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7 Alternatives to Lunges… and a Bonus One!

Lunges are a fantastic exercise – they’re one of my favorites. They’re functional, they’re progresssive, they’re easy to program and they’re relatively easy to learn from a technique point of view…

But sometimes you want an alternative. Variety is the spice of life, plus part of the challenge of training is new stimulation. It helps to keep the body guessing, it refreshes our enthusiasm and expands our fitness horizons. Even as a personal trainer and weightlifting coach I can be guilty of relying on the same effective exercises over and over again, so a refresh is a good thing.

In this article we’re going to discuss alternatives to lunges. You may be bored of lunges, you may be struggling with an injury or you may simply want new alternatives to the exercise. 

This list are exercises that are both challenging and effective, plus they’re all possible in a home gym set up with equipment you’re likely to already have.

The benefits of single leg work

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If you want to be truly strong, truly athletic and truly functionally fit, you have to iron out your weak links. One of the weak links we all have is a strength imbalance, because neurally we’re programmed to move more effectively and efficiently on one side.

Over time what this translates as is a strength imbalance. If you’re right-footed for example, you’ll use that to kick a soccer ball more often. You’ll often jump off that foot. When squatting with a barbell, dumbbells, kettlebells etc, you’ll bias your stronger side. What this translates into is that over time your strong side becomes even stronger and the strength gap between the strong and weak sides becomes greater and greater.

You interrupt this pattern by performing unilateral exercises, where each side of the body works on its own. Single leg work such as lunges, split squats, step ups etc will help to address these strength imbalances.

Strengthening each side will also have a direct impact on joint stability, therefore improving injury prevention and making you more athletic.

Speaking anecdotally, single-limb training is humbling as well. You’d be forgiven for assuming that if you could squat, say, 120kg (244LBS), that would translate as a 60kg squat per leg. In reality though, it’s nothing like that. In my experience if an athlete squats 120kg for reps, they’d be single-leg squatting around 40kg per leg for reps.

Imagine the overall fitness and physique benefits available to you if you address this!

Alternatives to lunges – what I’ve considered

My ongoing beef with web articles that suggest exercise alternatives to readers is that they’re, well, crap. Most of the time the author hasn’t factored in movement patterns, equipment, biomechanics, training outcomes etc and have just thrown together a list of exercises that train the same body part.

That’s not what we do at Strong Home Gym. We go the extra mile to educate and inform, and this article is no different. 

I won’t suggest barbell back squats as an alternative to lunges for example, because they’re nothing like lunges. The only commonality is that they’re leg exercises too. Instead, I’m thinking about the unilateral element of the lunge, I’m thinking about the knee extension, the glute activation and the equipment you could use. 

Here’s why these exercises have made this list…

  • They’re unilateral – they train one side at a time, like a lunge does
  • They force activation of the glutes as well, so they improve knee stability (a leg extension doesn’t activate the glutes for example, so didn’t make the cut)
  • They can be done in a home gym
  • They require knee flexion and extension, so replicate the lunge (unlike a wall sit which is a static exercise)
  • They’re easy to progress and regress, so are suitable for all

So if you’re thinking of an exercise and wonder why I didn’t include it as an alternative to lunges, refer back to this framework and then think about why it might not have made the cut!

Alternatives to lunges

Now I’ve explained what I’m considering as a viable alternative, here’s the list of exercises that I think are a good alternative to lunges. These will help refresh your programming and will give you new ideas, new challenges and new variations on old exercises. You’ll be able to look beyond the regular trio of front squat, back squat and lunges as your go-to leg exercises…

1. Rear foot elevated split squats

The rear foot elevated split squat is the literal like-for-like alternative to lunges. It follows the same movement pattern, but removes any dynamic element to it because there’s no forward or backward travel. It’s also an exercise that can be progressed or regressed by adjusting weight and elevation height for the rear foot.

