Knee issues can make leg day feel like even more of a nightmare, especially when you can't do lunges without being in pain. 

But what alternatives are there to lunges? 

In this article, you'll discover 10 of the best lunge alternatives and how to do them. Each one has been shown to help decrease knee pain. 

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 

woman doing goblet squats

The goblet squat is a brilliant full body compound movement that you can perform almost anywhere. It requires minimal equipment and doesn't need much space. 

It's one of my favorite substitutes for lunges and can provide you with less stress on your knee joints. 

I love this movement as it works so many areas of your body, even your core. I always find my abs are killing the day after performing this lunge alternative.


  • Minimal space needed. 
  • Less knee strain.
  • Doesn't use much equipment.

How to do it:

  1. Lift a kettlebell or dumbbell with your legs, not your back, which should stay straight. 
  2. Rotate kettlebell/dumbbell upside down. Now hold using both palms or the handles at chest height, just below the chin and near your body. Your elbows should be pushed forward and high to maintain an upright position. 
  3. Spread your feet hip width, with feet pointed slightly outwards (think 11 and 1 o'clock). 
  4. Squat with back straight until upper legs come parallel to the ground. Keep head straight and knees and feet in the same direction.
  5. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • 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 

Woman Doing Split Squats

Split squats give provide you with all of the same benefits a squat does, but works each leg individually, making it ideal if you've got muscular imbalances.

So, how do split squats compare to lunges? I've always found split squats to be less dynamic than lunges, which can help reduce the impact on your knees. Plus, they build strength and power while aiding the development of your knee stability.

This substitute for lunges uses your quads, hamstrings, glutes, abductors, and adductors.


  • Great for developing knee stability.
  • Doesn't require equipment.
  • Works your entire lower body. 

How to do it:

  1. Stand with both feet together and arms by sides. Look ahead and keep good posture. 
  2. Take one large step.
  3. Bend legs and lower back knee to an inch off the floor, with abs tensed and torso upright. The front shin should be nearly vertical, and the front knee should be behind the toes.
  4. Keep 90% of body weight on your front leg. 
  5. Stand up, wait, then return to the starting position without moving your feet. 
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  7. Once done, step back to bring your feet back together.
  8. Repeat with your other leg.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Don't stand with a narrow stance. Keep your feet hip width throughout the split squat, it'll help you remain balanced and prevent you from falling over.  

3. Bulgarian Split Squats (dumbbell lunge alternative)

Woman Performing Bulgarian Split Squats

While slightly challenging and requiring good balance, these are perfect for people experiencing knee pain.

It may seem counter productive, but the Bulgarian split squat doesn't place as much strain on the knees as you'd think. In my experience, many of my clients who couldn't lunge or squat could often perform this movement without any knee pain. 

It works all the muscles you'd work during the lunge, while helping you improve mobility and stability in your joints. Of all the alternative exercises for lunges, the Bulgarian split squat is one of the best for working the glutes.

However, if you can't perform this exercise, I suggest you take a look at Bulgarian split squat alternatives.


  • Isolates each side of your body.
  • Doesn't require a lot of equipment.
  • You can do them in most places.

How to do it:

  1. Stand in front of a knee-high bench. 
  2. Bend a leg backward to put a foot on the bench.
  3. Hop forward so your feet are in a split stance.
  4. Bend both legs, lowering your back knee to two/three inches off the floor. Keep back straight, look ahead, and keep the front shin nearly vertical with the other knee never beyond the toes.
  5. Push down with your front leg until standing. 80% of body weight should be on your front leg. 
  6. Repeat for the desired number of reps with each leg.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Lean forward into each rep. Doing so will increase the amount of force placed on your glutes. You don't want any weight on your back leg, it's purely there for balance. 

4. Step-Ups 

Man Doing Step-Ups

This alternative to lunges for bad knees is often overlooked but puts much less shearing force on your joints. 

I've found step ups to be incredibly simple to teach my clients and I've often used it to strengthen knee joints before moving on to other forms of resistance training. 

In terms of body strain versus benefits, you will struggle to find a comparable exercise. It even helps to improve your stability and core strength.

One aspect that I love is that you can do this substitute for lunges pretty much anywhere. All you need is an elevated platform (you can even use stairs). But if you don't have a step or a box at home, you can try step up alternatives.


