GAIN MUSCLE

Split Squat vs Lunge: Which One Is Best For Bigger Legs? (Benefits, Differences, Pros & Cons)

by Nader Qudimat
Updated October 5, 2022
OVERVIEW
Goal
Muscle Building
Experience Level
Any
Progression
Easy
Reps
8-12
Positives
Great unilateral exercises
Focuses on one leg at a time
Great for muscle building
Negatives 
May be hard to learn for beginners

Bottom Line

Both lunges and split squats have their place in programs. 

They can increase muscle size and strength by focusing on one leg at a time.

If you're used to doing only squats for your leg workouts, then try using one of these exercises as they'll help strengthen your weaknesses.

Click Here For More Programs 

When it comes to unilateral training for the lower body, split squats and lunges top the list.

Both exercises involve squatting in a staggered stance.

So, it’s no surprise that some people get confused between them.

Both split squats and lunges are effective at strengthening the quads, glutes, and hamstrings of each leg separately.

However, they each have their unique benefits.

In this article, I’ll go in-depth on the key differences and benefits between split squats and lunges.

Check out our other article on bicep curls (hammer vs bicep curls).

What Is The Main Difference Between A Split Squat And A Lunge?

The main difference between split squats and lunges is that the split squat does not involve changing the position of your feet, while the lunge does.

In other words, split squats are a static exercise while lunges are a more dynamic one.

The split squat has you starting in a staggered stance.

To perform the movement, you stay in that position and lower into a squat.

With the lunge, however, you start with your feet at shoulder width and then take a step forward to go into a staggered stance.

Split Squat vs. Lunge: Pros and Cons

Split Squat Benefits

  • Split squats require more balance than lunges. That’s because you are in a one-legged position for much longer than when doing lunges. As a result, this exercise is better for balance and coordination.
  • Split squats are versatile. The exercise can be done with no weight, or with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, or resistance bands. 
  • They correct asymmetry. Most of us have one leg that is stronger or more muscular than the other. The only way to correct the imbalance is by training each leg independently.
  • May relieve spinal pressure. People who don’t want to place compressive pressure on their spine can do the split squat with weight in their hands.
  • You can target different muscles. By adjusting your stance on the split squat you can emphasize either the glutes or the quads.

Split Squat Drawbacks

  • You need to be balanced. Even though this exercise will make you more balanced, you still need to have a decent amount of balance before you start doing the movement.
  • May be challenging to work both legs evenly. Some people find that they can do more reps on their dominant leg, making it difficult to balance out their strength and muscular development.
  • Limited range of motion. In the split squat stance, you will not be able to descend as low as you can when doing a lunge.
  • Potential overextension of the hip. If the rear leg is too straight, you risk hyperextending the hip, placing excessive strain on the hip joint.

Lunge Benefits

  • It is a functional exercise. Unlike the split squat, the lunge is a functional movement that simulates everyday movement. Lunging simulates walking up stairs or getting up off the floor from a half-kneeling position.
  • It is versatile. Just like the split squat, you can do the lunge with a range of resistances, from no weight at all to a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, and a resistance band. 
  • Improves proprioception. Proprioception refers to the mind-body connection when you are moving in space. That’s because it requires a lot of coordination as you are stepping forward, lowering down, and then pushing back to the start position.
  • Strengthens stabilizer muscles. To maintain your balance while lunging, you need to recruit the stabilizer muscles around your core and lower body.
  • Greater cardio effect: Because lunges have you moving through space, they have a greater aerobic effect to work your heart and lungs that slot squats.

Lunge Drawbacks

  • May cause knee pain. Some people complain about knee pain from lunges. However, this is often caused by such incorrect technique as allowing the knee to cave inward.
  • May overstretch the groin. If you take too large a step forward, you run the risk of overstretching the groin area, which can lead to pain in that area.
  • Risks injury due to wrong foot placement. There are more variables with this exercise, including foot placement. If you place your forward foot either too narrow or too wide, your knee may cave inward, causing pain to that joint.
  • You need good balance. If you are uncoordinated, you may lose your balance while lunging, which could lead to injury.

Split Squat Benefits

  • It is a functional exercise. Unlike the split squat, the lunge is a functional movement that simulates everyday movement. Lunging simulates walking up stairs or getting up off the floor from a half-kneeling position.
  • It is versatile. Just like the split squat, you can do the lunge with a range of resistances, from no weight at all to a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, and a resistance band. 
  • Improves proprioception. Proprioception refers to the mind-body connection when you are moving in space. That’s because it requires a lot of coordination as you are stepping forward, lowering down, and then pushing back to the start position.
  • Strengthens stabilizer muscles. To maintain your balance while lunging, you need to recruit the stabilizer muscles around your core and lower body.
  • Greater cardio effect: Because lunges have you moving through space, they have a greater aerobic effect to work your heart and lungs that slot squats.

Split Squat Benefits

Split Squat vs. Lunge – When To Do An Exercise

When To Do A Split Squat

  • When you want to work each leg separately
  • When you want to improve your explosive strength
  • As an auxiliary exercise for barbell squat strength
  • When you're unable to do barbell squats
  • When you want to use as heavy a weight as possible in the 9-10 rep range for muscle growth.

