It is clear that lunges work your leg muscles but you can get more detailed than that. Find out what areas lunges work and how they compare to squats.
I will focus on the standard lunge where you stay in place in this article. Other lunge variations generally work similar muscles but often in different ratios.
Lunges will mainly work your quadriceps (front thighs), glutes (butt), and hamstrings (back thighs). The regular version will be very quad dominant.
You can grow and strengthen these quadriceps with lunges if you implement the right workout plan and nutrition.
Besides that, lunges also engage your hip abductors (outer thighs), hip adductors (inner thighs), calves, and core muscles like your abs, obliques, and erector spinae to some extent.
Compared to squats, lunges will typically focus a bit more on your glutes and hamstrings and a bit less on your quadriceps.
Primary muscles worked with lunges
Compound leg exercises like lunges work a variety of muscles to some extent. At the same time, there will only be a few that really have to move most of your body weight.
The primary muscles lunges work include your quadriceps (front thighs), glutes (butt), and hamstrings (back thighs).
Which of these muscles will fatigue first and/or experience the most training results theoretically depends on your relative strengths in these areas.
In practice, your quadriceps will likely have to do the most work.
Quadriceps (front thighs)
Your quadriceps are a group of four muscles in your front thighs. These are responsible for knee extension or in simpler words, stretching your leg.
In regular lunges, the quadriceps in your front leg will mainly be responsible for lifting your body after the step forward.
By staying in position and not walking forward like in walking lunges, your quadriceps have to go through a larger range of motion.
This is generally beneficial for muscle growth and strength progress.
Gluteus maximus (butt)
Your gluteus maximus is the main butt muscle. This muscle is responsible for hip extension which means moving your thighs back in line with your upper body from a flexed position.
If you look at how to do lunges, you will notice that your thighs and upper body form a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the movement.
The gluteus maximus helps you push your body up to some extent.
One thing to note is that regular lunges keep you in positions where your glutes are not really able to exert a lot of force.
Before you are able to get the full hip extension, your quadriceps already generated enough force to get back into starting position.
To really grow and strengthen your gluteus maximus you likely need to choose more glute-focused lunge alternatives or variations.
Hamstrings (back thighs)
The hamstrings in the back of your thighs have multiple functions. In lunges, they will mainly help the gluteus maximus with hip extension.
When it comes to working these hamstrings with lunges the same principles from above apply.
Regular lunges where you stay in position are not that great for working your hamstrings. The quadriceps will typically do most of the work.
Are lunges quad or glute & hamstring dominant?
By now you should understand that the standard lunge where you stay in place tends to be more quad dominant. Not glute and hamstring dominant.
This is because you have to push yourself back to starting position before your hamstrings and glutes can really go through the full range of motion.
That being said, it is worth mentioning that this can be very different for other lunge variations and even how you do these variations.
For example, the size of your steps influences what muscles reverse lunges work to the largest extent.
Smaller steps tend to be more quad dominant whereas bigger steps tend to be more hamstring & glute dominant.
On the other hand, walking lunges tend to focus just a bit more on your hamstrings and glutes because these muscles also have to push you forward just a bit more.
Secondary muscles worked with lunges
As mentioned, there is a lot more going on in lunges than just knee and hip extension. You also have to balance yourself and in turn, engage certain other muscles during the steps.
More specifically, some of the secondary muscles lunges work include your hip abductors (outer thighs), hip adductors (inner thighs), calves, and core muscles like your abs, obliques, and erector spinae.
Additionally, depending on if and what types of weighted lunges you do, you may need to work extra muscles or engage certain ones to a larger extent.
For example, in barbell lunges you tilt your upper body somewhat forward and keep a barbell on your back.
This will require some extra work from your erector spinae (lower back) to stop yourself from tilting forward entirely and some extra work from your chest, deltoids, and latissimus dorsi to keep the barbell in place.
Do lunges build a lot of muscle?
Lunges are a resistance training exercise that works the muscles above.
That means one of the benefits of lunges is that they can help you build a lot of muscle if you implement the right resistance, repetitions, sets, rest periods, nutrition, and lifestyle.
More specifically, in a muscle growth workout, you preferably want to do around 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 15 weighted lunges (per leg) with a weight where you can barely complete these ranges.
That being said, higher-repetition ranges of up to even 50 lunges per leg can often be enough to build muscle too.
Resistance training beginners and potentially intermediates may be able to build a good amount of muscle with bodyweight lunges.
As they get stronger, even these people may need to start doing lunges with weights to keep seeing a lot of muscle growth.
Squats vs lunges muscles worked
Squats are another popular leg exercise where you lower your hips and raise them again. Typically with extra resistance to make the movement hard enough.
This movement will typically involve more and more focus on the knee flexion and extension. In simpler words, your knees will go through a larger range of motion.
In turn, squats tend to work your quadricep muscles more than regular lunges.
Even with more quad-focused lunge variations like reverse lunges, it can be hard to reach the same extent of knee flexion as squats.
Your calf muscles will generally have to work a bit harder during squats too.
On the other hand, lunges tend to focus a bit more on the hip extension movement. This means they typically work your glutes and hamstrings just a bit more than squats.