Last updated on November 8th, 2022 at 12:45 pm
There are many reasons you may ask, “Can Lunges Replace Squats?”
Perhaps you suffer with lower back pain whenever you squat.
Maybe squats put your knees under extreme stress.
Then again, it could be that you just don’t like squatting.
Whatever your reasons, let’s see if lunges can really replace squats.
Can Lunges Replace Squats?
Squats are typically viewed as one of the best exercises ever, but that doesn’t mean they’re for everyone. You don’t have to squat. Lunges will work slightly different muscles to squats. However, you can still build muscle and strength, lose weight, and burn fat with lunges.
1. Who Says You Have to Squat?
Squats happen to be one of the “Big Three” exercises.
The other two are of course deadlifts and the bench press.
So, it stands to reason that your weekly training routine should be focused around these exercises.
This is just how it is, and how it’s always been.
But, let’s take a step back and look at this for a moment.
Okay, Squats, Deadlifts, and the Bench Press will definitely give you the most bang for your buck.
In fact, you could probably just do these 3 exercises and build a pretty impressive physique.
However, in truth these are powerlifter exercises.
As a powerlifter your training routine will be focused around the “Big 3”.
With that being said, if you’re not a powerlifter (which I’m guessing is the majority of the fitness population), then there really is no need to perform these exercises.
Who made them judge and jury?
Who decided that these exercises, and especially the squat, are “must do” exercises?
Squats Are Great But They’re Not For Everyone
Look, I’m not taking anything away from the squat.
I truly believe it is a fantastic exercise, whether performed with your own body weight or with a bar on your back.
(Don’t worry, I know there’s probably hundreds of squat variations in addition to these two).
I will even admit that I regularly squat.
But, that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.
Some of you may find that your body simply isn’t suited to doing squats.
I even avoided the barbell back squat for nearly 11 years following a lower back injury.
Yes, it’s a great exercise, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it.
Even the legend Vince Gironda once stated, “All you get from the regular back squat is a big, fat ass” (he wasn’t a fan of THAT variation).
So, don’t be bullied into thinking that you have to squat.
If you don’t wish to squat, then don’t.
You can still build a strong, muscular, lean and athletic physique without it.
2. Lunges Mimic Natural Everyday Movements
The squat is one of the fundamental human movement patterns.
Watch a young child pick something up (or play with something) off the floor.
It’s almost like it’s a natural instinct to sink into a perfect squat.
However, with age, lack of practice, and many hours spent sitting, we tend to lose our ability to squat perfectly.
Once again, I’m not saying that this is right, and that we shouldn’t squat, but it’s not for everyone.
For me, lunges mimic more of the natural everyday movements that we make.
Think about it for a moment.
Walking, running, sprinting, climbing up and down stairs is a form of lunging.
So, realistically if you want your body to function better in “everyday life” then you may be better off doing lunges.
Going back to how we lose our ability to squat through age, lack of practice, sitting, etc. this can typically cause mobility and flexibility issues.
However, I view the lunge as a dynamic stretch.
The lunge is an exercise that can improve mobility, flexibility, balance and coordination.
These are all things that we would like to be capable of doing in our lives for many years to come.
10 Benefits of Lunges
3. Lunges Activate More (Stabilizing) Muscles
We typically view both lunges and squats as lower body exercises.
In the main, you are looking to target your quads, glutes and hamstrings.
However, both exercises will also target and activate other muscles.
The squat as a basic bodyweight exercise will also hit the core to some effect.
If you perform prisoner squats you can also expect to activate the upper back and shoulder muscles in some way.
The barbell back squat will have a far greater impact on your core, upper back and shoulders.
The additional weight will also hit the calves far better than the bodyweight variety.
Lunges pretty much hit all the same muscles, although you can target some muscles more than others by using lunge variations.
For me, I much prefer the reverse lunge over the forward lunge.
I look upon the forward lunge as more quad-dominant.
However, the reverse lunge seems to hit the glutes and hamstrings much better.
I will also say that there are literally hundreds more stabilizing muscles working hard when you perform lunges compared to squats.
I’ve spoken of the increased need for balance and coordination with lunges.
And it is because of this that you will literally be hitting more muscles.
This is especially true of the core, and specifically the obliques.
I know when I perform a high volume of bodyweight lunges I feel as though I’ve had much more of an “ab workout” than if I’d done bodyweight squats.
4. Lunges Can Still Build Muscle and Strength
When it comes to building muscle and strength we will generally view the squat as the best leg exercise.
However, you can still definitely gain size and strength with lunges.
In truth, I think many of us view the lunge as a secondary exercise.
So, we may not typically go that heavy with the exercise, and if we do our form tends to go out of the window.
But, this has a lot to do with practice and how often you perform the exercises.
I know many people who squat 2-3 times a week, and I have even conducted an experiment myself when I squatted every single day for a month.
Obviously, this involved a lot of squat variations with light, moderate, and heavy weights, as well as my own body weight.
But, can you honestly say that you put as much effort into the lunge?
I for one definitely can’t.
I can guarantee that if you performed a variety of lunges 3 times a week you would get much better at lunges.
This in turn means that you can progress with the lunge, either by adding weight, or using a more difficult variation.
As your lunge performance improves you will definitely get bigger and stronger.
So, once again, I’ll say that the squat isn’t for everyone, and lunges can definitely change your body composition.
3 Types of Lunges That Will Blow Your Legs Up
5. You Don’t Have to NOT Lunge or NOT Squat Forever
I can understand wanting to replace squats with lunges if you have a pain or discomfort issue.
I even “get it” if you just don’t like squats.
However, there’s nothing to say this is going to be a permanent fixture in your training.
I know from personal experience for this to be the case.
Following my lower back injury I never did a single rep of the barbell back squat for over a decade.
When I finally decided to try the exercise again, I tentatively started with a thorough warm-up and never loaded more than a 10kg weight on either side of the bar.
I’ll even say that I had a phantom pain in the lower back following this.
I’m guessing this was simply down to not having done the exercise for years, as well as the “fear factor”.
However, I now squat regularly, and heavier than I did pre-injury.
So, even if you do decide to use lunges to replace squats, this doesn’t mean it’s going to last forever.
You never know, a few months out and you may decide to try a few squats again.
Then again, you may choose a completely different squat variation, e.g. Bulgarian, Front, Zercher, etc.
There’s a couple of articles written by Ben Bruno that I really enjoyed.
They’re not so much about replacing squats with lunges, but more about whether there is a need to back squat.
Plus, how you should go about finding Your Own “Big 3” lifts.
There really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to replacing squats.
This could be a permanent thing, something you try out for a week or two, or even a decade as was the case for me.
It’s your body, you can train it how you want.
So, hopefully there’s a little more light at the end of the tunnel about replacing squats with lunges.
It’s definitely not a like-for-like swap.
However, there are no “rules” stating that you have to do one exercise over another.
It’s your body and you know it better than anyone else.
What may be a fantastic exercise for one person is a terrible one for another.
Plus, there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of exercises you could perform for each body part.
And they do say that variety is the spice of life.
I’ve also recently written about something I know many of us suffer with, namely why lunges hurt your toes.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.