Lunges vs Squats — Which One is Better?

Tomorrow is a leg day, and you’re not sure whether you should do squats or lunges.

Both lunges and squats are superior in their own way. Ideally, you want to include both in your leg workout. But I understand that if you are short on time and may only have time for one, you want to know which to do.

Is it squats or lunges?

Well, that really depends on your fitness goal and your exercise experience level.

It’s not one that is better than the other. It’s which is more suitable for your goal and your fitness level.

This article will take a detailed look at each exercise, squats, and lunges.

By the end of this post, you’ll be able to decide which one is more suited to your needs.

Which Is Better Squats or Lunges?

Squats are great for beginners to learn first. All while, lunges take more coordination and balance to learn. This is because lunges have you in a vertical split stance. This is as opposed to the squat’s lateral split stance.

Squat’s stance gives a better base of support, which makes it more beginner-friendly.

Lunges

Like squats, lunges work all the leg muscles including your thighs, glutes, hamstrings and many others.

To add to working the legs, lunges are also friendlier to the back.

This makes them ideal leg exercises for people with back pain.

But the obvious difference between the two is in the movement.

Lunges mimic the basis of all walking and running patterns.

So, if you’re runner and looking to improve your running performance, you may benefit from doing lunges.

Another benefit of doing lunges is that it can help “even out”  the muscular imbalances between your legs, by strengthening the weaker side.

In effect, your lower body will be much stronger.

This will also help to improve your strength on squats and other lower body exercises because you eliminate the “weak link” that would otherwise hold back progress.

Again it’s all about your fitness level and goal.

Squats

While this may sound as if lunges are more fit for improving your daily functions by challenging and improving your balance, core strength, and toning the legs, but squats are no less useful.

There are many benefits to squats.

Squats mimic a very important movement we all do daily.

That is sitting down and getting up; the two very fundamental and essential movements in your everyday life.

If you can’t do that, you won’t be able to use the toilet or sit on a chair.

At least not without help!

But that’s not the only thing squats help you do.

They also help you build your leg muscles and strength. 

And with slight modifications to your stance, you can focus the work more on either the hamstrings or quads.

It all depends on the “squat variations”.

For example, the wider your stance, the more emphasis you put on your adductors or inner thigh muscles when you squat. 

And if you want to do more core work to develop your core strength, you can do front squats.

With the front squat, the bar or dumbbell is placed in the front, resting on top of your shoulders. Because of the positioning of the weights, your core has to work a lot more to stabilize your body to maintain proper posture throughout the entire movement.

Another benefit of doing squats is that it helps to build amazing glutes.

This is the reason why the Squat Challenge is so popular today.

So if you have an aesthetic goal of getting a nice tush or backside, squats are great exercises for helping to develop those gluteal muscles.

Muscles they Work

Gluteal muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus

There are three main muscles in the glutes (biggest to smallest):

  • Maximus
  • Medius
  • Minimus

The main difference in exercises often leads to this: muscles. 

Different muscles they target.

When you take a look at the effectiveness of squats and lunges, this is essentially what it comes down to.

It’s not the matter of which exercise is better per se, but it’s the question of what muscles do squats engage more versus the muscles lunges engage, and picking one that suits your needs better.

Using the muscle activation chart below you can see that lunges activate the gluteus medius by nearly double.

Muscle activation chart

This is not surprising since the gluteus medius provides stabilization for the leg.

And because lunges require a lot of balance, the stabilizing muscles have to work more to provide the support for the leg and body.

Squats, on the other hand, are less demanding of balance. 

You can learn more about the study led by John Porcari, Ph.D. here.

Final Word

Again you can benefit from doing both exercises.

The exercise you pick and the variations you do depend on your fitness goal.

With squats, less balance is required during the movement.

You have a more stable base by having both feet firmly planted on the ground.

This allows you to lift more weights.

On the other hand, lunges work one side at a time, making your base of support less stable.

So if your goal is to gain muscle and strength, then squats may be better suitable for your needs.

And you can supplement your leg workout with a few sets of lunges at the end.

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