especially weighted – require a lot of balance and stability)
  • If you lack flexibility – Squatting with a stiff lower body can cause poor form. Most notably, you can a ‘but wink‘ problem where your tight hamstrings can’t go any lower in the squat, causing your pelvis to move from an anterior pelvic tilt (arched lower back) to a posterior lower back (rounded lower back), which will place tension on this area. Body-weight lunges, on the other hand, are a dynamic movement which can improve your flexibility [2]
  • If you have an injury – Research shows that both walking lunges and single-leg squats “are both effective in rehabilitation programs and should be added to injury prevention training programs[3, 4, 5]

Comprehensive Explanation Of What Exercise Is Better And Why

There are a wide variety of leg exercises which will help you develop strong thighs, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. However…

Many trainees have different opinions about what leg exercise is superior.

But the thing is…

Both are as superior as each other.

Both are compound movements (movements that engage more than one muscle group) which help develop functional strength (the building block of strength to help you in your day to day activities).

We know compound movements are what give you a prominent stimulus for growth.

Research has shown that these two compound movements engage and strengthen the lower body thoroughly. [6, 7]

Let’s analyse each exercise so that you can uncover the difference between the two:

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 squat (or single-leg squat in this case) activates lower body muscles more compared to a forward lunge (see chart below) [8].

An electromygraphic bar chart presenting lower body activity with three different exercises.

(GMed = Glute Medius, GMax = Glute Maximus, BF = Bicep Femorus, VL = Vastus Lateralis, VM = Vastus Medialis, RF = Rectus Femoris)

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:

Muscles Worked In A Back-Squat

muscles worked in a back squat

The primary muscles worked in a back squat include:

  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes

The secondary, stabiliser muscles worked in a back-squat [9] include:

  • Hamstrings
  • Gastrocnemius
  • Soleus
  • Adductors
  • Traps
  • Mid-back
  • Erectors
  • Obliques
  • Abdomen

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

Should You Squat Daily?

No, you don’t have to squat every day, but including squats regularly in your strength training regimen will quickly improve your lower body strength and functionality.

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

And when you feel ready, you can add weights with:

  1. Barbells
  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 [10] during everyday tasks.

These tasks could require you to squat low or pick something heavy off the ground.

Non-squatters would likely bend over with straight legs which puts much more tension on the discs of their lower back. But…

If you squat consistently, you’ll remember to pick up the object carefully in a squat position, with the power generated by your legs as you can see in the image below:

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

In comparison to lunges, squats are less demanding in terms of balance, because your feet are symmetrically aligned.

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

The Benefits Of Squats

The three benefits of squats (hypertrophy, weight loss, and injury prevention) in a table.

The image above shows three common benefits of the squat, but the squat is an exercise which has many more:

  • Squats motivate you: Think about how many variations of the squat you can do? Switching up your squat will make the exercise interesting, all the while activating different muscle groups. Can you do a single leg squat?
  • They can help you stand up: Every time you get up from your chair, you do the concentric phase (standing phase) of a box squat. The more often you do them, the easier it will be for you to get up. This is especially important as we continue to get older [11]
  • Increases blood flow (including when you’re on the toilet): When you squat (or simply exercise), the flow of blood around your body increases because the blood vessels in your muscles dilate. Squats, in particular, have proven to increase blood flow to your leg vein which can help you when you’re on the loo [12]
  • Squats can prevent heart attacks and strokes: Resistance training, in general, can reduce the risk of stroke or heart attack by an extraordinary 40 to 70 percent according to researchers at Iowa State University [13]

The Different Squat Variations

three different squat variations including single-leg, basic, and wall squats.

Like the lunge, the squat presents a wide variety of variations which can work a variety of different muscles.

In fact, there are over forty-five squat variations! But…

I’m going to show the top three (so that you’re not overwhelmed)

Variation 1. The Basic Squat (Beginner And Advanced)

Love it or hate it (your body loves it!) the basic squat is well and truly, the ‘KING’ of squatting. 👑

It is easy to do, extremely effective for strengthening both the major and muscles of your lower body, and is an exercise which can be incorporated into every lower-body strength training workout.

You can also overload your muscles by adding additional weight in the form of a barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, and plate.

How To Do The Basic Squat

Click here to jump down to the steps we’ve already highlighted below.

Variation 2. The Single-Leg Squat (Beginner And Advanced)

Single leg training alone is fantastic because it improves your balance and overloads the leg you’re working.

Just look at how much better the single-leg squat (monopodal squat) is for your lower body in comparison to other exercises:

demonstrating lower body muscles used for a single leg squat

You can also add weight to this exercise such as a kettlebell – although most people will find their own body-weight challenging enough.

