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8 Leg Burning Alternatives to Lunges

Whatever your workout goal is, you need to train your legs. Leg training is almost always hard work, but it’s all-but essential, even when your main aim is building a bigger, more muscular upper body. After all, a huge chest and muscular arms look RIDICULOUS when paired with skinny legs!

While squats and leg presses are most people’s go-to leg exercises, lunges are also very useful. When you do lunges, your front leg takes more of the weight than your back leg, which provides your muscles with plenty of extra overload. 

Also, by working one leg at a time, you can use lunges to identify and fix any left-to-right strength imbalances. Lunges are also great for improving your balance, coordination, and hip mobility. They’re especially useful for runners as they closely replicate running. 

On the downside, lunges can be hard on the knees, especially if you do forward or walking lunges. Also, if you do lots of lunges, they can soon become boring and will lose some of their training potency. 

That’s why every exerciser needs to know some alternatives to lunges. 

In this article, we reveal some of the best exercises you can do instead of lunges. Some use different training equipment, while others work the same muscles but using different movement patterns. 

Use these lunge alternatives to keep your workouts interesting and productive.

Alternatives To Lunges

What Are Lunges?

Lunges are unilateral or single-leg lower body strength training exercise. They can be done using just your body weight for resistance or weighted by holding dumbbells or a barbell on your back. 

Lunges are a compound exercise, meaning they involve several joints and numerous muscles working together. The main muscles involved in lunges are:

Gluteus Maximus – Known as the glutes for short, this is basically your butt and is the largest muscle in your body. The primary function of the glutes is hip extension. 

Quadriceps – The four muscles that make up the quadriceps or quads for short are the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis. The quads extend your knees and are located on the front of your thigh. 

Hamstrings – The hammies are located on the back of your thighs, the hamstrings work alongside the glutes to extend out the hips and also flex your knees. The muscles of the hamstrings are the biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus. 

Abductors and Adductors – Located on the outside and inside of your hips and thighs, respectively, the abductors and adductors help stabilize your hips and prevent your knees from falling in or out during lunges. 

8 Alternatives to Lunges – For Maximum Leg & Glute Activation

As valuable as lunges are, they’re not for everyone, and it would be a mistake to do them all the time. Liven up your lower body workouts with these eight alternatives. 

1. Step-Ups

Step-ups are very similar to lunges but, instead of stepping forward, you step up instead. This means they’re a little more challenging but also easier on your knees. Like lunges, step-ups can be done with or without weights.

woman doing step ups outside

How to do it: 

  1. Stand facing a stable knee-high step. 
  2. Lift and bend one leg and place your foot flat on top of the step. 
  3. Drive your foot downward and, without pushing off your trailing leg, step up and onto the platform.
  4. Then back down with the same foot and then repeat. 
  5. Do all your reps on one leg before switching sides or alternate leading legs as preferred. 

2. Bulgarian Split Squats

This exercise is the XXXL version of lunges. Like lunges, it works one leg at a time, but the range of motion and balance requirement is much greater. Subsequently, this is a significantly harder exercise and perfect if you’ve mastered lunges.

Woman doing Bulgarian split squats

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your back to and about two feet from a bench about knee-height. 
  2. Bending one leg and placing the top of your foot on the bench behind you.
  3. Keeping your torso relatively upright, bend your legs and lower your rear knee down toward the floor. 
  4. Stand back up and repeat. 
  5. Rest a moment and then switch sides. Do the same number of reps with both legs. 

Note: This exercise can be performed with or without any weight. 

3. Pistol Squats

Pistol squats are another unilateral leg exercise. However, unlike lunges, your non-working leg provides no assistance. This is an exercise that requires and builds powerful legs, as well as excellent balance.

How to Do Pistol Squats - Featured image

How to do it:

  1. First thing you are gonna do is stand with your feet together and fully extend both arms in front of your body to help with balance (this exercise is quite difficult to perform for beginners). 
  2. Shift your weight over onto one leg and lift your other foot a few inches off the floor. 
  3. Bend your supporting leg and squat down, extending your opposite leg out in front of you as you descend. Make sure you keep it a few inches above the floor. 
  4. Stand back up and repeat or swap legs. 

4. Goblet Squats

If you want to overload your legs but aren’t ready for Bulgarian split squats or pistols just yet, goblet squats are the exercise for you. Using just one dumbbell or kettlebell, you can use this exercise to build the strength you need for more advanced unilateral leg exercises.

