Home Training Plans Squats vs Lunges: What Exercises are Better and Effective

Squats vs Lunges: What Exercises are Better and Effective

by Steve Theunissen
Squats vs Lunges

When it comes to training your lower body, the squat reigns supreme. It’s been that way for so long that to question its supremacy is considered to be blasphemy in some gym circles. But there is another contender for the number one lower body training – lunges. In this article, we sidestep the emotional attachment that so many have for the squat to allow the facts to speak for themselves. So, let’s get started with this lunges vs squats comparison?

Lunges vs Squats Key Takeaways

  • The Squat is the best exercise for building strength and mass.
  • The Squat is the best move to burn calories and lose weight.
  • The Squats are the best exercise for creating speed, agility, and jumping ability.
  • The Lunge is unilateral so they allow you to focus on one leg at a time.
  • The Lunge is more effectively target the glutes.
  • The Lunge does not compress the spine.
  • Both exercises are great for different goals so you should include them both in a well-rounded training session.
  • When it comes to the lunge vs split squat, the split squat is better

What are Squats?

The squat is a compound exercise that targets the legs, hips, and core muscles. There are many versions of the squat but the most commonly seen one is the barbell back squat. The exercise involves squatting down to parallel or below parallel with a weighted barbell resting across the trapezius and shoulders.

The first and most important consideration when squatting is safety. Be sure to always work within a solid rack, along with a straight bar and collars. We also advise investing in a quality pair of weightlifting shoes to provide the lateral support that you need. Position the bar on the rack so that you only need to lift it a few inches to get into the starting position.

The barbell back squat can be dangerous if you perform them incorrectly. This can happen if you overload the quads and underload the glutes and hamstrings. Rounding your back will also increase your risk of spinal injury. If you develop bad form by allowing your knees to cave in, you will be putting stress on your knees. 

what are squats

Benefits of Squats

Squats are an excellent strength builder in the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. There is no other exercise that allows you to put so much load on the lower body. By progressively increasing the weight on the bar you will be able to build an impressive strength level through the entire lower body. [1]

The squat is a great muscle building exercise. It will add size to your thighs. But it also helps all other areas of your body to grow. That’s because squats have been shown to be the most effective exercise to promote the release of human growth hormone (HGH). [2,3]

The is also an excellent exercise for sports people and athletes. It enhances a person’s running speed, acceleration power and jumping ability. It helps to develop a solid strength base that is a fundamental part of true athleticism. The exercise develops strength from the basic athletic position – knees and hips flexed, back straight and chest out. 

Different Variations of Squats

Front Squats

The front squat places more direct attention on the legs because it lessens the load on the spine. However, you are not able to squat as much weight on the front squat. The weight is supported across your upper chest, your elbows are up and the bar rests on the ends of your fingers. 

Overhead Squats

Overhead squats is a more challenging squat variation that sees you performing the move with the extended overhead at arm’s length. It requires hinging at the hips and maintaining a completely neutral spine throughout. You should have a wide grip on the bar. Make sure that your chest is up, and your shoulders back. Think about ‘squatting between your legs’, allowing your thighs to part to the sides as you descend.

Power Rack Squats

Power rack squats are done to help the trainer move past a range of motion sticking points. Position the bar on pins at three sticking points and begin your squat upward push from that point. 

This exercise can also be performed with dumbbells held at your sides and with a kettlebell held in front of the chest. Another option is to perform squats using a low cable pulley machine. These options take the compressive pressure off the spine. 

one leg lunges

What are Lunge Exercises?

The lunge essentially involves taking a large step forward and then stepping back. The exercise can be done with a barbell across the trapezius and shoulders or with dumbbells in hand. This exercise can also be done without and extra resistance.

Lunges Work What Muscles?

This exercise directly targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. There are many versions of lunges that work through different planes of motion including reverse and lateral lunges. 

How Many Lunges Should I Do?

We recommend doing a variety of set and rep schemes, ranging from 6 reps with a heavyweight up to 20 reps with little or no resistance.

Benefits of Lunges

A fundamental difference between squats and lunges are that squats are a bilateral exercise while lunges are unilateral. This gives lunges an advantage because they work each limb individually. Working unilaterally improves balance and coordination. As a unilateral exercise, the lunge also does a great job of evening out the strength and development between your legs. This prevents the imbalance that can often occur when you do an exercise like the squat. Most squatters tend to have one side that is stronger than the other, which they tend to favor. 

The lunge is also a functional exercise. That is because it mimics the normal action of walking. This movement also increases your hip flexibility. Lunges are also a very good exercise to activate the glutes, doing so more effectively than squats. [4]

Another of the benefits of lunges is that when you do weighted lunges, you have to use your torso to balance your upper body. This gives your core a good working out. 

Different Variations of Lunges

Lunge to Rotation

This lunge variation works the core as well as the lower body. Hold a resistance (weight plate, dumbbell, kettlebell, etc) in front of your torso. Take a large step forward and, as your rear knee descends rotate your upper body in the direction of the forward leg. Return the torso back to the start position before pushing back to the start position. 