How To Do The Single-Leg Squat

Step 1. Begin the exercise by standing on one leg with your feet pointing straight with the knee on your opposite leg slightly bent.

Step 2. Keep your back straight and extend your arms out to balance the movement

Step 3. Lower to a squat position, ensuring that your knee does not cave in and your opposite foot is off the floor

Step 4. Try smaller half-squats to begin with until you feel comfortable working your way down to the ground.

Sets/Reps: Do 4 sets of 10-12 reps on each leg (2 on each leg)

Rest time: Rest for 60 seconds between sets

Progression: Progress by resting a dumbbell or kettlebell on your shoulder (the same side to the leg you’re squatting with). Gradually increase this weight over time.

Variation 3. Wall Squat

The wall squat is a great exercise (especially for those recovering from an injury).

This is because you have the balance of the wall behind you giving you the control to strengthen your muscles at your own pace.

Furthermore, wall squats give you the option to work isometrically (where you are not moving), giving you a mental challenge and an exercise which complements your dynamic workout routine.

How To Do The Wall Squat

Step 1. Begin with your back flat against a wall, keeping your feet approximately two feet away from the wall just over should width apart

Step 2. Squeeze your core and glutes as you slowly glide your back down the wall until your thighs are in line with the floor

Step 3. Hold this position (pushing heels into the ground) for 30 to 60 seconds and slide back up the wall to your standing position

Step 4. Rest for 60 seconds before repeating the exercise again.

Note: Keep a timer with you so that you can time yourself during the exercise.

Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 30-60 second isometric (static) holds

Rest time: 60 seconds rest

Progression: Increase the time under tension from 60 seconds to 120 seconds.

If this becomes too easy, hold two dumbbells by your side and continuously add more time/weight to the exercise.

Summary: Squats are an effective exercise for developing a variety of lower-body muscles which will help support you through daily activities and also result in good posture as you age [14].

Lunges

A lunge is a single-leg body-weight exercise which has a number of variations that we’ve covered in this article here.

Whether you’re a body-builder or an athlete, lunges should always make up a part of your lower body training.

This is because they train different lower body muscles which if strengthened, can help you enormously everywhere else around the gym.

You’ll also be able to load this exercise because the movement is done one leg at a time where you can also use weights.

Whether you’ll be using weights or not, the lunge (in any variation) demands a lot more balance and in consequence: helping synergistic muscles (muscles that support the exercise) are recruited to maintain your 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.

Muscles worked in a forward lunge

primary and secondary muscles worked in a forward lunge

The primary muscles worked in a forward lunge include:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes

The secondary muscles worked in a forward lunge (which are fundamental for balance) include:

  • Transverse Abdominus (abs)
  • Abductors (hips)
  • Gastrocnemius (upper calf)
  • Soleus (lower calf)

The Benefits Of Lunges

three benefits of lunges in a table which include improved balance, posture, and strengthend lower back/core.

The image above shows three common lunge benefits, but the lunge has many more:

  • Lunges can prevent muscle imbalances: It is very common for people to have one side stronger than the other, lunges target one specific side of your lower body (one leg) at a time [15]
  • It is a dynamic exercise which improves your flexibility: Lunging can improve your dynamic flexibility as you’ll be eccentrically lengthening your abductors (hips). [16]

The Different Lunge Variations

Did you know that there are over twenty different lunge variations?

Luckily for you, we’re not going to go through all of them today because…

We’re going to show you the top three most effective (and simplest) lunges which anyone can do.

You’ll also find that each lunge variation has a progressive exercise as it will become too easy for you with practice.

Here are the top three lunge variations:

Variation 1. Reverse Lunge

The reverse lunge is number one on our list because it is a terrific beginner exercise which can be especially effective if you have knee pain. [17]

The backwards movement changes your position from an open-chain to a closed-chain exercise which means that you’ll experience less shock as your foot strikes the ground.

In comparison to the forward lunge, the reverse lunge is also a better exercise for developing your quadriceps.

This is because the backwards force enables you to load both your hip and quad better.

You can use your own body weight (recommended if you’re a beginner) or a pair of dumbbells.

How To Do A Reverse Lunge:

Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each leg.

Rest time: 30 seconds rest between each leg.

Step 1. Stand up tall, shoulder-width apart, making sure that there are at least two metres of space behind you.

Step 2. Keep your hands by your side.

Step 3. Step back approximately one metre with one leg, ensuring your back leg moves in one straight line, and you’re squeezing your core and glutes (bottom) which will help you stay balanced.