Equipment needed for rear foot elevated split squats:

How to do rear foot elevated split squats:

  • Place the back foot on the bench behind you and hop your front foot ahead
  • Hold the dumbbells at your sides and engage the core
  • Keeping the chest up throughout, bend your back knee towards the floor and lower the front thigh until it reaches parallel to the floor
  • Drive front foot into the floor and stand back to the start position
  • Repeat as many times as required.

Rear foot elevated split squats muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core

2. Box step ups

Box step ups are a great go-to exercise as an alternative to lunges, because they mimic the movement pattern, they are fantastic for core development, they’re as effective as high or low rep exercises and they can be adjusted easily – just play with weight and step height. There’s very little technique involved, so it’s beginner friendly too.

Equipment needed for step ups:

How to do step ups:

  • Place the front foot on the step 
  • Hold the dumbbells at your sides and engage the core
  • Step up onto the box by pushing up through the front foot – don’t cheat by springing off the floor using your bottom foot!
  • When both feet are on the box, lower the back leg down slowly and under the control of the front leg
  • Repeat as many times as required per leg

Step ups muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core

3. Plyometric Bulgarians

This exercise takes the Bulgarian split squat up a notch. It has real power development benefits, as opposed to the standard split squat which is a much more controlled movement that focuses on strength and stability. Plyometric Bulgarians are a more advanced exercise, so start with bodyweight and you can always progress by holding on to dumbbells.  

Equipment needed for plyometric Bulgarians:

How to do plyometric Bulgarians:

  • Elevate the back foot
  • Hold the dumbbells (if you’re using weight) at your sides and engage the core
  • Hop the front foot forwards and slightly to the side for balance and positioning
  • When both feet are in position, bend the front leg to load up the quads, taking the squat down to a 90 degree leg bend
  • When the front leg is bent, drive the foot hard into the floor to jump the front foot off the floor
  • Repeat as many times as required per leg

Plyometric Bulgarians muscles worked:

  • Quads
  • Glutes
  • Core

4. Single leg deadlifts

Single leg deadlifts can be performed using either a kettlebell or dumbbell, but I suggest the kettlebell because the handle and grip is better suited. It requires excellent balance and single limb stability under load. The reason this exercise is included as an alternative to lunges is because like lunges, it’s a unilateral exercise, it challenges the core and it lights the glutes up! Pro tip – if you’re not used to these, lift a much lighter weight than you think you’ll need – done properly they’re very humbling!

Equipment needed for single leg deadlifts:

  • Kettlebell

How to do single leg deadlifts:

  • Hold the kettlebell at your side with one hand, your back straight and both feet on the floor
  • Keeping your back straight, tilt forward at the torso, taking the opposite leg straight back as you do
  • You will be standing on one leg, so move slowly and keep your balance and the kettlebell moves towards the floor
  • When the kettlebell touches the floor and your torso is parallel to it, return to start position with a straight back and controlled movement
  • Repeat as many times as required for the set, then switch sides

Single leg deadlifts muscles worked:

  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Lower back
  • Core

5. Prowler push

The prowler push may seem like an odd exercise to include in this list, but if you look at the biomechanics of the prowler push, it begins to make sense. It’s a repeated single leg movement, it requires flexion and extension at the knee, it forces glute activation and it’s adjustable in terms of weight, distance and technique. Additionally, it’s an exercise that uses only concentric muscle contraction so rarely causes DOMS. All you need is a flat space to push the sled – turf or asphalt is perfect.

Equipment needed for prowler pushes:

  • Prowler

How to do prowler pushes:

  • Get yourself low on the prowler – your chest should be pointing to the floor
  • Keep your arms ramrod straight – any arm bend reduces power transfer to the prowler
  • Drive forward, keeping your chest low and your arms straight
  • Maintain a fast leg turnover to keep forward momentum in the prowler – if you slow down or stop, it’s tough to get moving again!

