What Is the Difference Between a Lunge & a Split Squat?

by Rogue Parrish, Demand Media
    Both moves result in 90-degree knee bends.

    Both moves result in 90-degree knee bends.

    The good news about asking the difference between a lunge and a split squat is this -- the question indicates your growing awareness nuances within the wonderful world of strength training. The answer will help you understand the fine points that go into the development of strength workouts by personal trainers. Both of these exercises work the lower body and burn the legs, such that they can be sufficiently challenging for new Nesties even before you get around to adding free weights.

    Technical Differences

    The lunge and the split squat look superficially similar. The plain-vanilla version of both exercises involves lowering yourself until your front leg is bent at around 90 degrees in a kneeling position and your back leg is also bent behind you, so the knee almost touches the floor. The difference is this: For the split squat, you position your feet far apart, and squat down with your feet remaining in their original stance. With the lunge, you stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and lunge forward with first one foot and then the other.

    Lunge Benefits and Variations

    The front lunge targets your glutes primarily, followed by your quads, adductors (inner thighs) and calf muscles. As a body-weight exercise, you can perform reverse, side and walking lunges as well as the basic front lunge. Reverse lunges, where you step one leg behind you, recruit the hip flexors especially, notes personal trainer Irene Lewis-McCormick in “A Woman’s Guide to Muscle and Strength.” For more challenge, add dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells to any of these moves. The lunge is more intense than split squats, according to the online fitness site ExRx.net.

    Split Squat Benefits and Variations

    You work the same muscles in the split squat, but with a different emphasis. The quads become primary here, while the glutes become secondary. As with the lunge, you can add your favorite free weights -- dumbbells, barbells or kettlebells. Variations include the single-leg split squat, performed facing away from a workout bench, with one leg extended back so the top of your shoe rests on it. You can hold the back of a chair if your balance seems wobbly at first. As your balance improves, you can add free weights to the single-leg split squat. To make the split squat plyometric, perform the split squat jump -- assuming a split stance, jumping explosively in the air, and switching your forward and back legs on landing. This medium-intensity exercise works your hip flexors, as well as knees and ankle flexibility.

    Poliquin’s Tips

    Olympic athlete trainer Charles Poliquin notes the popularity of both lunges and split squats among women for working the glutes. Whichever one you perform, start with your weaker leg first to address muscle imbalances. Proper form will also recruit your quads, adductors and calves as planned. For split squats, when you add weight, for safety’s sake keep your trunk erect. And if you progress to heavy barbells, you may want to move inside a power cage and set the safety pins appropriately to catch the barbell, Poliquin advises.

    About the Author

    Rogue Parrish has been an award-winning writer and senior editor at the "Washington Post," the "Baltimore Sun," at newspapers from England to Alaska, as well as for various online publications. She specializes in sports, fitness, travel, food and DIY topics.

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