  • You can do them almost anywhere.
  • Lower shear strain on your knee joint.
  • Develops stability and core strength.

how to do it:

  1. Stand slightly more than hip-width away from a knee-height surface. 
  2. Step one leg onto it, placing your foot flat with toes pointed forward.
  3. Lean slightly forward, shifting weight onto your leading leg.
  4. Step your other leg onto the surface, driving with your heel and bracing your core. Ensure all power is generated from the front leg. Keep chest pushed high.
  5. Reverse action to resume initial position, repeat desired reps with each leg.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Try to not push off of your back foot during each rep. You want your elevated leg to do the majority of the work during this substitute for lunges.

5. Wall Squats (lunge alternative for bad ankles)

Woman Doing 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. 

I've performed this movement in my office, hallway, local park, hotel rooms, and even against a tree. It's an excellent substitute for lunges.


  • You can do them anywhere.
  • Uses your body weight.

How to do it:

  1. Locate a smooth, strong wall with a non-slippery floor beneath. 
  2. Stand around 24 inches from the wall, facing away from it. Keep feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. Place your back on the wall, sliding down until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Shins should remain vertical. Keep your head up, facing forward, and ensure good posture.
  4. Push your back towards the wall using your legs. Do not put your hands on your thighs or hold your breath.
  5. Slide downwards after completion, or place your hands on the wall to stand.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Play around with the amount of time you hold the position for. I'm a fan of putting a song on and seeing how long into the song I can last. It's a brilliant challenge.

6. Glute Bridges (alternative to lunges for bad hips)

Man Doing 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.

It also helps improve knee pain by strengthening your muscles around your knee, lowering the risk of them moving too much during other lifts. 

If knee or hip problems prevent you from doing lunges or squats, glute bridges engage the same muscles with less pressure on your joints.

Regularly performing this movement also improves posture, which relieves and prevents lower back and knee issues.


  • Develops your glutes.
  • Minimal strain on knees.
  • You can do them anywhere.

how to do it:

  1. Lie down face up with knees bent and both feet flat against the ground. Arms should be by sides with palms turned downward. 
  2. Raise your hips from the ground until the knees, hips, and shoulders create a straight line. Tense your glutes hard and keep your abs drawn inward to avoid overextending your back.
  3. Hold the previous position for a few seconds, then ease back down.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • If you want to enhance this movement, try placing your feet on a small elevated platform. This will increase the range of motion your glutes and hamstrings need to work through.  

7. Single-Leg Press (lunges alternative with a Machine)

Man Doing Single-Leg Press Exercise

This lunge substitute is great for isolating each leg seperately during your strength training. The movement is rather controlled as it moves along a fixed plane of movement, this may help some lifters who have knee pain. 

I like placing gym newbies on the leg press machine as the safety bars make this exercise rather safe and they can perform it without a spotter. 

If you're looking for a substitute for lunges that uses a machine, the single leg press is an excellent choice. However, if you don't have access to the leg pres machine, you can try out leg press substitute exercises.


  • Works each side iso-laterally.
  • Helps solve muscular imbalances.
  • Great for full leg development.
  • The leg press machine is great for beginners.

How to do it:

  1. Enter the leg press with your butt right at the bottom of the seat. Your feet should be flat and shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Push the weight upward by extending your legs. Tense your abs and hold the machine’s handles.
  3. Bring the weight down by bending your knees as far as your joint health and flexibility allows. Keep your lower back pressed straight, do not let it round.
  4. Repeat step 2 until just before full knee extension.
  5. Repeat for the desired number of reps.
  6. Switch to opposite leg and repeat.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • You can choose to focus on your quadriceps by narrowing your foot stance, while wider stances work lower body muscles evenly. 

8. Static Lunge (Alternative to reverse lunge for bad knees)

Man Doing Static Lunges

This alternative to lunges is very similar to the real thing, but the static positioning provides less impact on your knee joints, making it ideal for anybody with knee issues. 

I like this movement as it's easier for beginners to learn and while balancing might be a challenge for some gym-goers, most of my clients have no issues with this exercise. You can also perform this movement almost anywhere. 


  • Minimal impact on your knee joints.
  • Doesn't require equipment.
  • A small amount of space is required. 

