Maybe you’re bored of your current single leg work, or you’re looking for a new challenge in your training, whatever the reason, changing up your single leg strength work away from just lunges can have many benefits. Let’s have a look at reasons why you might want to switch out the lunge and 6 exercises you can use to do so.
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A great deal can be said to finding our movement practice both fun and interesting. When it feels stale and boring it can be extremely demotivating. This is why changing up the way we challenge the single leg squat variation by opting for a non-lunge variation is a great idea. Throughout a training block we should be exposing ourselves to multiple uni-lateral squatting variations that include lunges and lunge alternatives both for results and enjoyment of training.
It can be good to use a variety of exercises in our training in order to be exposing our physiology to different movements on a regular basis. This allows us to prevent injury by loading the same muscles through slightly different tweaks and changes in exercise selection. It also allows us to improve our movement virtuosity, which is our ability to perform highly skilled movement patterns, as it exposes us to novel and challenging positions. For example, imagine you have a 2x bodyweight back squat and can lunge heavy weights comfortably, developing the ability to perform the skater squat might be a fun project that challenges you in new ways whilst strengthening your single leg squat.
A lot of lunge variations prevent the hip moving through its full range of motion, especially traditional variations like the squat in lunge or walking lunge . There are some lunge variations where this is not the case, like the rear foot elevated squat in lunge but there are only a few variations of these. A lot of the lunge alternatives can make the uni-lateral squat more challenging, by moving through the full range of motion. If we look at the single leg step down, we can see that the range of motion has been made substantially more difficult, which is why this is such an effective uni-lateral squat variation.
Some people may find a lunge too challenging, yet they still want to develop their single leg strength, this is where exercises like the single leg plate step up come into play. It can be very normal to find a lunge variation extremely challenging when you start your training journey so do not be dishearten and start by using easier variations that you can progress over time.
We are looking for any exercise that is a single leg exercise that moves through knee flexion (the squat movement pattern). This is the same movement pattern that the lunge moves through, the lunge differers from most of these exercises because there are two points of contact with the floor, this therefore means that both legs can be used to lift the weight. Although these movements do have differences, grouping them together into one category make sense from a programming standpoint and the primary muscles worked are the same.
The B-Stance Squat is a great alternative to the traditional lunge, it helps build strong and stable hips, glutes and quads. It also challenges the mobility of the hips in a way that results in high levels of control in the hip joints. It differs from the lunge in the sense that the stabilising leg is hardly touching the floor and shouldn’t be used at all to lift the weight. Therefore do not expect to be able to lift as much weight as you can in a lunge variation.
The kickstand squat puts more emphasis on the muscles of the quads and requires the knee to move further forward than a typical lunge. This is great for people looking to strengthen their quads and knees, but individuals with poor ankle mobility may find it more difficult. Using this exercise during a deload week can be a great replacement to a heavy lunge done in the previous training cycle.
Single leg step downs are my favourite lunge alternative and are for both strength in the single leg and mobility of the hip joint. They require a great deal of stability and control and are therefore very effective for both athletes and the general public. They do require a good deal of strength and control to perform them through the full range of motion and are more of an intermediate to advanced trainee.
The single leg plate step up is probably the easiest single leg variation we have in our exercise library. It is one of the best variations for true beginners who have been extremely sedentary or those who are recovering from an injury as it offers and entry level intensity into single leg knee flexion. The best part about this exercise is how easy it is to progress, by simply adding more plates on we increase the range of motion till the exercise resembles a more traditional step up variation.
The skater squat is another very challenging single leg squat variation that is an excellent lunge alternative. It can be used to develop both strength in the legs and mobility in the hips as it moves through a very challenging range of motion. It is important with this exercise that the knee is controlled towards the floor and doesn’t crash towards the floor.
The Pistol Squat is one of the most challenging single leg squat variations that can be used as a lunge alternative. It requires a great deal of hip stability and mobility and a lot of ankle mobility, this is why very strong individuals can find this variation very challenging. I do not recommend performing this for strength purposes if you do not have the prerequisite mobility.
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This resource was written by Sean Klein. Sean Richard Klein has thousands of hours of coaching experience and a BSc in Sports Science with Management from Loughborough University. He owns a gym in Bayonne France, CrossFit Essor, which runs group classes and a Personal training studio.