Step 4. Land on the ball of your back foot (avoid touching your heel on the ground) and slowly drop down vertically, staying well balanced until your knee ever so slightly touches the floor. Your should be tilting slightly forward, yet remaining upright.

Step 5. Push off with your back foot until you reach the starting position.

Step 6. Repeat the movement on the same leg until you reach the total number of reps.

Progression: You can progress this exercise with the reverse lunge rotation, reverse lunge to knee drive, and reverse lunge overhead press.

All of which can be completed with or without weights.

Variation 2. Lateral Side Lunge

The lateral lunge is another excellent exercise which strengthens your inner thighs as well as your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps.

How To Do A Lateral Side Lunge:

Step 1. Stand up tall, keeping your feet shoulder-width apart, and your hands out in front of you. Ensure there is at least two metres of space to the left and right of you.

Step 2. Engaging (squeezing) your glutes and core, take one wide step (over one metre) to the left of you, and land on your left foot flat on your floor (ensure both feet are flat on the floor and are both facing the same direction.

Step 3. Upon landing, bend your left knee and push your hips back, lowering slowly

Step 4. Push off with your back leg until you reach the starting position

Step 5. Repeat the movement with the same leg until you’ve completed all of the reps.

Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each leg.

Rest time: 30 seconds rest between each leg.

Progression: You can progress this exercise with a resistance band between your legs, a kettlebell in your hand, or by performing the dumbbell goblet adductor lunge which is demonstrated here.

Variation 3. Explosive Sprinters Lunge

The explosive sprinters lunge is an advanced exercise which challenges the mobility and stability of your whole body.

This exercise should be used to improve your force output so that you can perform explosive unilateral movements at a high velocity.

Let’s jump into:

How To Do An Explosive Sprinters Lunge:

Sets/Reps: 3 sets of 10-12 repetitions on each leg.

Rest time: 45 seconds rest between each leg.

Step 1. Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart, keeping your hands by your side.

Step 2. Step back over one-metre with one leg, ensuring your back leg moves in one straight line, and you’re engaging your core and glutes (bottom) in order to keep stable.

Step 3. With the ball of your foot (not heel) on the ground behind you, keep your chest up and place your hands slightly out in front of you to both sides of your feet.

Step 4. Push off with your back leg explosively and bring it all the way up until your knee is up to your chest and your opposite leg is also in the air.

Step 5. Land carefully on your opposite leg and repeat the movement until you’ve completed all your reps.

Progression: There is no progression for this exercise.

Summary: Lunges are an excellent exercise you should add to your workouts they make you a more athletic individual with better balance, flexibility, and a stronger core.


 Ultimately: Include both squats and lunges into your workout routine for greater diversity and athleticism. This will ultimately lead to greater muscle development, flexibility, stability, and balance.


Lunges and Squats Workout

lady in mid air doing a jumping squat at her indoor gym

Now you know the differences between these two exercises, you’re now going to discover two effective lower body workouts which involve both lunges and squats (the second workout is an anaerobic one).

We know for a fact that not all of you will have access to a gym, which is why both of these workouts can be done at home.

Workout 1. Strength Training

This workout is a complete lower body bodyweight workout.

If you are more advanced, feel free to add a comfortable amount of weight to the exercise.

Let’s jump into it!

Exercise 1. Body-weight Squats

Sets: 4

Reps: 15

Rest time: 60 seconds between sets

This first exercise will help you 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 slightly so that you’re out of full lockout
  4. Keep torso straight
  5. Place your hands crossed on your shoulders (or out in front of you)
  6. Look forward go down slowly (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 and squeeze your glutes

Note: Use a barbell or kettlebell if, and only if, the body weight squat becomes too easy.

Exercise 2. Jumping Squats

Sets: 4

Reps: 15

Rest time: 60 seconds between sets

The more intense and explosive we go, the more muscle fibres you will recruit.

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 pointed out slightly
  2. Slightly bend knees out of lockout to place tension on the quadriceps
  3. Keep your torso straight and look forward with your arms outstretched or behind your head
  4. Squat down, ensuring that your knees do not cave in or bow out
  5. Once your legs are slightly below parallel, squat up explosively and at the very top, jump off of your toes
  6. When landing, ensure that you go down slowly to prevent the shock on your joints
  7. Focus on maintaining proper form throughout the exercise

Note: As you explode up, you can swing with your arms with you to create momentum. This movement usually comes naturally. As this exercise becomes easier, try using a weighted vest such as this one.