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. 
  2. Step one foot backward and the other forward. Your back heel should be raised and weight across both feet evenly distributed.
  3. Keep your torso upright with good, tall posture and your hands on your hips.
  4. Lower yourself by bending the front leg’s hip, knee, and ankle. Allow the back knee to bend toward the ground. Engage core throughout.
  5. Stop when your front knee is at a 90-degree angle and the back one is 1-2 inches from the ground. Pause and hold.
  6. Push back upward using your front foot, keeping your chest tight and glutes tense.
  7. Finish each rep with shoulders directly above your hips.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Keep your stance hip width. If you're too narrow, you'll struggle to remain balanced. 

9. Single-Leg Balance (Lunge alternative for bad knees)

Woman Doing Single-Leg Balance Exercise

While this lunge alternative exercise does not work your muscles as hard, it is brilliant for improving ankle and knee stability while improving your balance. For best results, combine with a manageable strength-based lower body exercise. 

By improving your balance you'll find many of the other exercises on this list easier. So you can gradually work toward more difficult walking lunge substitute routines.

Remember, everybody has to start somewhere. 

In the past I've used this simple exercise with a client who needed to build knee stability. It provided them with an easy "Win" without taxing their body too much. 


  • Extremely low impact.
  • Suitable for all ability levels.
  • Develops joint stability.

how to do it:

  1. Stand with feet parallel and hip distance apart. 
  2. Lift one knee to form a 90-degree angle in line with your hip while engaging your abs and thigh.
  3. Hold for at least ten seconds.
  4. Switch legs.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • 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. 

10. Clams 

Woman Doing Clams

This side lunge alternative is ideal for those struggling with hip pain. They build hip strength and flexibility, allowing more difficult exercises in time. 

I've added this exercise to several clients workout routines to develop their lateral glute strength. By developing a strong set of glutes, you lower the risk of any unnecessary injuries to your lower back and knees.

Best of all, you can perform this substitute for lunges almost anywhere. 


  • Low impact on your joints.
  • You can do them anywhere.
  • Develops your glutes.

how to do it:

  1. Lie down on your side with shoulders and hips forming a straight line. 
  2. Bend your knees until your thighs are at 90-degrees to your body.
  3. Stretch one arm overhead and rest your head on it. Keep your neck long and head neutrally positioned.
  4. Bend your top arm, placing the hand in front of your chest on the ground.
  5. Align your hips with one another vertically and do the same with your shoulders. Use your ab muscles to maintain this alignment.
  6. Rotate the top knee toward the ceiling, separating your thighs. Your outer hip muscles should contract. Keep your toes together and maintain hip alignment.
  7. Slowly return knee to its initial position.
  8. Repeat desired rep amount, then switch sides.

Tips From A Trainer!

  • Keep each rep slow and controlled. You want to feel your glutes working during the entire rep. 

How Lunges Impact Your Knees, Hips & Ankles

For lunges with good form, you need to: 

  1. Stand with your upper body straight, keeping your chin up and shoulders relaxed.
  2. Lower 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.
  3. Maintain body weight on both heels.
  4. Switch legs and repeat.

When done correctly, this benefits core stability, hip flexibility, spinal health, balance, and strengthens the buttocks and legs.

However, these lunge 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 [1]. 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 [2]. 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.

Transverse Abdominis

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.

Erector Spinae

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 [3]. The best examples are split squats, wall squats, glute bridges, and static lunges.

Common Lunge Alternative FAQs

Will lunge alternatives make your thighs bigger? 

Yes, lunge alternatives can make your thighs bigger. But only if they target your quads and hamstrings. Movements like the banded clams won't make your legs bigger. 

Which exercise is the best for walking lunge substitution? 

The best walking lunges substitute exercises are the split squats or step-ups, especially if you add resistance by holding dumbbells. They work the same muscles and will help with power development.

Which exercise is the best for smith machine lunge substitution? 

The best Smith machine lunge substitute is the single-leg press. This alternative also utilizes machinery for safe strength-building and provides the same option to shift muscle focus by adjusting 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. 

Add 2-3 of these movements to your next leg day and watch your muscles grow.





Lee Kirwin

Lee Kirwin

Lee has worked in the fitness industry for over 15 years. He's trained hundreds of clients and knows his way around the gym, including what you need for your garage gym. When he's not testing products, he loves weightlifting, Ju Jitsu, writing, and gaming.