Prowler pushes muscles worked:

  • Glutes
  • Quads

6. Prowler drag

I like backwards prowler work as a leg extension exercise and used a variation of it in this article I wrote on leg extension alternatives. In this case though, for the sake of variety I’ve included the drag rather than a push. To get the most from the exercise you need to load the sled with a heavy weight, but it’s a great exercise if you have the space. It’s also very joint-friendly and works both the front and back of the body, so there’s a lot of bang for your buck.

Equipment needed for prowler drags:

  • Prowler
  • TRX/Rope

How to do prowler drags:

  • Load the prowler with a heavy weight, attach the rope/TRX securely and pull
  • Keep the arms strong, torso upright and the upper back engaged
  • Walk backwards, pulling the prowler with you. Don’t let the weight of the prowler pull your arms and shoulder blades forward – keep them engaged and tight
  • Maintain a fast leg turnover to keep forward momentum in the prowler – if you slow down or stop, it’s tough to get moving again!

Prowler pushes muscles worked:

  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Upper back

7. Pistols

Pistol squats are an advanced exercise, but don’t be put off by that – there’s a way of scaling them using the TRX. Whilst this isn’t a direct replication of the exercise and is a much easier version, it’s still helpful. If you can do pistols though, go for it. They’re both functional and effective, plus a great alternative to lunges because of the single-leg element, plus the quad and glute activation.

You can find other similar exercises to pistols in our leg curl alternatives article here.

Equipment needed for pistols:

  • Bodyweight
  • TRX/Rope (if doing the scaled version)

How to do pistols:

  • Stand upright, balancing most of your weight on the ‘working’ leg
  • Push your non-working leg out in front of you
  • At the same time, bend your working leg and single-leg squat down
  • Keep the non-working leg straight out in front of you
  • Lower yourself right down, until your hips are lower than you knee on the working leg
  • Drive back up to a standing position
  • Repeat as many times are required per leg

Pistol squats muscles worked:

  • Glutes
  • Quads

8. BONUS Exercise! Single leg burpees

These aren’t exactly a replacement for lunges, but they’re a single leg exercise that I love and have used for years (the video is 6 years old!) They’re a challenging conditioning exercise that utilises a lot of the same muscles as lunges. I’ve included it here because it’s not an exercise that many people do, but I think is excellent and provides an interesting and functional challenge!

Equipment needed for single leg burpees:

  • Bodyweight

How to do single leg burpees:

  • Stand upright, before dropping to the floor on your hands and one foot (the foot on the working leg), legs fully outstretched. Keep the non-working foot off the floor at all times
  • As you drop down, keep your torso OFF the floor (you need room to ‘jump’ the knee into)
  • Jump your knee on your working leg in towards your torso
  • Jump up powerfully on a single leg, straightening your body as you jump
  • Drop back down to the starting position, keeping non-working the foot off the floor
  • Repeat as many times are required per leg

Single leg burpees muscles worked:

  • Glutes
  • Quads
  • Core
  • Chest

Alternatives to lunges – the bottom line

As I said at the top of the article, I love lunges – I think they’re a fantastic, functional exercise. That being said, sometimes you want (perhaps even need) a change. Our fitness demands training evolution, new challenges, new planes of movement and ways of working. Stick with the same things and we go stale, both mentally and physically.

When we train at home we can become trapped by a lack of ideas, so we resort to a handful of exercises over and over again. Hopefully this article will help to change that.

These alternatives to lunges provide a series of new exercises, new variations and new challenges. You’ll discover new techniques, you’ll open up new ways of programming and you’ll re-invigorate leg training. The single leg aspects will make you more athletic and less injury prone.

If you’re looking for more lower body exercises you can check out our range of articles here.

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Hi! My name is Steve Hoyles. I’m a personal trainer, gym owner and fitness copywriter. Since graduating with my Sports Science degree in 2004 I’ve worked in the fitness industry, helping thousands of people reach their health and fitness goals. My writing has been read by millions of people in over 200 countries.

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