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Lunges are one of the most effective exercises for targeting and strengthening muscles in your lower body. But those with knee pain struggle to do the exercises. Others find it challenging to reach the full range of motion, making it difficult to get the most out of the movement.
You will be happy to know that many alternatives to lunges will allow you to strengthen your lower body muscles without putting much pressure on your knees.
What Muscles do lunges Target?
Forward lunges, commonly referred to as lunges, are bodyweight exercises that involve taking a step forward. You then bend both knees to lower your body toward the floor and straighten your knees to return to your starting position.
Lunges are unilateral exercises that target and engage many muscles. The movement primarily targets your
- hamstrings, and
The eccentric phase of luges, during which you lower your body to the floor, stretches the above muscles.
The muscles contract during the concentric phase, where you raise your body to return to your starting position.
Other muscles that the lunges target include:
- transverse abdominis
- erector spinae
Benefits of Lunges
- Lunges can improve your body’s balance and stability. You work on each side of your body independently, forcing your stabilization muscles, such as your spine and core, to work hard to keep you stable, improve your balance, and help coordinate your movements.
- Lunges can help boost your metabolism, thereby burning more calories to help you lose weight.
- They can help strengthen your core and back muscles, reduce injury and improve your posture.
- It can help you build a more symmetrical body. Training one side of your body independently can help correct any misalignments and imbalances in your body.
Best alternatives to lunges for sharpening and strengthening your lower body muscles
Below are some of the best lunge alternatives that can help target muscles in your lower body.
The half lunge is one of the best alternatives to lunges for bad knees.
The half lunge is a variation of the forward lunge but with a smaller range of motion. You stop lowering your body before the bend in your front knee gets to the 90-degree angle.
The half lunge is one of the best alternatives to lunges without putting much stress on your knee joints. It is also one of the best ways to train your muscles for the forward lunge.
Steps to follow
- Take a split stance with one foot about 2-3 feet in front of the other.
- Keep your torso straight and your shoulders back.
- Engage your core and rest your hands on your knees
- Bend your knees and start lowering your body.
- Stop lowering your body just before your front thigh and leg are at 90 degrees or when you feel some pain in your knee joints
You can make the movement less challenging by placing one hand on a chair. Doing so will help keep your body stable.
The Static lunge is similar to the forward lunge but has a smaller range of motion.
The static lunge is a knee-friendly alternative to lunges that can help improve your coordination and knee joint strength for other strenuous exercises like squats and forward lunges.
Static lunges can help build your quads, hamstrings, and glutes, help to improve your balance and help you go through many daily activities.
Steps to follow
- Take a split stance with one foot about 2-4 feet in front.
- Place your hands on your hips and keep your torso upright
- Bend your knees and lower your body down as far as possible.
- Press your feet down and raise your body back to your starting position.
- You can see the static lunge as a natural progression from the half lunge.
- You can make the exercise more challenging by holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Step-ups are very effective lunge alternatives for working the lower body muscles.
The exercise can help boost strength in your glutes, hamstrings, and upper legs. It can also help boost your balance and coordination.
You will need a plyo box, a weight bench, or a raised platform for the exercise.
Step-ups are not much different from going up and down a staircase. You can start with a short platform and increase the height of the platform as you gain more strength in your lower body.
They are some of the best alternative exercises to lunges, especially if you have knee joint issues or struggle to do forward lunges.
Step-ups can help build strength in your legs independently to help develop equal strength.
Steps to follow
- Stand upright in front of the weight bench, your chest and head out, and look straight ahead.
- Lift one leg and place your foot on the weight bench
- Press your lower foot downward, raise yourself, put the other foot on the weight bench, and stand upright on it.
- Reverse the movement and return both legs to your starting position on the floor.
You can make the exercise more challenging by holding a dumbbell in each hand.
Front Foot Elevated Lunge
The front elevated split squat involves elevating your front leg while doing the squat exercise.
Placing your leg on an elevated platform reduces the range of motion and the pressure on your knees and quads.
The front elevated split squat is one of the best alternatives to lunges that can work your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves for those who struggle to do forward lunges or have problems with their knees.
- You will need a weight bench or an elevated surface for the exercise.
- Place one leg on the elevated surface, leaving the other on the floor, and about 1-2 feet from the bench.
- Bend your knees and lower yourself as far as you can towards the floor. Engage your core and ensure you keep your torso up.
- Press your elevated foot down and push yourself up to your starting position
The reverse lunge is another good alternative to lunges that can help build your quads, hamstrings, abs, glutes, calves, and adductors.
The exercises can help you to strengthen your lower body muscles and prepare you for other strenuous movements like squats and forward lunges.
Steps to follow
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart with arms by your sides.
- Take a step back, bend both knees and lower your body toward the floor
- Continue lowering your body until your back knee touches the floor or until your knees start hurting.
- Push through your front foot, extend your knees, raise yourself to stand upright, and return your back foot to your starting position.
- Alternate and repeat with the other side of your body.
