Your body is a temple, the ultimate shrine to strength, flexibility and endurance. Ask yourself, who would build such a sanctum on a foundation of twigs? If you haven’t already built your leg workouts around basic squats, lunges and their numerous respective variations, it’s time to lay down a fortified base on which you can balance a more durable monument to total fitness. Both fundamental exercises actively engage multiple major muscle groups and burn copious calories by calling upon multiple joints throughout their full range of motion. However, each provides at least one distinctive emphasis the other does not. So, which one deserves to top the bill on your next Leg Day?

Breaking Down The Squat

Anyone familiar with the fine art of sitting down can master rudimentary squats. With as much of body weight as possible balanced evenly on the heels and toes pointed forward or slightly out at an angle, lower your body by pushing your hips back as far as you can. Imagine trying to smack the wall with your butt and keep your knees to the side. Descending as deeply as possible with good form is key to working the glutes, hamstrings and especially the quadriceps as thoroughly as possible, but don’t drop further than correct form will allow. Mobility exercises and stretches can improve range of motion dramatically for almost anyone who cannot yet go down as far as they might like, so keep that back straight and on as much of a vertical line as you comfortably can.

The Lunge

The lunge actually wakes up virtually the same muscles, but with a unique emphasis on the hamstrings. Instead of driving upward through the heels of both legs, this movement primarily stretches, strengthens and refines the front leg’s stability with each repetition. Starting with both feet either together or roughly shoulder-width apart, take a long step forward and bend that front knee to a 90-degree angle. Do not let your knees float inward, keep a straight back and let that forward foot support your weight on the heels. Finally, push back up to the starting position through the front foot. Repeat with the other side, but control the movement from start to finish.

Benefits

When it comes to building pure strength, the squat reigns supreme. As long as form doesn’t suffer at the altar of pure pounds moved, weighted squats demand the combined strength of both legs and open the flood gates holding back precious growth hormones key to triggering massive muscle development not just throughout your stems, but all over the body. Meanwhile, proper lunge form hones skillful, powerful movement in several directions. Whereas shorter lunges primarily target the quadriceps, a longer step shifts that emphasis to the glutes and side lunges focus on the thigh’s adductor (inner) and abductor (outer) muscles. Both exercises also call upon considerable core stability to maintain stability throughout the deepest possible range of motion.

Which Is Better?

To be perfectly honest, this is a bit like asking whether a fine restaurant should have beyond-reproach service or exquisite food. The most well-rounded leg workouts will include some variation or another on both lunges and squats, even if that sometimes means emphasizing each exercise on its own day. That being said, anyone dreaming of powerful, toned legs should master the squat first. This movement demands reasonable balance and coordination, but it also wrings the weakness out of the quadriceps, glutes, inner thighs, hamstrings and calves. As a bonus, variants such as squatting with an inflated exercise ball between the small of your back and a wall as you bend your knees and drop your hips can gradually improve total-body stability enough for beginners struggling with balance to eventually remain more stable throughout a clean, deep lunge. Practice (with disciplined form and up to two workouts a week for each muscle group) makes perfect.

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