Lunges and Squats

If there are two exercises that most attract women then it is these two: lunges and squats. This isn’t some sort of sexist comment, it’s a simple fact. The majority of women when they exercise are most interested in targeting their tummy, butt and thighs. Forget the tummy for a moment because lunges and squats are two of the best exercises out there for your butt and thighs, or in other words, your gluteals (or glutes, butt) and quadriceps (or quads, thighs). These two exercises are also great for working your hamstrings and a few other muscles but more on those later.


What we’re most interested in here is essentially the glutes and quads. Although lunges and squats predominently target the same areas, doing one doesn’t make the other obsolete. One reason is that simple variety will help keep you interested in your training regime where repetition can provoke boredom or stifle motivation. Another is that they work those primary muscles in different ways, making each one useful in its own right.


If we start with lunges, each individual lunge will work your glutes, quads and also hamstrings, knee and ankle stability and balance. But it works these in an imbalanced way. While both quads will be working hard, only the hamstring and glutes on the raised knee (that’s on the leg you stride forwards with) are really working. The quads on the raised knee also work that much harder than the other leg when you push back up. That’s quite an explosive movement and certainly much more so than you get with squats. Whereas squats balance the effort equally on both legs, lunges concentrate the majority of effort on the leg that strides forwards.


It’s therefore important to always do an equal number of lunges with each leg, to avoid favouring one over the other. But if you can get the same effect from squats then why bother with lunges? Well they’re slightly harder due to the effort being largely on the one leg. It’s like hopping rather than jumping or doing a bicep curl on one arm with a dumbell rather than using two hands on a bar. Concentrating effort on the one side works more on your strength, balance and stabiliser muscles.


But then why do the squats? Well because as the effort is balanced on both your legs, you will invariably be able to do more than you will with lunges. Squats work less on your strength but the ability to do a greater number will take you further into your aerobic zone and hence help with burning fat. You see, it’s one thing to strengthen your legs, but in order for your new, sculpted limbs to be visible, you need to also burn off the fat.


Now while these two exercises may not seem very exciting in terms of variety, don’t be fooled. There are in fact several different ways you can do each one. With lunges you can vary your length of stride, how low you drop your knee on the back leg, or you can even do backward and side lunges. With squats you can also vary how low you sink your bottom and you can alter the width of your gait. A wide stance will work your groin to some extent although it will be harder to sink lower, while easier overall. If you do them with your feet together they will be tougher but you will be able to drop your butt closer to the ground.


The final element I want to discuss is the hamstrings. These are muscles that can easily be ignored but which are crucial. If you’re in any doubt, ask an athlete. These muscles are quite vulnerable and one of the most common injuries suffered by sports people. Warming them up well is vital before you do any exercise and strengthening them with squats and lunges will also prove beneficial in preventing injuries. Likewise the beautiful thing with these two exercises is that while you stregthen your quads at the front of your legs, you balance this out by also working on the back of your upper leg — the glutes and hamstrings. That’s another thing that’s vital to maintain physical equilibrium and stability to avoid putting undue pressure on any one part of your body.



For today’s challenge do a left lunge, right lunge and then a squat. Follow that by doing two of each, three of each, four, five etc. Keep adding one more of each on each new round and spiral up until your legs are quivering so much that you reach muscle failure. Shake them out for a minute or two and then spiral back down from the last number you completed in its entirety. Then give your legs the next day off to recover!





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