The lunge exercise can offer many benefits but you may want other options. What are some alternatives to lunges with similar benefits?
Lunges, both with body weight and extra weights, are a popular resistance training exercise you can describe as taking big steps. Among other benefits, lunges can strengthen your leg muscles, they are a no-equipment exercise you can do at home, low-impact, easy to add external weight to, improve balance, etc.
Whether you don’t enjoy lunges, you want a more knee, toe, and ankle-friendly alternative, or you want an alternative for any other reason, these alternatives to lunges can offer you some or all of these benefits.
If you are looking for lunge alternatives because your knees hurt. In that case, make sure you implement the right technique before permanently removing lunges from your workouts
Keep in mind that implementing these alternatives can offer benefits but like any exercise, there is always some risk of injury. Implement a good technique to keep your injury risk low. When in doubt talk to an expert.
Squats are one of the, if not the most, popular leg exercises, and for a good reason. They are great for building leg muscle and make a great alternative to lunges in almost all areas. To do a squat take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending your knees. How far depends on different factors like knee health but at your lowest point you want your hips to be at or lower than your knee height. You will likely have to bend forward for balance but keep your back in a straight line throughout the movement.
- Push yourself up again into starting position by stretching your legs.
One potential downside of squats is that more experienced exercisers need external weights like dumbbells, a weighted vest, a barbell, etc. to make this exercise more challenging. With an exercise like lunges where your body weight rests on a single leg, this is less necessary.
You can also consider box squats, squats with a plyo box beneath you, to limit the range your knees can fold.
2. VMO dips
For this next exercise, you want a platform that is slightly elevated, even 6 inches (15 cm) works, above the floor. An example of a suited object is a low stepper. Once you have that to do VMO dips take the following steps:
- Stand straight up on the edge of the platform, feet full on it, with your toes facing the lower surface.
- Move one foot forward so that it hovers over the edge.
- Fold the knee of your support leg in a controlled motion until your heel of the other foot touches the lower surface.
- Slowly stretch your support leg again.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions with your other leg as the support leg.
The vastus medialis oblique VMO is one of your four quadriceps (upper leg) muscles. If your knee hurts when doing exercises like lunges it is possible this muscle is not yet strong enough.
This is where VMO dips can help you strengthen the VMO muscle so that over time you can go to regular lunges and other great leg exercises that require knee folding.
For the next exercise you likely need external weights, preferably a barbell. To do a deadlift take the following steps:
- Stand up straight with your feet at more or less shoulder width.
- Slightly fold your knees and tilt your upper body forward to grab the barbell on the ground.
- Stretch your knees and tilt back your upper body at the same time until your upper body and legs are stretched in one straight line. When doing a deadlift it is very important to keep your back in a straight line during the exercise.
- Slowly move back into the position of step 2.
Good technique is important in any exercise to avoid injuries but especially so for deadlifts. Before trying to deadlift the heaviest weights it is smart to improve your technique first by starting with light or no weights at all.
Besides your leg muscles, the deadlift exercise also engages your back muscles. This makes it a great lunge alternative.
4. Bulgarian Split squats
For this next exercise, you want a step, bench, or any other stable object at about knee height. Once you have that, to do a Bulgarian split squat take the following steps:
- Stand in front of the stable object with your back towards it. Keep about half a leg distance between you and the box.
- Move one leg back and put the foot of this side on the object. The top of your foot should lean on the surface of the object.
- Slowly lower your hips by bending the knee of your stretched leg until your hip is at about the height of your knee of the previously stretched leg. Use your arms for balance if needed.
- Push yourself up again into the position of step 2.
- Repeat the same number of repetitions on the leg of the other side to keep your muscle distribution balanced.
The Bulgarian split squat looks similar to lunges but because one leg is raised, more weight rests on the other. This makes that Bulgarian split squat a great more challenging alternative to lunges if you do not have a lot of external weights available.
