Lunges vs squats: Which exercise is more effective? | British GQ

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Lunges vs squats: Which exercise is more effective?  | British GQ

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A built-out upper body might look good on Instagram, but for IRL practicality, you can’t beat a bit of leg work. Stronger legs help power all manner of activities from cycling to swimming, as this report from Harvard Health attests.

But the benefits aren’t just activity-based. Working on your legs can supercharge testosterone production, which in turn increases muscle mass and banishes fat. Speaking of which, a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that athletes’ metabolic rates were supercharged after heavy resistance training – including the dreaded squats.

So, we know you need to incorporate leg love into your next workout, but when it comes to punishing your pins, which way should you lean – squat or lunge? Each has its benefits, but both can be difficult to get right. Here, our experts talk the talk on the big lunges vs squats debate to help you walk the walk.

“The lunge is a super effective exercise that targets all the major muscle groups of your lower body,” explains Hunter McIntyre, HYROX world champion & Represent 247 athlete. They may have the edge over squats, too; McIntyre points to a 2021 study in the Journal of Isokenetic and Exercise Science which found that activation of the quadriceps and glutes was generally stronger in the lunge than in back squats.

“When performed correctly, lunges strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves, contributing to improved lower body strength and stability,” he says. “Additionally, because they are iso-lateral (your feet aren't in line with each other) lunges engage the core for balance and stability.”

McIntyre points out that another advantage of the lunge is their versatility. “They can be modified in numerous ways to suit different fitness levels and goals,” he says. “You can load them any way you want - DB, KB, BB a big rock, your training partner - whatever it is, you can go heavy and can always just drop what you are holding.”

Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket just yet. You might find it torturous, but the squat still has a place in your fitness arsenal.

“Squats are one of the best exercises for burning calories, preventing injury, strengthening your core and boosting weight loss,” says Simon Cox, trainer and owner of F45 Southend-On-Sea. “They are a great all-round exercise that can be low intensity, so kinder on your knees and joints, and you can mix it up with weighted or bodyweight squats, front squats, Sumo squats, overhead squats – the list goes on.”

“Squats are a fundamental compound movement with broad benefits – the OG big daddy lift in the gym since the Golden Era of Bodybuilding,” adds McIntyre. “Because of the large weights and total body recruitment, squats elicit an amazing dump of testosterone, IGF-1 and HGH into the bloodstream. A randomised trial from the Neuro Endocrinology Letters found that you should target 6-12 sets of at least 6 reps to optimise this.”

The benefits for both squats and lunges are huge, but so is the potential for injury. If you suffer from tight hips, both exercises can exacerbate the problem, so warm up properly first. Performed incorrectly, squats can have a massive impact on your lower back, too. If you’re at all unsure, ask a PT to talk you through the movements, beginning with bodyweight variations.

If you’ve got them down already and want to fine tune them, out experts can help.

“The perfect squat can be hard to master,” says Cox. “To avoid injury make sure you’re using your legs and not your back! Also, make sure that you’re starting from your hips, not your knees, and that your knees do not cross your toes as you bend. Try this:

“The perfect lunge can require a bit more thought, as you are moving more body parts,” says Cox. “It’s important to go slow." Follow these steps:

Both Cox and McIntyre agree that this depends on your individual fitness goals.

“Based on research, the benefits are very similar, so it doesn’t overly matter if you choose one over the other, or decide to mix it up a bit,” says Cox. “It’s important to remember that each fitness journey is different, if you’re just starting out, you may want to opt for squats as they are more balanced and then progress to lunges.”

Speaking from personal preference, McIntyre comes down on the side of the lunge. “I prefer the lunge, I think it’s a more versatile movement and transfers better to overall athleticism – I guarantee that anyone with a monster lunge can run fast and jump high, I know lots of big squatters where it doesn't transfer over to the real world. Part of this is because of the velocity of the bar on a lunge vs a squat, a heavy lunge still happens quickly whereas a heavy squat might be ground out over 5-8 seconds.”

Want to build muscle? Opt for the squat. Want to improve overall athleticism? The lunge should be your go-to.

Unfortunately, a well-rounded fitness regiment needs to include more than one exercise per body part. Lunges and squats might both offer benefits, but you’ll need to combine them to prevent imbalances, and to unlock your next level of fitness. With that in mind, McIntyre thinks your next leg day should look like this:

Compound lift Six-12 sets of at least six reps

Front Squat Start with the bar secure in the squat rack, level with the middle of your chest. Step close to the bar, holding it with your palms up, elbows pointing forward. Take a step backwards as you lift the bar from the rack. Bend your legs to lower into a squat, keeping that back straight. Hold at the bottom of the move, then power down through your heels to return to the start.

Isolation exercises Four sets of ten reps Hip Thrusts Heels on the ground, upper back leaning against a bench, you’re going to position a moderately-loaded barbell across the front of your hips. Push down through your heels, driving up through your glutes to lift the bar off the ground. Hold with a straight back, then slowly lower for one. Good mornings Stand with an unloaded barbell across your shoulders. Hinge forward at the hips. Keeping your back straight, bring your upper body as close to your knees as you can, then lift yourself back up to standing. If you’re struggling from lower back tightness, you can add a few slow left-to-right twists at the start or end of the move.

Leg curls Two machines will help with this. On the first, you’ll sit up straight, with your legs at ninety degrees. Push them out and up to work your quads. For the other move, you’ll lie on your front, bringing your heels down to your bum to work your hamstrings. If your legs have it in them, work in four sets of each.

Lunges vs squats: Which exercise is more effective?  | British GQ

Bar Stirrers Reverse lunge Time to end with a big boy. Standing straight, move your right leg back, lowering down onto your toes so your legs are at opposite ninety degree angles, your weight over your back knee. Power back up then switch legs, aiming for ten reps per side. If bodyweight is too easy, add a weight plate, kettlebell or dumbbell then dig deep and lunge for your life.