Exercise 3. Bulgarian Split-Squats

Sets: 4 (two on each leg)

Reps: 15

Rest time: 45 seconds between sets

You are now going to switch from squat-based to a lunge based movement.

As we’ll mention further on in this article, both exercises (squats and lunges) have their benefits in a leg workout, which is exactly why you should focus on both of them.

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

Execution:

  1. Stand with your back against a bench/chair (almost a meter away)
  2. With one foot, step forward
  3. Place the opposite foot on the bench/chair behind you
  4. Keep torso straight and head looking forward
  5. Squat down slowly
  6. When the leg is parallel to the ground, move up explosively, contracting the quadriceps (but avoid knee lockout to prevent knee injuries)
  7. Once you complete the given number of repetitions on that leg, take a ten-second rest and repeat the steps on the opposite leg

Exercise 4. Walking Lunges

Sets: 3

Reps: 20 reps

Rest time: 60 seconds between sets

Alright, time for some lunge action.

For this fourth exercise, you’ll be doing walking lunges which are great for improving your balance.

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

Execution:

  1. Stand up straight with feet placed at shoulder width
  2. Look forward and keep your torso straight
  3. Bend knees out of lockout slightly
  4. Take a big step forward with one leg
  5. Go down slowly (gently touch your knee down to the ground to reach your full range of motion).
  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. Anaerobic (Sprints)

athletic man sprinting with no shirt on the concrete road

Sprints shape up the legs like no other exercise, simply because they are a natural human movement.

Sprints utilise our legs unilaterally, meaning each leg strikes the ground separately in the sagittal plane (forward and backwards).

Sprints are by all means a constructive, anabolic exercise, as they are a short, power-burst movement. [18]

How To Do Sprints

Two men from US Navy doing sprints on a running track with sun behind them.

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 ahead.

Let’s have a look at the actionable steps you can take to complete an effective (yet safe) sprint workout.

Step 1. Dynamic Stretching (Warm-Up)

Start off the workout with light dynamic movements. These movements include:

  • Body-weight lunges
  • Glute bridge
  • Walking on your toes
  • And more which you can find out here

During each dynamic movement, stretch and contract the entire musculature and get each joint through its full range of motion.

Step 2. Begin With Light Cardio

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

Step 3. Progressively Up Your Tempo

When you’re done with the 5-10 minutes of light jogging, now it’s time to up the effort and lower the distance.

Start off with two dashes of 50-metres at 50-60% of your maximum capabilities.

Then, complete two more 50-metre dashes at about 70-80% of your maximum capabilities.

Step 4. 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 maximum capabilities.

Do 2-3 dashes of 40-50 meters, full-on sprinting.

Rest for 120 seconds between each dash.

Helpful 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 your previous best
  3. If possible, track your time and try to improve on that
  4. Eventually, you can start utilising 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

Squats Vs Lunges For Weight Loss

a young lady in oversized trousers with her thumbs up showing off her slim body

The answer to this question is: science does not know yet.

Here is why:

We know that energy expenditure (calories burnt) is created from exercising.

And if you increase your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (total calories you burn per day) to an amount greater than what you’re putting in, you’ll achieve weight loss. [19]

Now, a 2014 study conducted by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that we approximately burn 9.33 kcal per minute when performing a lunge (although more research needs to be done for greater accuracy).

A 160 lb thirty-year-old male burns approximately 1.3 kcal per minute by doing nothing at all [20]

However, we don’t know how many calories are burnt in a squat.

All we know is that both of these exercises are very similar which means we recommend using both of them to aid you in your weight loss goals.

The best way to lose weight is to diet, and adding in weekly exercise can make this process more sustainable over the long run.

Check out our full weight loss article here where you’ll find key insights into how to actually lose the flab.

Summary: Both squats and lunges have been proven to help burn fat and strengthen your lower body. More research needs to be done to examine which exercise is actually better at losing weight.

Conclusion

Lunges vs squats – Which one is better?

Well, when it comes to selecting the best lower body exercise, it is not exactly black or white.

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

Because both are!

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

Both squats and lunges have their advantages.

Squats are an excellent compound movement where you can overload with weight whilst lunges are brilliant for improving balance, activating stabilising muscles, and becoming more athletic.

You should also think outside of the box and include not only traditional strength exercises but also explosive anaerobic exercises such as sprints.

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

Over to you: 

That’s all for this lunges vs squats guide.

Now I’d like to hear from you:

What tip from this guide do you want to try out first?

Are you going to focus on combining both exercises into your lower body workouts?

Or maybe you want to start doing more sprints.

Either way, let me know by leaving a comment.

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