Split Squats vs Lunges 101 – How To, Differences & Benefits

To the untrained, the split squat and the lunge are the same movement and while it is not uncommon for the two exercises to be confused for one another, there are several differences between the two movements that target your legs and your glutes. Although the setup for the exercise is the same and the technique is similar, the best way for an individual to appreciate the difference between split squats vs lunges is to perform the exercises for themselves.

What Are Split Squats?

A variation of the regular squat, a split squat is a compound leg exercise that focuses on the same leg muscles, but also puts a focus on your abdominal and lower back while challenging your balance and stability.

How To Do a Split Squat

  • Start in a standing split stance with your front foot approximately 2-4 feet in front of your other foot. While keeping your front foot flat on the ground, place weight on the toes of your rear foot by raising your back heel off the ground.
  • With your hips squared, keep your torso upright and your feet hip-width apart. If you are performing this exercise with just your body weight, place your hands on your hips or have them clasped together in front of your chest.
  • Engage your core and start the downward movement by bending your front knee and allowing your back knee to bend towards the floor. Lower your body until your front leg is parallel with the floor. Your back knee should be in line with your hip and hover above the ground. Aim to have 70% of your weight on your front leg.
  • As you rise back up, keep your chest high, core engaged with your head and neck in a neutral position. Squeeze your glutes and quads and allow your front knee/leg to straighten to an almost upright position (keep a slight bend in your knee). Keep your pelvis in a neutral position, with your hips in line with your shoulders.

Split Squat Benefits

Split Squats vs Lunges

Split squats not only help increase lower body strength but also help enhance your flexibility, mobility, and balance. As a unilateral exercise, split squats are a great lower body exercise that helps to prevent imbalances between our right and left leg. 

Being that you have limited movement, split squats are relatively easier for progressive overloading and are more stable for those who have balance and stability issues. The static foot positioning will also provide you the ability to generate more explosive power, which can help with improving athletic performance. 

Split Squat Variations

Split Squats vs Lunges

Weighted Split Squat–Holding dumbbells at your sides or goblet style or a weighted barbell on your shoulders. You can also perform the exercise using a hex bar.

Bulgarian Split Squat–Elevate your rear foot/leg on a box or bench.

Front Foot Elevated Split Squat–Similar to the Bulgarian split squat, however, perform this exercise with your front foot elevated instead of your rear foot.

Split Squat Tips

Make sure the distance between your front and the rear foot is proper and that your stance is not too narrow. Imagine standing on train tracks, rather than on a tightrope.

Making sure you can execute the exercise with just your body weight is key to balance and stability. Don’t jump straight into using weights.

What Are Lunges?

Lunges are a functional strength exercise that helps strengthen various lower body muscles while also building stability, mobility, and flexibility through a relatively simple exercise.

How To Do a Lunge

  • Begin in a standing position with your feet approximately hip-width apart. Make sure your hips and shoulders are square.
  • With your core engaged, step forward slightly longer than your regular walking stride, keeping one leg in front of your torso and the other leg behind you. Keep your front foot flat on the ground, your rear foot should have your toes planted and heel elevated.
  • As you lower your body, bend your knees until they are approximately 90 degrees. Once you reach that point, push off from your front foot and return to a standing position. You can either continue reps on the same leg or repeat on the opposite side.

Lunge Benefits

Split Squats vs Lunges

As with the split squat, lunges are a unilateral exercise that will help with balance, stability, and mobility while working muscles in both legs as you move in various directions and shifting weight (body and/or additional weight). Not only will lunges help improve muscular endurance, but they are also a great cardiovascular exercise for runners or those who play sports involving running as the mechanics are similar, just without the heavy impact.

Various basic lunge movements will help assist in injury prevention of the stabilization muscles and ligaments in the knee area.

Lunge Variations

Split Squats vs Lunges

Weighted Forward Lunge–Using a barbell, dumbbells, or kettlebells. Make sure you can execute a bodyweight forward lunge properly without losing balance before adding weight.

Reverse Lunge–Rather than stepping forward, step backward. You will have the same form as the forward lunge. Keep your upper body straight and core engaged.  

Walking Lunges–Execute a forward lunge, however rather than pushing back to the starting spot, shift your weight forward, driving your front heel into the floor, and then bring your back foot forward to reset both feet. Then continue lunging forward.

Split Lunge Jumps–Instead of stepping forward into your lunge, jump into the forward lunge. Driving your front foot into the floor, explode up and switch legs midair so that you land with your opposite foot forward and immediately fall into a lunge position. Use your arms to help propel you up.

Lunge Tips

When executing the forward lunge, it is important to make sure that your front knee does not extend past your toes. Make sure you step forward far enough that your front foot lands flat on the ground so your heel doesn’t pop off the floor, driving your knee forward.

Keep your core engaged so that your upper body does not drop over the top of your knee, putting added strain on it.

Split Squats vs Lunges – Similarities

Although they are different, there are several aspects of split squats vs lunges that are similar (same but different). Both exercises are unilateral, meaning that they focus on the muscle groups on one side of the body. They are also both compound movements in which they work several joints and muscle groups, including the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. Both exercises are great for mass muscle building

Both the split squat and the lunge will challenge your balance and stability throughout your feet, ankles, and legs. Depending on the variation that you choose to use, this can become more and more challenging, especially if you choose to move beyond your body weight to add more resistance weight with either a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells, or bands. 

Split Squats vs Lunges – Differences  

The most obvious difference between split squats vs lunges is their movement patterns. Where the lunge distributes the weight balance between both legs equally (or should), a split squat demands the front leg manages both the weight and does the work, while the back leg can relax slightly.

Whereas split squats are a stationary exercise, lunges incorporate a cardio aspect into your strength-building exercise with either a forward, reverse, lateral, diagonal, or even vertical action. While each has a fair share of variations, the lunge beats out the split squat with the number of options to avoid boredom and monotony.  

Split Squats vs Lunges – Muscles Worked

Split Squats vs Lunges

When comparing split squats vs lunges, both focus on the same lower body muscle groups, including:

  • Hip Flexors
  • Hamstrings
  • Quadriceps
  • Glutes
  • Abductors
  • Adductors
  • Core (Abdominals / Lower Back)

While the muscle groups are the same, how they are used is slightly different as the lunges incorporate the hip abductors & adductors and your core in order to help you stabilize better while moving through the exercise. Since split squats have less demand on balance, you can easily increase the use of weight.

Split Squats vs Lunges – The Verdict

When it comes down to split squats vs lunges, why do you have to decide between the two when both are great exercises that have their own athletic performance benefits and help build muscle mass in their own way? Both unilateral exercises can complement each other, whether you do them on the same day or split on your workout schedule.

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Steve Lee

I am a former certified personal trainer, sports conditioning coach, certified basketball and softball coach. Whether you are in the weight room, on the court or on the field, it doesn’t matter how good you are, it’s that you enjoy doing what you are doing and try your best.
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