Split Squat vs Lunge – What Is the Difference?

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Split squats and lunges are similar-looking exercises and that’s why people often confuse the two. The differences may appear subtle, but they do differ significantly. So, in this article, we’ll look at what is the main difference between a split squat and a lunge, and which is better.

Split Squat vs Lunge

split squat vs lunge

There are two main differences between a split squat and a lunge: the movement itself and the muscles it affects.


So, the first one is the movement. At first, the two exercises might look the same. They both involve lowering your body until your front leg is bent at about 90 degrees with your rear leg also bent behind you. During the movement, you move the weight (either just your bodyweight or bodyweight with dumbbells or barbell) created by the axis created by the position of the legs. However, while the lunges involve making a step backward, forward or sideways, the split squat, which is more static, is performed with the feet in their original stance.

Lunges are more active and for a complete exercise, you engage both legs almost equally since you switch the front leg with each rep. During a split squat, on the other hand, you mostly engage only the front leg and the rear leg stays at rest. Or mostly at rest. It does stay slightly active since it acts as a stabilizer. However, most of the emphasis goes on the front leg.

The difference in the movement makes the lunges a more challenging exercise as it requires more strength, coordination and balance. Because of this, if you’re a beginner, you might want to start with learning the split squat first. Once you’ve perfected the form and can manage the exercise well balanced, progress to the lunge. Later on, as you’ve built up strength, add weights to increase the difficulty of the exercise.

Muscles Worked

The second difference between the two is the muscles that they work or rather how they affect the muscles. Both exercises work lower body muscle groups, such as the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves and the core. However, splits squats and lunges have a different emphasis.

The prime movers in split squats are lunges, which run along the front of your thighs. However, there are also other muscles assisting. They include hamstrings, glutes and calves that work to help stabilize and balance your body. Moreover, the exercise engages the core (the obliques and rectus abdominals), which helps to keep your posture straight and prevents any tilting or shaking during the movement.

As for the split squats, they engage all the same muscles but they mostly isolate the quads. The movement still requires balance but to a lesser extent than with lunges. As a result, the stabilizer muscles also get a workout but one that is not as intensive. The same goes for the core. Since the lunge is a more dynamic movement, your body requires more effort to stay straight.

Benefits of Lunges and Splits Squats

what is the difference between a split squat and lunge

Improves Balance Asymmetries

Since you do one leg at a time, both exercises allow to account for body asymmetries. So, if you feel any muscular imbalances in your body, for example, if you feel like one leg is weaker, you can focus more on the other leg. Such imbalances often occur after injuries. A leg injury can often leave the injured leg weaker than the other. And doing more lunges or more split squats on that leg is a great way to fix that problem.

Better Coordination And Balance

Split squats and lunges are also unilateral exercises, meaning that you work on each side of the body independently from the other. This requires you to utilize balance and coordination in the movement, training it in the process. It trains your body to react to positional changes much quicker, which leads to improved balance and coordination. And having good balance is an important thing in our daily lives, especially in old age.

Can Be Done Anywhere

You don’t need to be at the gym and you don’t need any special equipment to perform either the lunges or the split squats. All you need is your bodyweight. So, you can do them for a workout at home, in the park or even during your lunch break at the office.

Makes You More Functional

Functional exercises are the ones that impact your everyday, natural movements. And lunges, as well as split squats, do just that. They mimic the movement of walking or getting up the stairs.

Improves Flexibility

The two exercises work your hip flexors. These muscles are chronically tight for many individuals since we spend the majority of time sitting down in our daily lives. Having stiff hip flexors can limit your range of motion and with age can lead to severe hip problems. And lunges and splits squats help to counter this problem.

Better Core Stability

The up and down movement, as well as the work to keep your torso straight, requires a lot of core engagement. This is especially true for the lunges as it’s a more dynamic movement. This makes lunges and split squats a good choice of exercise if you want a stronger core.

Improves Spinal Health

Lunges and splits squats are also great for your spine. While most weight lifting exercises involve loading the spine, meaning that they compress the spins, these two exercises deload the spine. Loading the spine isn’t bad in itself. However, deloading or decompressing the spine is a great way to let your spine rest during a heavy workout.

Which Is Better?

Both exercises are equally great for lower body toning. So, there’s really no true best. Both have plenty of benefits. However, depending on your goal, one might be better than the other.

If your goal is better balance, coordination and improved leg strength, you’ll get better results with lunges. However, if you want to isolate the quads, the split squat is the more effective exercise for that.

So, think of your intent and this will help you decide which one would be the best for you.

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