Which Are Better: Squats or Lunges?

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If you’re looking to build your quads and glutes, you’ll find few better exercises than the squat and the lunge. Because standard squats and lunges hit the same muscle groups, you may not wish to perform both activities in one workout. Before you decide between the two, consider what you want to achieve.

Heavy Lifting

  • If you want to increase your maximum lifts, squats work best. The barbell back squat, for example, is one of three events in powerlifting competitions, because of its ability to measure pure strength. In a standard squat you spread your feet shoulder-width apart and keep them flat on the floor, which provides a solid base for the lift. Lunges force you to take one foot off the floor, so your foundation isn’t as stable and you can’t control the same weight load as you can during a squat.

Single Vs. Double Legs

  • In terms of functional athletic moves, unless you’re training for a powerlifting competition, the lunge will likely be more beneficial for you, because you shift your weight from one leg to the other. You don’t perform many athletic moves with your feet set the way they are in a squat. A basketball jump shooter is an exception, as he typically sets his feet with his weight spread evenly before shooting. But other moves, from running and horizontal jumping to swinging a tennis racket or golf club, require you to shift your weight from your back to the front leg, as you do in the standard lunge.

Improved Flexibility

  • The lunge is more easily adaptable into a dynamic stretch, making it a better exercise if you’re primarily interested in flexibility. Performing a body-weight lunge while holding the forward position for about 30 seconds primarily stretches your hip flexors. Dynamic moves such as walking lunges also stretch your glutes, hamstrings and calves. That makes the walking lunge a good pre-workout stretch, provided you’ve performed an aerobic warm-up first.

When You Can Do Both

  • If both squats and lunges suit your needs, you may consider doing the exercises in the same workout. “Men’s Health” magazine recommends you try one exercise for three to four weeks and switch to the other activity for the next three to four weeks, performing three sets of six to eight repetitions. You can then try to do them both during the same workout, performing two sets of six to eight reps of each exercise -- performing the squats before the lunges.

Standard Squats and Lunges

  • You’ll find many variations of squats and lunges. The standard squat begins in an erect stance with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees and hips -- picture yourself starting to sit in a chair -- while you maintain a straight back. Stop when your thighs are about parallel with the floor and then push back up to the starting position. Begin a lunge with the same stance, but take a long step forward and bend your knees. Stop lunging when your front thigh is horizontal and your rear knee is just a few inches above the floor, and then return under control to the starting position. Both exercises are safe, if you follow the correct form.

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