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Both squats and lunges are beneficial and offer unique advantages
The squat reigns supreme according to a study done by the American Council on Exercise, which surveyed 36,000 ACE trainers as to which exercise is the best for strengthening the glutes. In that same survey, the lunge takes such a close second that a photo finish was needed to determine the win. Setting gluteal strength aside and taking a closer look at the exercises, the verdict may still be out for which exercise takes the gold.
Maximum Number of Muscles Used
Both the squat and the lunge work the major muscles of the lower body, including the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and gluteal muscles. In addition, both exercises activate the core muscles to provide balance. However, one of these exercises works the most muscles. Squats work seven muscles, with the main target being the gluteus maximus, the largest of the four gluteal muscles. The classic lunge works 11 muscles, with the main target being the quadriceps. In the category of most muscles worked, the lunge takes first.
Maximum Weight Lifted
Weightlifters and bodybuilders may wonder which of these two classic exercises will allow them to lift more weight, helping them build muscle the fastest. While both the squat and lunge allow you to add additional weight from free weights or machines, the squat will allow you to take on the most additional weight. Because both feet are kept evenly on the ground during the squat, you can gradually work your way up to lifting more weight during your strength training sessions. Squats take No. 1 in the "maximum weight used" category.
Best for Athletic Performance
Both squats and lunges are valuable for athletes and improving their performance. Squats help to strengthen the major muscles of the legs quickly, which provides more power for the athlete. However, the lunge offers some performance-enhancing benefits that the squat cannot. Because the lunge strengthens just one leg at a time, movements that rely on asymmetry - such as running and leaping - can be improved by adding lunges into your routine. In the category of best for athletic performance, both the squat and lunge come out as equals.
Best for the Knees
When it comes to which exercises are best for the knees, the squat and lunge are tied. Both exercises provide challenges for those who suffer from achy knees or arthritis. Working with a trainer and perfecting proper form will help to enhance your performance and help you avoid injury. Remember, for both the lunge and squat, move slowly and point your knees in the same direction as your toes. This will help you avoid injury and take some strain off your knees. Also add weight gradually to these exercises, and consider alternating exercises -- squats one day, lunges the next -- during strength-training routines. If you have had a previous knee injury or other knee issues, consult your doctor before undertaking these exercises.