When To Do A Lunge

  • As part of a CrossFit routine
  • When you want to work each muscle separately, but are not coordinated enough to do split squats
  • When you want to improve your proprioception, balance, and coordination as well as make your leg muscles stronger and more muscular.
  • When you want to improve the endurance of your lower body, especially for running and field sports.

Split Squat vs. Lunge – Muscles Used

Split Squat Muscles Used

The split squat targets the quadriceps and the gluteus maximus.

The degree to which the exercise works either of these muscles depends on how far apart your legs are.

The wider your stance, the more it will work the glutes.

When you’re doing the lunge, your core muscles act as stabilizers. So do your calves, tibialis, and hamstrings.

Split Squat Muscles Used

Lunges target the same muscles as the split squat; the quads and glutes.

However, because there are different ways to do the lunge, you can more directly target different lower body muscles than when doing split squats.

When you perform a forward lunge, you are targeting the quadriceps.

However, the rear lunge, where you step backward, switches the emphasis to the hamstrings and glutes.

Side lunges will more directly work your adductor and abductor thigh muscles.

Form Differences

How To Do A Split Squat With Proper Form

The split squat can be done with a barbell across the shoulders or with weights in your hands.

The following description relates to the barbell version of the exercise.

To perform the hand weighted version, simply hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides.

Alternatively, you can hold a single kettlebell in front of your chest with both hands.

  1. Load a barbell on a squat rack as if you were about to do squats.
  2. Get under the bar, unrack it so that it is resting across your upper traps and shoulders, and take a large step back.
  3. Step your left leg back to assume a staggered stance.
  4. Maintaining a neutral spine and an upright torso, descend until your rear knee almost touches the floor.
  5. Push through the front thigh to return to the upright position.
  6. Once you have completed the designated rep count, do the same number of reps with the right leg back.

Split squats can also be done with the rear foot on a box or bench.

This version of the exercise is called the Bulgarian split squat.

How To Do A Split Squat With Proper Form

The lunge can also be done with a barbell, dumbbells, resistance bands, or a kettlebell.

The following description is for the barbell version.

  1. Load a barbell on a squat rack as if you were about to do squats.
  2. Get under the bar, unrack it so that it is resting across your upper traps and shoulders, and stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  3. Take a large step forward with your left foot.
  4. Maintaining an upright torso and neutral spine, descend until your rear knee almost touches the floor.
  5. Push through the front thigh to return to the start standing position.
  6. Once you have completed the designated rep count, do the same number of reps with the right leg stepping forward. Alternatively, you can alternate legs with every rep.

Helpful Form Cues

Split Squats

  • Do not let the knees cave in. Keep them in line with your foot at all times. 
  • Maintain an upright torso position. Do not round your back or shoulders.
  • Look directly ahead throughout the movement.
  • Begin with your weaker leg forward.
  • Descend as low as possible on every rep

Lunges

  • Use the same stance distance on both legs. This will help to balance out your strength and development between your two legs.
  • Keep your back upright, shoulders back, and spine in a neutral position.
  • Maintain a tight core.
  • Tuck your pelvis in slightly

Common Form Mistakes

Split Squat Form Mistakes

  • Improper foot distancing. Your feet should be shoulder distance apart when you start and throughout the movement. A common mistake is for the feet to be in line with each other. This is wrong. 
  • Too much body weight on the back leg. The majority of your body weight should be on your front leg. 
  • Lifting onto the front toes. Lifting onto the front toes usually happens because your feet are too close together. Adjust your stance so that your entire front foot stays down throughout the movement. 

Lunge Form Mistakes

  • Rounding the back. Rounding the back will place excessive strain on the spine. Be sure to maintain a neutral spine, pull the shoulders back, and look directly ahead throughout the entire movement.
  • Not going low enough. You should descend until your rear knee is about an inch from the floor.
  • Improper foot distancing. As with the split squat, you want your feet to be shoulder distance apart throughout the entire movement.

Frequently Asked Questions about Split Squats and Lunges

Are Split Squats And Lunges The Same Thing?

No, split squats and lunges are not the same thing.

The key difference between them is that the split squat keeps your feet in one position, while the lunge involves taking a step forward and then back on each rep. 

Are Split Squats Better ThanLunges?

Split squats are better than lunges at developing balance and coordination.

They also allow for heavier weight so are better for hypertrophy.

However, lunges are more effective for muscular endurance.

They also allow you to target different muscles of the legs through variations such as rear lunges, which target the hamstrings and glutes.

What’s The Difference Between A Bulgarian Split Squat And A Normal Squat?

The Bulgarian split squat involves placing your rear foot on a platform such as a box or a bench.

It allows you to get a greater range of motion than the standard split squat version of the exercise. 

Wrap Up

Both the split squat and the lunge are effective unilateral exercises for the lower body.

Either one of them will work the quads, glutes, core, and hamstrings.

However, for strength and muscle gains, the split squat is the better option.

If you want to target your hamstrings or adductor and abductor muscles, lunges are the way to go.

by Nader Qudimat

Forged by the iron and cold steel, Nader takes his knowledge and hulks it up into this site.

Having to be stuck as a 110lb skinny guy in the early days, he has had no choice but to keep improving himself until he cannot.

Click here to check out his 12 year transformation: Natural 12 Year Transformation

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