Split Squat vs Lunge: Which Exercise is Best for You?

When it comes to building strong, toned legs, split squats and lunges are two powerhouse exercises that often steal the spotlight.

These are both unilateral exercises, which means that you only use a single leg. They're excellent for hypertrophy or strength training.

However, the split squat and the lunge do have certain differences between them.

So, which one is right for you? In this post, we'll break down the key differences between split squats and lunges, highlighting their unique benefits and how they target your muscles.

Get ready to optimize your leg day routine with the perfect move for your fitness goals!


How to Do Lunges

Before we start talking about all of the differences between these two exercises, let's go through a quick step-by-step tutorial on exactly how to do both of them. This way, you are aware of what both of these exercises entail.

  1. To start, stand upright with your feet together. You should have your shoulders retracted and your chest puffed out a little bit.
  2. Choose one leg to start with and lunge forward with it, and for these purposes, we'll start with your right leg.
  3. While lunging forward with your right leg, squat down with your left leg until your rear knee is just a few inches off the ground. You should also see the heel of your back foot raised off the ground, with the ball planted firmly on the ground.
  4. At this point, your front leg should be bent at roughly a 90° angle at the knee.
  5. Using your right foot, push off the ground and come out of the squat with your left leg until you're back at your starting position.
  6. Do one rep per side and alternate until you've done anywhere between 8 and 12 repetitions per side.


How to Do Split Squats

How to Do the Split Squat

We then have the split squat, so let's take a real quick look at exactly how to do this.

  1. To start off, you need to get yourself a flat bench.
  2. Stand in front of the front bench so that you are facing away from it.
  3. Start with the same position as with the lunge, with your shoulder blades squeezed together, your chest puffed out, and your feet together.
  4. Take your left leg and place it on top of the bench behind you. The top of your foot should be resting on the bench, with the bottom of your foot facing upwards.
  5. With your right foot, lunge forward slightly and drop down until your right leg is at roughly a 90° angle at the knee.
  6. Return to the starting position and repeat with the other side. Aim to perform anywhere between 8 and 15 repetitions per side.

Now, something to keep in mind is that this is technically known as the Bulgarian split squat because your foot is raised up on the bench.

There is a regular or standard split squat that has both of your feet on the ground in a split stance.

This is ideal for lifting higher amounts of weight, but is not as good for developing balance or stability control.

On that note, if you'd like to make this exercise a bit more challenging, it's a good idea to hold some dumbbells.


Benefits of Lunges and Split Squats

How to Do the Split Squat

Before we look at the differences between the two exercises, there are several benefits that both exercises share.

  • Addressing Muscle Imbalances: Both of these exercises can show you if you have muscle imbalances. You can then focus on one exercise or the other, and even focus on one leg over the other, to address those muscle imbalances.
  • Great for Strength Training: Lunges and split squats are both excellent exercises to help improve your lower body strength and are great training tools for strength and performance-based workouts.
  • Balance and Coordination: Perhaps one of the biggest benefits that both of these exercises offer is that they help to improve your overall coordination, balance, and stability. This is because you're generally focusing on one leg over the other, therefore forcing your body to balance.
  • They’re Versatile: The other big benefit of both of these exercises is that they are very versatile. You can perform them virtually anywhere. They can also be done using a wide variety of exercise equipment.


Split Squat vs Lunge: Differences in Form

Mechanically speaking, the split squat and the lunge are very similar exercises. They both feature a staggered stance with you squatting down.

However, there are some differences in form that lead to some functional differences that you'll notice once you start doing these exercises regularly.

Related Post: Back Squat Vs Front Squat


The Actual Movement

The main difference between the split squat and the lunge is in the movement itself.

If we are talking about the lunge, this is done while you are in motion. In other words, lunge has you walking forwards or backwards, or even laterally, in the form of taking a single step in a specific direction.

However, the split squat is a static exercise, which means that you aren't moving off of the spot you're standing on. In this sense, the lunge is a more dynamic exercise, while the split squat is stationary.

Whenever you do a lunge, you always use both of your legs in an equal manner to complete each rep.

Of course, how much you use each leg depends on the direction that you are lunging in, but the simple fact is that both legs are in use more than when you are doing the split squat.

The stepping motion that is required to do a lunge is great for targeting your glutes, hamstrings, and your quadriceps. You have to push and pull from your opposite legs for each rep.

