Leg day is often unappealing. However, if you have bad knees, pain may not only be a demotivator but also a sign of serious injury risk. Many feel torn between wanting personal improvement and wanting to avoid worsening their existing knee issues.
Luckily, we know many alternative exercises for lunges that are proven to help decrease knee pain.
Table of Contents
- 10 Best Alternative Exercises For Lunges Explained
- How Lunges Impact Your Knees, Hips & Ankles (Substitute Benefits)
- What Muscles Should Lunge Replacement Exercises Work?
- Common Lunge FAQs
10 Best Alternative Exercises For Lunges Explained
If lunges aren’t for you, there’s no need to give up working these areas.
A good substitute for lunges works the same muscles and provides the same balance and stability improvement while causing less knee strain. Some substitutes for lunges work all the same areas, but others may require several combined exercises. If one technique causes pain, simply try another.
1. Goblet Squats
This is one of the best lower body exercises. It improves aerobic capacity and works the legs, back, shoulders, and core.
This strength-intensive exercise may cause similar issues to lunges, especially if your form isn’t perfect. Keep the movement close to your center of mass, don’t allow your knees to move towards one another, and squat through your heels. Do not continue if painful.
2. Split Squats
These give all regular squat benefits but focus on one leg at a time. This makes managing injuries easier and allows a more balanced workout. Split squats are less dynamic than lunges, which reduces knee impact. Plus, they build strength and power faster.
This lunge substitute uses the quads, hamstrings, glutes, abductors, and adductors.
Read More - Split Squat Vs Lunge (How They Compare)
3. Bulgarian Split Squats
While slightly challenging and requiring good balance, these are perfect for people experiencing back pain. Practice will improve your balance if you are struggling.
In addition to working all the muscles of a split squat, you will improve mobility and balance. Of all the alternative exercises for lunges, these are some of the best for working the glutes.
Related Article - Bulgarian Split Squat Alternative (12 Effective Substitutes)
This alternative to lunges for bad knees is often overlooked but puts much less shearing force on your joints. A healthy form is also easier to achieve by maintaining a vertical shin.
In terms of body strain versus benefits, you will struggle to find a comparable exercise. It is especially helpful for improving stability and core strength.
To add difficulty and resistance, turn this exercise into a dumbbell walking lunge alternative simply by holding a dumbbell.
Optional Equipment - 8 Best Cheap Adjustable Dumbbells
5. Wall Squats
While often incorrectly dismissed as a beginner move, this alternative for lunges puts strain on your muscles instead of your joints. It is especially knee-kind and perfect for fitness fanatics struggling with arthritis.
You can choose to train strength with hard and short bursts of 10-20 seconds or endurance by continuing for as long as possible.
6. Glute Bridges
These can be used as part of a multi-exercise substitute for walking lunges. As well as working the glutes and strengthening the core, they actively improve back pain by stabilizing the core and knee pain by improving thigh control to reduce negative knee motion.
If knee or hip problems prevent you from doing lunges or squats, glute bridges engage the same muscles with less pressure on your joints. A regular regiment also improves posture, which relieves and prevents further back problems.
7. Single-Leg Press
This barbell lunge substitute is great for personalized leg strength training. Achieving good form is relatively simple and the backrest support makes it perfect for those with back problems. The safety bars make this exercise much safer than weighted squats or lunges.
You can choose to focus on your quadriceps by narrowing your foot stance, while wider stances work lower body muscles evenly.
Read More - 10 Best Leg Press Substitutes
8. Static Lunge
This alternative to lunges is very similar to the real thing, but the static positioning makes achieving good form much easier. Poor form with regular lunges is where many unnecessary strains and complications occur.
Learn More - What Do Lunges Do For You?
9. Single-Leg Balance
While this lunge alternative exercise does not work your muscles as hard, it is brilliant for improving ankle stability and balance. For best results, combine with a manageable strength-based lower body exercise.
