Whatever your fitness goal is, leg exercises should be a cornerstone of your training. Around 40% of your total muscle mass in your lower body and lower body muscle mass is a reliable indicator of longevity and mobility in older people.
Also, lower body training burns a LOT of calories, so it’s important for weight management too.
Training your legs will also improve your sporting performance. If you want to run faster, jump higher, or kick harder, leg training is a must.
For most people, leg workouts mean squats, leg presses, leg curls, leg extensions, and deadlifts. But, as good as these exercises are, they have one drawback; they all train both of your legs at the same time. In nature, we tend to perform most activities using one leg at a time.
Because of this, most people need to include single-leg exercises in their lower body workouts. This means lunges, step-ups, split squats, and other unilateral movements.
Split Squats vs. Lunges – Which is Best
In this article, we explain how to do these two great exercises and also discuss their benefits and differences so that you can choose the right one for your needs.
What Are Split Squats?
Split squats are a compound lower body exercise during which your feet remain static.
They can be done with both feet on the ground or with the back foot elevated, which are called rear foot elevated split squats or Bulgarian split squats.
Split squats can be done as a bodyweight exercise or while holding dumbbells or a barbell.
How to do split squats:
- Take a large step forward and then stop.
- Bend both legs and lower your rearmost knee down to within an inch of the floor. Keep your torso upright throughout.
- Keeping your feet in place, stand back up again, and repeat.
- At the end of your set, step back to bring your feet together and then swap legs.
Because they’re a compound exercise, split squats use several joints and lots of muscles. The main movers and shakers in split squats are:
Quadriceps – located on the front of your thigh, these muscles are responsible for extending your knee. There are four quadriceps muscles: rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.
Hamstrings – this muscle group flexes your knee and extends your hip. Located on the back of your thigh, the three hamstring muscles are biceps femoris, semimembranosus, and semitendinosus.
Gluteus maximums – called your glutes for short, this muscle is basically your butt. Its primary role is hip extension. The Gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your body.
Adductors – located on the inside of your thigh, the adductors draw your femur or thigh in toward the midline of your body. In split squats, the adductors mostly work to stabilize your knees and hips. The three adductor muscles are the longus, brevis, and magnus.
Abductors – the abductors are gluteus minimus and tensor fascia latae. Located on the outside of your thigh and hip, they lift your femur out and away from the midline of your body. In split squats, the abductors work to stop your knees and hips from rolling inward.
The advantages and benefits of split squats include:
- Easy to learn – split squats involve less coordination than exercises like lunges and step-ups. As such, they’re relatively easy to learn and quick to master.
- Good for your balance – remaining upright and in the same spot will improve your balance. Balance often declines with age and is also an important part of most sports and many everyday tasks.
- Easy on your knees – with very little forward movement, your front shin should remain mostly vertical during split squats, which takes a lot of stress off your knee joint. If your knees travel forward beyond your toes, you could end up with achy knees.
- Better flexibility and hip mobility – split squats provide your lower body with a welcome stretch. If you spend a lot of time sitting down or otherwise have tight hips, split squats may help.
What Are Lunges?
Like split squats, lunges are a compound lower body exercise.
However, unlike split squats, lunges involve more movement and often feature an alternating leg action.
There are several different types of lunges, including forward, backward, walking, and lateral variations.
Lunges can be done as a bodyweight exercise or while holding dumbbells or a barbell.
How to do lunges:
- Stand with your feet together and your arms by your sides.
- Take a large step forward, stop, and then bend your legs. Lower your rear knee down to within an inch of the floor. Do not let your front knee travel forward and beyond your toes. Try to keep your front shin as vertical as possible.
- Push off your front leg and return to your original starting position.
- Do your next rep leading with the opposite leg and then alternate sides for the duration of your set.
Lunges work all of the same muscles as split squats, namely:
- Gluteus maximus
However, because you are using an alternating leg action and lunges involve more movement in general, doing lunges increases adductor and abductor activation as these muscles have to work harder to stabilize your hips and knees.
Lunges have all the benefits of split squats but, because they involve a more complex movement, they are a little harder to learn. They also involve more balance and coordination.
The most significant advantage they have over split squats is that lunges are more dynamic and closely replicate things like walking and running.
This means they are marginally more functional and may have a better crossover to sports and everyday activities.
Split Squats Vs. Lunges – Which Is Better?
Because they’re so similar, it’s tough to say that split squats are better than lunges, or vice versa. Lunges are marginally more functional than split squats but are harder to learn and trickier to perform.
Split squats are easier to master, but because they’re slightly simpler, you are free to focus on pumping out the reps.
If we had to say which one was better, split squats are potentially superior for beginners, while lunges are more suited to intermediate and advanced exercisers.
However, split squats and lunges are excellent exercises, and you may benefit from doing both of them.
Bilateral (two-legged) lower body exercises like squats and leg presses are great for building muscle size and strength. However, if you want to be a better runner or otherwise develop your functional strength, they’re not always the best option.
Unilateral (one-legged) exercises like lunges and split squats help prevent left-to-right strength imbalances and are also helpful for improving your balance and coordination.
They closely replicate the demands of daily living, so most exercisers should include unilateral movements in their workouts.
That doesn’t mean you need to give up squats and leg presses; just supplement them with lunges or split squats. Both of these excellent exercises are equally beneficial and deserve to be part of your workouts.