On the other hand, if we are talking about the split squat, this always works the front leg more than the back leg.

The back leg doesn't do much movement here, and it's essentially just there for balance.

Yes, the back leg moves slightly, but it's really just an anchor so that you can bend down with your front leg without falling over. Around 80% to 90% of the weight when doing split squats will be on your front leg.

Muscles Targeted

Although both of these exercises are fairly similar, they do target slightly different muscles.

This can vary depending on how they're performed, but generally speaking, the split squat is one of the best exercises out there for your quadriceps.

While the split squat does also target your glutes and hamstrings to a certain degree, it's your quadriceps that take the brunt of the force.

On the other hand, if you are doing a lunge, you can target more muscles, but this also depends on the type of lunge that you are doing.


Lateral, Rear, and Forward Lunges

Like we just said above, exactly which muscles lunges target depends on the type of lunges you are doing.

There are three main types of lunges, including lateral, rear, and forward lunges. The most common type of lunge is the forward lunge, which sees you stepping forward with one leg.

If you want to target your anterior chain, mainly your quadriceps, then forward lunges are your best bet.

However, if you're looking to target your hamstrings and glutes more, which are your posterior chain, then doing rear lunges is better for you.

However, if you're looking to build some thigh power, mainly in your abductors and adductor muscles, you should be doing lateral lunges, as they have you moving to the side.

Something to keep in mind however is that rear lunges are a bit lighter on your knees than forward lunges, so if you have knee problems, starting with rear lunges is recommended.

Related Post: What muscles are worked by side lunges?


Split Squat vs Lunge – Differences in Performance

Split Squat vs Lunge – Differences in Performance

What you also need to realize is that these split squats and lunges aren't just different in terms of their form, but also in terms of the overall performance.


Hypertrophy and Muscle Strength

If you are looking to build as much muscle as you can and gain size, known as hypertrophy, then it is the split squat that you'll want to do.

This is because the split squat allows you to move a more weight in a controlled static movement. 

You can also use heavy barbells or dumbbells to increase the difficulty of the exercise.



Speaking of muscle strength and power, if you're looking for maximum strength, it's the split squat that you’ll want to choose.

This is because with a split squat, you can really zero in on using a single leg and exploding out of each and every single repetition with as much weight as you can handle.

On the other hand, if we're talking about lunges, these require a good deal of motion, and they don’t allow you to overload your muscles in quite the same way. Split squats are about building power.


Muscle Endurance

If what you're looking to do is build muscle endurance, then the lunge is your best friend. This is because the lunge is a dynamic exercise that has you moving the whole time.

Due to it requiring movement, combined with a higher heart rate due to it being dynamic in nature, it should help improve your overall muscular endurance.

You also don't use quite as much weight with lunges as you do with split squats, so you should be able to do more repetitions, therefore improving your endurance.


Balance, and Stability

Whether you are doing a backward, lateral, or forward lunge, these exercises all involve much more motion than the split squat.

Because of this, the lunge is excellent for improving your stability and balance which can come in used for sports. Therefore, lunges are are a good choice for people who need to increase their athletic potential.

Split Squat vs Lunge


When to Lunge and When to Split Squat

Which of these exercises is better for you to do depends on what your main goal is. If your number one goal is to build muscle strength and power, then split squats are the way to go.

However, if what you're looking for is maximum stability and proprioception, then lunges are the better exercises for you.

The reality is that neither of these exercises are technically better than the other, but they just have different benefits.

Therefore, which one you do depends on what exactly you're looking for. When it comes to overall leg growth, coordination, and balance, it's the lunge that takes the cake.

However, if you're really looking to isolate your quadriceps, then it's the split squat that will likely be better for you. Both the lunge and the split squat are excellent at improving your working load capacity and your lower body strength.

Related Post: Hack Squat Alternatives to Try


Rounding Up

At the end of the day, both of these exercises are phenomenal for targeting your legs, but which one you do depends on what your exact goals are. Realistically, they should both have a place on your next leg day!

Author's Photo

William Parrett

Will, co-founder of Home Gym Supply, launched the company in 2019 after 15-years in the fitness industry. His expertise stems not only from his professional background but also from his athletic pursuits. A former competitor in the World Beauty Fitness & Fashion (WBFF) and a competitive rugby player, Will has always been dedicated to health and fitness.