Goblet Squat

How to do it:

  1. First thing you are gonna do is stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and the toes turned slightly outward. Whilst holding a kettlebell or a dumbbell in front of your chest, just beneath your chin. 
  2. Then you’ll push your hips back, bend your knees, and squat down until your thighs are roughly parallel to the floor. Do not round your lower back. 
  3. Stand back up and repeat. 

5. Single-Leg Romanian Deadlifts

Like lunges, this is a unilateral leg exercise that is good for developing better balance. However, where lunges work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, single-leg Romanian deadlifts primarily work your hamstrings and glutes.

single leg romanians

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet together, knees slightly bent. Shift your weight over onto one leg. 
  2. Hinge forward from your hips and reach down toward the floor just in front of your feet. Extending your non-weight-bearing leg out behind you for balance. Do not round your lower back. 
  3. Stand back up and repeat. 

Note: Can be performed with or without weight.

6. Split Squats

Split squats are basically static lunges. With less coordination to think about, this exercise is easier to learn and means you’re free to focus on working your legs. You can do split squats with or without weights.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet together, arms by your sides. 
  2. Take a large step forwards and stop. 
  3. Now you want to bend your legs and lower your rear knee down toward the floor. Keep your front shin and torso upright. 
  4. Straighten your legs and repeat. 
  5. Do all the required reps and then rest. Do your next set with the opposite leg out in front. 

7. Lateral Lunges

Lunges are usually done forward or backward. This variation takes you sideways to increase abductor and adductor activation. Lateral lunges also provide your hips with a beneficial stretch. This exercise can be done without or with weights.

Woman doing a lateral lunge

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet together, arms by your sides. 
  2. Take a large step out to the side with your right leg. Bend your right knee while keeping your left leg straight. Push your hips back as you descend. Your right thigh should finish up roughly parallel to the floor.  
  3. Push off your right leg and bring your feet back together. 
  4. Repeat on the same side, or alternate legs are preferred. 

8. Deficit Reverse Lunges

This exercise is a more advanced type of lunge. If you’re bored of regular lunges and want a more challenging workout, this is the alternative for you. Be warned, you’ll feel this one in your glutes and hamstrings tomorrow.

A group doing reverse lunges

How to do it:

  1. Stand on a 2 to 4-inch step with your feet together and your arms by your sides. 
  2. Take a big step backward, bend your legs, and lower your rear knee down to the floor. Keep your torso upright. 
  3. Push off your rear leg and return to your step. 
  4. Do your next rep with the same leg or alternate legs as preferred. 

Note: You can perform this exercise with or without weights.

Are Lunges Necessary?

Lunges are undoubtedly a good exercise. They work one leg at a time and are good for your balance and mobility. But are they necessary? Not really. There are lots of exercises you can do instead if you prefer not to do lunges or feel you have outgrown them. 

That said, in terms of bang for your workout buck, lunges are tough to beat, and, for most people, their benefits outweigh any possible drawbacks. 

Bottom Line

Squats, leg presses, hack squats, leg extensions, leg curls, and deadlifts are all great leg exercises. They’re the perfect tools for building a bigger, more muscular, or more shapely lower body. But these popular exercises have drawbacks too. For starters, they all work both legs at a time. 

Bilateral or two-legged exercises allow you to lift heavy weights, but they can also disguise left-to-right strength imbalances. While minor imbalances are normal and something that almost everyone has, more significant imbalances can lead to injury. 

Also, there are very few bilateral leg movements in nature. Most of the time, we generate force using one leg at a time. Walking, running, jumping, and kicking are all unilateral movements, and if you want to improve your performance in these activities, you need to include unilateral exercises in your workouts. 

Exercises like lunges are also good for improving your balance. Balance is a critical factor in most sports and is also important in everyday life. Balance tends to decline with age, and poor balance increases your risk of falls. Falls in the elderly can cause serious injuries, including hip fractures. 

The humble lunge can help address all of these issues. You don’t have to give up things like squats or leg presses, but most exercisers will benefit from supplementing their bilateral leg workouts with unilateral moves like lunges.

Jason was a former bodybuilder who dedicated a significant part of his life to the sport. Although now retired from the competitive bodybuilding World, he still coaches a select few clients and is a full-time health advocate to the readers here at Fitness Equipment Reviews!

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