Better balance will make many other exercises on this list easier, so you can gradually work toward more difficult walking lunge substitute routines. Remember, everybody has to start somewhere.
If struggling, support yourself against a solid surface with one arm to begin with. This is a great beginner alternative for lunges when starting your post-injury fitness regime. Read more beginner workout tips here!
This side lunge alternative is ideal for those struggling with hip pain. They build hip strength and flexibility, allowing more difficult exercises in time.
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How Lunges Impact Your Knees, Hips & Ankles (Substitute Benefits)
For lunges with good form, you need to:
- 1Stand with your upper body straight, keeping your chin up and shoulders relaxed.
- 2Lower yourself by the hips until both knees are bent at 90 degrees, with one leg forwards. This knee stays in line with the ankles, and the other shouldn't touch the floor.
- 3Maintain body weight on both heels.
- 4Switch legs and repeat.
When done correctly, this benefits core stability, hip flexibility, spinal health, balance, and strengthens the buttocks and legs.
However, these benefits only occur with perfect form. Those with injuries or who are still developing their strength and mobility may struggle to achieve this every time. In these cases, lunges can be demoralizingly painful and often do more harm than good in terms of joint stress.
For those struggling, alternative methods exist that give the same positive results without the unnecessary pain or injury risk.
What Muscles Should Lunge Replacement Exercises Work?
One of the primary muscles worked by lunges, these are both lengthened when lowering downwards and contracted when returning to the standing position. Step-ups are perfect for replicating this without excess strain.
Glutes are another of the primary focus areas of lunges. They are strengthened with the same lengthening and contracting process as above. However, many lunge alternatives for bad knees work the glutes, such as step-ups, split squats, glute bridges, and static lunges.
The final of the three main muscles worked by the lengthening and contracting process of lunges, hamstrings work along with gluteals when controlling your descent. Glute bridges, step-ups, and static lunges are all great alternative exercises for lunges that work the hamstrings similarly.
The calves are worked when you push through to standing with the balls of your feet while performing a lunge. Most of the exercises listed above work the calves, including step-ups, split squats, static lunges, and wall squats. However, for strength training, the single-leg press works wonders.
Or the abs, for short. These are worked when you engage your core to achieve perfect lunge form. Of all the substitute exercises for lunges types, goblet squats and glute bridges most effectively work the abs, but everything listed above will improve their strength, apart from the single-leg balance.
Your erector spinae are the postural muscles located in your back, which are worked by maintaining perfect form throughout a lunge. However, any substitute exercise for lunges focusing on good posture will benefit your erector spinae. The best examples are split squats, wall squats, glute bridges, and static lunges.
Common Lunge FAQs
Will lunge alternatives make your thighs bigger?
Yes, many alternatives to lunges will enlarge the thighs if they work these muscles. The best exercises focus on strength-building, such as goblet squats and single-leg presses.
As with any exercise, to build muscle mass (and therefore size), you want to focus on doing a small number of reps of greater intensity instead of many smaller reps.
Which exercise above is the best for walking lunge substitution?
The best walking lunges substitute exercises will be those that work to strengthen the legs, core, hips, and glutes at once.
On our list, the best two exercises for achieving this strength-building balance are split squats and step-ups, especially if you add resistance by holding dumbbells.
Which exercise above is the best for smith machine lunge substitution?
Smith machine lunges target strength-building in the quads, with the option to focus on the hamstrings and glutes if you change your stance’s foot width.
This means the best smith machine lunge alternative on our list is the single-leg press. These also utilize machinery for safe strength-building and provide the same option to shift muscle focus by changing your stance.
As you’ve seen, just because you are struggling with an injury to your knees or elsewhere, you don’t have to give up on leg day!
A variety of safe alternatives exist that put less strain on your joints and allow you to rebuild your strength, as well as decrease your pain level by improving mobility, stability, and flexibility.
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