If you ask almost any "personal trainer" or fitness coach, what's the best exercise to work your legs and butt? You hear squats and lunges.
That's because both lunges and squats offer tremendous benefits.
What’s more, they're both considered functional moves.
What that means is they not only shape your body and make you stronger, but they also help you with zillions of maneuvers you perform in your daily life.
So—making them a regular part of your "workout routine" helps keep your body injury-free.
So, let’s learn a bit about each exercise individually and see what muscles each exercise targets.
But the truth is, you can't fully understand how each of the exercises works without knowing a little about the butt muscles. So here is a quick butt anatomy lesson.
There are three main butt muscles (biggest to smallest):
The main difference in exercises often leads to this: different muscles they target.
When you take a look at the effectiveness of squats and lunges, this is essentially what it comes down to.
It's not the matter of which exercise is better per se, but it's the question of what muscles do squats engage more versus the muscles lunges engage, and picking one that suits your needs better.
Squat—works your hips, glutes (butt), legs and thighs. It’s the foundation of sitting and lifting heavy objects off the floor.
So, this movement is crucial to a healthy, strong, and fit body.
Lunges hit all the same muscle groups as the squat.
Obvious difference is in the movement. Lunge is the basis of all walking and running patterns.
Even though both exercises work somewhat similar muscle groups, they are some technical differences between the two.
With squats, less balance is required during the movement.
You have a more stable base by having both feet firmly planted on the ground.
On the other hand, lunges work one side at a time, making your base of support less stable.
Put simply, lunges require more balance to perform.
While this may sound as if lunges are more fit for improving your daily functions by challenging and improving your balance, core strength, and toning the legs, but squats are no less useful.
Squats are also used as a rehabilitation exercise and way to improve one’s functionalities.
Squat mimics one very important movement that we all perform everyday.
Sitting down and getting up; two very fundamental and essential movements in your everyday life.
While a nice firm and round butt is a good aesthetic goal, retaining range of motion is also important and a key benefit of squats.
Now, what also separates the two is their target muscles.
Squats and lunges engage your butt muscles in a slightly different way.
Lunge—Gluteus Medius Muscle Activation Chart
Squat—Gluteus Maximus Muscle Activation Chart
Research led by John Porcari, Ph.D, from the Lacrosse Exercise and Health Program at the University of Wisconsin has shown that the gluteus medius is significantly more activated during the lunges than the squat exercise.
In fact, when it comes to the gluteus medius, lunges are almost twice as effective as the squat!
However Porcari states that the subjects in the study were instructed to only squat with thighs parallel to floor.
If they performed deeper squats, the results may have been different.
So, the bottom line is, if you want to effectively train for well-rounded glutes(butt), you have to include both squats and lunges in your workout regimen.
But let’s also not forget that the key is in the proper exercise form and range of movement.
Form Is The Key To Maximize Exercise Benefits
Yes—form is everything. The proper alignment can increase the benefit of the exercise and prevent potential injury.
It’s the small regiments, like shifting your weight slightly forward or backward, driving through your heels, keeping a natural arch in the back, and keeping the knees behind your toes.
These small, but important cues determine which muscles you work—and how toned you get.
As you may already know, there are several variations to each exercises—and each variation, may slightly work one muscle more than the other.
But all employ the techniques seen in the basic moves.
So let’s go over the proper way to do a basic squat and a lunge.
The Right Way to Squat
- Start with your feet slightly wider than your hips with your feet pointing forward or slightly out (whichever’s more comfortable)
- Tighten your abs while maintaining a neutral spine—don’t let your back over-arch or round it. Hinge at the hips to send your hips back. Keep your knees pointing forward, over the centers of your feet.
- As you lower your body down into a squat, keep your abs engaged and spine neutral. Once your back arches or rounds, “You’ve surpassed your ‘low point”—that’s as deep deep as you can squat while maintaining proper form. Stop.
- Hold for a count of 1-2 seconds, then drive through your heels to push your hips forward. Straighten your legs to return to the standing position.
This is how you perform the basic bodyweight squat—for more squat variations, like squatting with weights or a squat challenge, if you want to take it up a notch.
Here’s list of a few different squat variations and a 30 day squat challenge, if you are ready.
- Resistance Band Squats
- A complete Beginners Guide on How to Properly Do a Squat
- 7 Squat Variations You Need to Try Before s Squat Challenge
- Swiss Ball Squat
- Wall Squat
- Plie squats
- Squats with weights—Barbell Squat
- Squats with Dumbbells
Just like squat there are many variations to lunges—side lunges, walking lunges, back lunges… you name it!
But here, I’ll cover how to do the basic lunge
The Right Way to Lunge
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, pull your abs in, and keep the spine neutral. Raise your arms in front of your chest or keep them at your sides.
- Step your left foot back and bend both knees; keep left heel lifted while lowering your hips down. You’ve gone too far if you feel your lower back arch, pelvis rotate forward or front knee point inward.
- Drive through your front foot and use your right hip to pull yourself to standing, placing your left foot next to your right while keeping your torso tall.
- Instead of pushing off your back leg to return to the start position, focus more on your front leg.
- Those are the muscles you’re activating the most when you do a lunge. Your back leg should only function as a support.
Once you can perform the basic lunge with good form for 10 repetitions or more—give one of these lunge variations below a try.
There you have it!
Both lunges and squats are equally great exercises—And you can greatly benefits from performing each.
Each exercise serves a purpose and variety is the key to any good training program.
So, it’s good to switch things up! Do the squat in some workouts and do the lunge and some workout.
That way you get the benefits from each of these moves.