Forward Lunge to Overhead Press

In this version of the lunge, you add an overhead pressing movement to work the upper body. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and a dumbbell in the right handheld at shoulder level with the palm facing forward. Step forward with the left leg, dropping down into the lung position. Now rotate the torso the forward leg as you drive the dumbbell overhead. Lower and reverse the motion to return to the start position. 

lunge vs squat

Lateral Lunge

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hands-on-hips. Now, take a large step out to one side. Bend your knee to drop the hips down. Squeeze through the hips and glutes to return to the start position. 

Walking Lunge

The walking lunge is a more aerobic version of the static lunge that is extremely functional. It burns more calories than the standard lunge. To perform the walking lunge, begin with your feet apart and then take a large step forward. Drop the rear knee down until it almost touches the ground. Now step through with the rear leg to bring it forward as you take a large step. Continue to advance in this manner to take 5-10 steps. 

Squats vs Lunges: Which is Better?

So, having explored both exercises, which one is better, lunges or squats?

The answer depends on what your training goal is. If you are after raw strength, power, and muscle mass then the squat is the better exercise. It allows you to load more weight and, therefore, get progressively stronger through the lower body than you with lunges.

On the other hand, if your goal is to achieve balanced development between the left and right leg, improve your balance and coordination and get faster, more agile and more explosive, then the lunge is the preferred move. 

Lunges also have the advantage that they do not compress your spine. If you are a person who has spinal problems, we recommend an alternative to the barbell squat such as the low cable squat. Alternatively, prioritize lunges over squats. 

Between squats and lunges, squats are by far the more taxing exercise. That means that squats will burn a lot more calories than lunges. As a result, squats is the better choice when it comes to calorie burn, cardio and weight loss

When it comes to user-friendliness, squats are easier to use exercise than lunges for beginners to perform

The reality is that you really should be doing both exercises as part of your training routine.

bulgarian split squat vs lunge

Lunges vs Bulgarian Split Squats

The Bulgarian split squat is a variation of the squat that overcomes some of the disadvantages of the squat in comparison to the lunge. It allows you to work the legs unilaterally and does not put downward pressure on the spine. That puts it on par with the weighted lunge in terms of its safety and functionality. 

Overall when it comes to the Bulgarian split squat lunge debate, we believe that the Bulgarian split squat is the better exercise. 

To perform a Bulgarian Split Squat position a bench behind you. Stand about two feet in front of the bench and plant one foot on top of the bench. Hold a pair of dumbbells in your hands. Now squat down so that your front thigh is parallel to the floor (the dumbbells should reach to the floor). Push through the front heel to return to the start position. 

Step Ups vs Lunges

Steps Ups are a plyometric exercise that works similar muscles to the lunge. However, it does not provide you with the overload that you can get with lunges. When it comes to calorie burn and cardio, though, step-ups are the better choice. 

What are Lunges vs Squats exercise workouts?

Lunges Technique

Here is the proper form for the lunge exercise:

To perform the lunge stand with your feet hip-width apart. Now take a large step forward and lower the back knee toward the floor. The front knee should remain over the ankle. The rear knee should almost touch the ground. Next drive through the middle of the front foot to return to the start position. 

You should begin with any resistance in order to get the form right. Then you can start adding resistance by putting a barbell across your traps or holding a pair of dumbbells in your hands.

Squat Technique

Here’s how to perform squats with proper technique:

To unrack the bar, position yourself under the bar and take two steps back and stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width. Turn your toes slightly outward. Maintaining a neutral spine and keeping your head up, squat down until your thighs are slightly below parallel. 

Begin the movement by gliding your hips back before you break the knees. Keep your torso upright, avoiding forward lean. Your hips should remain under the bar at all times. Push out of the bottom position using the same path as during the descent. Push your heels into the ground as power up and be sure to maintain a neutral spine. 

squats or lunges

Breathe in during the downward phase and breathe out during the upward portion of the squat. 

In terms of your training tempo, you should think about going down slow and coming up fast. However, don’t go down too slowly – it should take about 2 seconds to descend down to the full squat. If you go down too fast, you could put undue stress on your knees due to their having to stop the descent at the bottom of the move. 

If you are a newbie squatter start by doing bodyweight squats until you are comfortable with the technique. Then advance to an unloaded barbell. Slowly start adding as you get stronger. Be careful, however, not to overload the bar. Do not make your squat an ego lift. If you load the bar with a weight that is too much for you to handle you will probably end up only going down into a quarter or half squat, which doesn’t look very impressive at all!

Squats vs Lunges: Final Thoughts

Both the squat and the lunge are fundamental leg development exercises. Rather than using one and not the other, we strongly recommend that you incorporate both of them into your lower body workout. You may decide to use one of the workouts above or to include both the squat and the lunge in the same workout. In this case, we suggest doing your squats first,as this is the more taxing exercise. 

Disclaimer: This article is written for general informational purposes ONLY and does not address individual circumstances. The WorkoutPlan doesn’t substitute any professional advice or help, you should always consult with your doctor.


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23096063/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28704311/
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Human_growth_hormone
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19387378/

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