Single Leg Squat To Bench
The single-leg squat to bench is a variation of the step-ups and one of the best alternatives to lunges for strengthening your leg muscles.
The exercise is an effective way to build unilateral leg strength, helping you to develop a balanced body. Include the alternatives to lunges exercises in your lower body workouts to help work your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
You will need a weight bench, a box, or a stool for the exercise. Sitting on the weight bench allows you to control the depth of the movement and tune the motions to your fitness and mobility levels.
You can use the single-leg squat to bench exercises to help build lower body strength and prepare you for more challenging movements. They are also some of the best ways for beginner trainees to build leg strength and improve balance.
Ensure the height of the weight bench is such that your knees will bend at 90 degrees when you sit on it.
Steps to follow
- Stand with your back towards the weight bench, feet at hip-width. Ensure you are about 6-12 inches from the weight bench.
- Keep your hands by your sides or stretched out in front of you
- Lift and fully extend one leg in front of you. Keep your lifted leg about 6-8 inches from the floor.
- Bend the knee of the leg on the floor and slowly lower your body until your butt touches the weight bench.
- Immediately push through the heels of the foot on the floor, raise your body, and return to your starting position.
- Repeat 5-8 reps, switch legs and go through the movement with the other leg.
Lateral lunges, or side lunges, are some of the best alternatives to lunges worth considering for your lower body workouts.
They are excellent for exercisers with leg problems and can help improve stability and balance in the knees and ankles.
Lateral lunges can work and stretch your inner thigh muscles, including the abductors and outer glutes, and can benefit skiers.
Steps to follow
- Stand upright with feet a hip-width apart and hands in front of your chest.
- Take a wide step sideways with your right leg. Ensure you keep both feet flat on the floor with both toes pointing forward.
- Keep your hips back and bend your right knee as you step sideways to shift your weight to the right. Ensure you keep your chest and head up, and your spine neutral.
- Pause, and slowly return your right leg back to your starting position.
- Repeat with the other leg.
Bulgarian Split Squat
The rear foot elevated split squat, aka Bulgarian split squat, is one of the best alternatives to lunges for exercisers looking for ways to correct imbalances in their muscles.
The Bulgarian split squat is a good option for those with back problems.
Steps to follow
- Set the weight bench to knee height and stand with your back toward the weight bench. Ensure you are about 2 feet away from the weight bench, with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Lift one leg and place the top of its foot on the weight bench behind you, maintaining the width distance between your feet. Ensure you have enough room between the leg on the floor and the weight bench to make it easy for you to lunge.
- Engage your core, bend your knees, and lower your body towards the floor.
- Keep lowering until your front thigh is parallel to the floor or until you feel some pain in your knees.
- Push through the foot on the floor, extend your knees, and raise yourself to your starting position
- Repeat 6-8 reps for a set and 2 sets per session for each leg
The single-leg deadlift can help tone and strengthen your lower body muscles, including the glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and butts.
Balancing your body on one leg when doing the movement increases glute activation. Thus the single-leg deadlift is also one of the best alternatives to lunges for improving your balance and posture.
You can do the exercise either by holding a kettlebell in one hand or holding nothing.
Steps to follow
- Stand upright, keep your legs straight, and leave your hands hanging in front of you. Keep your feet at hip width.
- Lift one leg, extend it toward your back, and simultaneously start hinging at your torso.
- Keep hinging at your torso as you lift your leg until your chest is parallel to the floor and your raised leg and torso are in line. Ensure you keep your back flat and your raised leg fully stretched.
- Lift your torso while lowering your raised leg and return to your starting position
- Repeat for 8-12 reps. Switch legs and go through the movement with the other leg.
- Complete 2 sets of 8-12 reps with each leg
Final words from LiveLIfe
Lunges are some of the most effective exercises for strengthening the lower body muscles. But problems with your knee could limit your ability to do them effectively.
You can use some of the alternatives to lunges we have discussed here to help target and work your lower body muscles.
The alternatives to lunges can help you meet your fitness goals without aggravating your knee joint problems or without much stress on your lower body joints.
- José M. Muyor, Isabel Martín-Fuentes, David Rodríguez-Ridao, José A. Antequera-Vique. 2020. Electromyographic activity in the gluteus medius, gluteus maximus, biceps femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and rectus femoris during the Monopodal Squat, Forward Lunge and Lateral Step-Up exercises. Plos One. National Library of Medicine.
- Begalle RL, Distefano LJ, Blackburn T, Padua DA. Quadriceps and hamstrings coactivation during common therapeutic exercises. J Athl Train. 2012;47(4):396–405. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-47.4.01
- Paulo H. Marchetti, Mauro A. Guiselini, et al. 2018. Balance and Lower Limb Muscle Activation between In-Line and Traditional Lunge Exercises. National Library of Medicine.
- Riemann B, Congleton A, Ward R, Davies GJ. Biomechanical comparison of forward and lateral lunges at varying step lengths. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2013;53(2):130-138.