One day last week I was working legs in the gym, and after my workout while I was stretching, I had a female approach me and ask me why I was doing “half lunges” on the smith machine. She asked, “Why would you only do half lunges using that machine with the bar over there, wouldn’t you rather do walking lunges where you are actually using your muscles?”
You just said that?
With a nice smile, I simply explained that the “machine with the bar” is called a smith machine, and the exercise I was performing is called a split squat, which is different from a lunge.
I didn’t bother mentioning anything about the fact that she thought the exercise I was doing, was not “using my muscles”.
I have to admit, sometimes I hold my breath and I don’t say things because clearly, some people think they know better, and you can’t tell them any different. Then they either start arguing with you, or simply call you a bitch. (Yes, it may have only been one time, but I honestly was called a B one time when I approached a girl and offered help on her performing an exercise incorrectly. After that occasion, I haven’t ever approached and offered help to a stranger.)
As I really wanted to sit this girl down and explain the difference between split squats and a lunge, and explain to her that using the smith machine, definitely allows your muscles to be “used” as she thought they weren’t, but instead I let it be, and allowed myself to get back into my stretching.
Split squats and lunges are very similar looking exercises and they can easily be confused if you aren’t aware of the differences. The two exercises target the same muscles; quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, adductor magnus, soleus and gastrocemius.
The major difference between a split squat and a lunge, is your rear leg.
In a split squat, the rear foot is at rest throughout the entire exercise; meaning, it does not move. In a lunge, the rear leg is engaged throughout the entire exercise; meaning it moves and does work.
A split squat focuses solely on the front leg, while the lunge uses both legs at the same time.
The Split Squat Explained
Begin in your starting position bend your front knee into a 90 degree, while not allowing it to go over your toes. Then immediately push yourself back up into the starting position. Keep your back straight and your head looking forward. Also remember to keep your abdominals engaged, especially if you are using a barbell as this will give your abs some work to do. 😉
As you can see from the pictures above, my hamstrings are very, very tight. I’m working on them by stretching after every workout, and lately I’ve been doing even more with a few yoga practices each week. Nothing too much, just at home working on my yoga.
With the hamstrings being tight, like mine, it is almost impossible to go as low to a 90 degree bend in the front leg without sacrificing form. Just do what you can do while keeping proper form. If you heel lifts slightly like mine, focus on stretching your hips and hamstrings.
The Lunge Explained
Begin in the standing position with your feet together. Step one foot forward, bending both knees into a 90 degree, while not allowing your front knee to go over your toes. Lower yourself to the 90 degree bend, then immediately push yourself back up into the standing position. Then step forward with your opposite foot and complete another rep. (Gotta keep it even!) Same with the split squat, keep your back straight and your head looking forward with those abdominals engaged!
A lunge typically involves moving your feet backward or forward, landing your feet on the ground, then bending your knees to a 90 degree, while lowering your body, then raising back into the standing position. You can still add weight (barbells or free weights) or bodyweight when performing lunges. The lunge also requires more balance as you are constantly moving your feet back and forth.
Lunges and split squats are both a great way to build lower body muscle because they both hit a few different muscles all at the same time. There’s also a ton of variations of lunges so you can switch them up all the time in your routine and never get bored.
Lunges can be pretty scary for some, if you don’t put full trust in yourself, or feel that you will fall, this is when the “lunge fear” sets in. I’ve worked with a few clients who have had a fear for lunges, and every single one of them managed to put their fear to the test, and blew it out of the water.
No more lunge fear.
Being scared of balance isn’t always the issue. Sometimes a person will struggle with the actual movement of a lunge. If someone was struggling with lunges, or simply needed improvement on their lunges, I would always recommend split squats. They are the exercise to help step your way into the lunge. Performing bodyweight split squats are a great way to help one understand the movement of a lunge. From there, you can begin to add dumbbells, and so on.
As you can use split squats to ease your way into learning the lunge, you can also use split squats to isolate your thighs/glutes while lifting heavy. Split squats are really good to shape your legs! Since you’re using one leg at a time, if you use heavy weight and complete your reps at a slow tempo of 2:1:4:1 (2 seconds down, 1 second pause, 4 seconds up, 1 second pause) then you are really targeting your hamstring, quadricep and gluteus maximus.
TRY: Performing 10 split squats on your right leg, then 10 split squats on your left leg then repeat for one more set. Rest for 60 seconds and repeat for another 5 sets. If you’re new to split squats, use a lighter weight, if you’ve done them before, I’d recommend using a weight that is so heavy it makes you struggle to get through your final 2 – 3 reps on each set.
YOU CAN ALSO TRY: Performing 10 split squats on your right, 10 split squats on your left and then 50 alternating front lunges. Rest for 60 seconds and repeat for another 5 sets. You can use bodyweight or dumbbells, whichever you prefer.
Both of these circuits can be added into your regular leg day workout routine.
Are split squats new to you?
What’s your favourite way to lunge?