5. Good mornings
For the good morning exercise, you likely need some extra resistance in the form of a barbell or resistance band. Initially keep the resistance low to learn the right technique. To do a good morning with a barbell take the following steps:
- Set up the barbell racked at about chest height.
- Step under the barbell, put and hold it on your shoulder, and unrack it.
- Take a few steps back and put your feet at about shoulder width.
- Tilt your upper body forward as far as is comfortable with a good posture (but not farther than a horizontal line). At the same time bend your knees a small amount.
- Return to the position in step 3 in a controlled motion.
The good morning may look similar to the squat but you go a lot less through your knees. This makes it a decent alternative to lunges if you have bad knees. Good mornings engage your glutes, lower back, core, and hamstrings.
For step-ups you will again need a stable object, this time strong enough to stand on. A plyo box, a stepper, and even some weight benches are examples of suited objects for step-ups. If you have one, to do step-up take the following steps:
- Stand upright in front of the object facing toward it with your feet at shoulder-width.
- Raise one foot and put it on the surface of the object. Make sure your sole is entirely on the surface.
- Raise your body by exerting pressure with the leg of the foot that is on the object.
- Put your second foot next to the other one.
- Step down with the first foot.
- Step down with the second foot.
- Do a repetition with the other foot first.
It is easier to keep a good posture while doing step-ups compared to lunges.
Like with most of these exercises, you can use external weights like a weighted vest, dumbbells, kettlebells, etc. to make step-ups a more challenging leg workout.
7. Glute bridge
To do a glute bridge take the following steps:
- Lie down on the floor with your heels on the ground. You want your lower legs to be about vertical in the starting position. Your arms can rest on the ground at your sides for extra balance.
- Slowly raise your hips off the ground until your body is in more or less a straight line from your knees to your head.
- Lower your hips back into starting position in a controlled motion.
As the name implies, glute bridges mainly engage your glutes, also known as your butt, muscles.
8. Single leg presses
The leg press is a weighted resistance exercise that is often done on the leg press machine. To do one single-leg seated leg press take the following steps:
- Adjust the machine for your requirements. Put the desired weight on the dedicated holders of the leg press machine. If you are not sure how much would be right for you, start small and build up from there.
- Take place in the leg press machine. Place one foot flat on the pushing surface in a position where you can safely do the exercise without slipping from the platform and exert enough pressure.
- Slowly push up the weight until your leg is slightly less than stretched.
- Lower the weight gain into the position of step 2 in a controlled motion.
There are a few differences between the seated leg press and weighted lunges but one is that lunges engage more different muscles during the exercise. This makes the single leg press not the perfect lunge alternative but still a good option if you want to strengthen your legs with a machine.
You can also select double the weight and do a leg press with both of your legs at the same time.
9. Donkey kicks
To do a donkey kick take the following steps:
- Start with your face facing the floor with your hands on the ground, your arms stretched, and your knees on the ground.
- Move one foot upward until the upper leg of this side is in 1 line with your body. Keep your knees at 90-degree angles throughout the movement.
- Lower this leg back into the position of step 1 in a controlled motion.
- Repeat with your other leg.
Donkey kicks are a leg exercise that is mainly focused on your glute (butt) muscles. For your other leg muscles donkey kicks are not a great alternative.
10. Sled pushes
There is a piece of gym equipment that is a sled on which you can put weights. For this next lunge alternative, you will need this piece of equipment and a suited surface to push the sled on. If you have these to do sled pushes take the following steps:
- Load the sled with whatever weight you want to use.
- Hold the sled with your two hands and slightly less than stretched arms. Lower your upper body until it is in about a straight line with your arms. Keep your back straight throughout the exercise.
- Push the sled by taking step after step.
The sled can also be used as a cardio tool but the goal here is to make the sled push a resistance training exercise. If you can gain a lot of speed you may want to increase the amount of weight on the sled.
Another thing you want to do to make the sled push as close to a lunge alternative as possible is gripping it somewhere low. This makes it easier for your legs to do the full extension.