Best Lunge Alternatives for Bad Knees (Safe & Effective)

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Published by Christiana Mikesch, CPT | Senior Coach
Last updated: March 11, 2024
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Lunge exercise alternatives that have a low impact on the knees are gaining recognition in fitness regimes for their numerous benefits and versatility.

Based on our observations, we've found that these exercises efficiently engage several muscles in one go, yielding substantial results with minimal repercussions.

Through trial and error, we discovered that implementing these lunge alternatives can effectively reduce knee strain while maintaining a high-intensity workout.

Quick Summary

  • Lunge alternatives like reverse lunges, single-leg leg presses, single-leg deadlifts, single-leg burpees, step-ups, and split squats provide diverse ways to strengthen lower body muscles, enhance balance, and improve core stability.
  • Each lunge alternative targets specific muscle groups, optimizing overall workout results and offering varied physical challenges.
  • According to ResearchGate, these alternatives can provide a well-rounded workout with static or dynamic movements in the same muscles.
  • As a trainer, I find that incorporating these alternatives into workout routines offers a safer option for clients with knee concerns without compromising on the intensity and benefits of lower body exercises.

Best Alternative to Lunges in a Workout Routine

A person doing lunge workout alternatives at home

As a trainer, I often emphasize that while lunges are excellent for strengthening and toning the lower body, they are not the sole exercise option available for these goals.

It's worth exploring the best alternatives to lunges.

According to a study from ResearchGate, these alternatives can provide a well-rounded workout with static or dynamic movements in the same muscles [1].

Reverse Lunges

The reverse lunge is an effective bodyweight maneuver that targets several muscles in the lower body, including the glutes, hamstrings, and quads.

Here's how to perform this exercise:

  1. Stand with your single-leg joint seats hip-width apart.
  2. Move your right foot backward, ensuring that your heel remains elevated from the ground.
  3. Bend your knees and descend until your left thigh forms a horizontal line with the ground.
  4. Hover your right knee just above the ground.
  5. Push through with your left foot to go back to the starting point.
  6. Repeat the exercise with your left foot stepping back.

Related: How To Do Side Lunge Stretches

Single Leg Burpees

A person doing single leg burpees at the gym

The single-leg burpee, comparable in intensity to the single-leg leg press machine, is a challenging full-body exercise that provides a more intense workout than traditional lunges.

Here's how you can perform a single-leg burpee:

  1. Begin in a standing position on one leg.
  2. Lower yourself into a squat position and place your hands on the ground before you.
  3. Kick your standing foot back to be in a one-legged plank position.
  4. Perform a push-up (optional), then jump your foot back towards your hands.
  5. Jump into the air explosively with the same leg, raising your arms above your head.
  6. Repeat the sequence on the alternate legs.

Learn More: Best Leg Exercises for Bad Knees

Split Squats

According to ResearchGate, split squats are a popular alternative to lunges, known to exert less strain on the knee joint, making them more comfortable for many people [2].

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Go forward with one foot.
  3. Raise the heel of your back foot.
  4. Lower your body vertically until your back knee is off the ground.
  5. Ensure your front knee is above your ankle.
  6. Push through with your front foot to return to the starting position.
  7. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Also Read: Best Hack Squat Alternatives

Single-Leg Box Squats

A person doing single leg box squats at the gym

As a trainer, I recommend single-leg box squats as a potent exercise for focusing on individual leg strength and stability, offering an ideal bodyweight opportunity to enhance unilateral leg training.

Here's how to perform this exercise:

  1. Start by standing in front of a box or a sturdy bench.
  2. Lift one foot off the ground, maintaining balance on the other foot.
  3. Slowly lower your body towards the box, keeping your chest upright and your back straight. Make sure your knee remains in line with your toes.
  4. Lightly touch the box with your glutes. All your weight will be distributed on one leg.
  5. Push and follow the motion to return to the standing position.
  6. Repeat with the other leg.

Bulgarian Split Squats

The Bulgarian split squats take the traditional split squat up a notch by elevating the rear foot, a variant of the classic split squat. 

Here's how you can perform them:

  1. Position yourself in a staggered stance with your back to a bench or box.
  2. Lift one foot and place it on the elevated surface behind you.
  3. Bend your front knee towards the ground, keep your torso upright and keep your front knee in line with your toes.
  4. Drive up through your front heel to return to the standing position.
  5. Repeat on the other side.

Goblet Squats

A person doing goblet squats at home

I often suggest goblet squats to beginners because they effectively target the lower body, improve flexibility, and engage the upper body through the positioning of the held weight.

This functional exercise serves as a versatile and user-friendly introduction to weighted squats, offering a balanced and efficient workout.

To perform a goblet squat:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Hold a kettlebell or dumbbell on your chest with both hands.
  3. Lower your body into a squat, pushing your hips back and bending your knees. Keep your chest upright.
  4. Return to the starting point, keeping the weight close to your chest throughout the movement.

Static Lunge

Static lunges, or split squats, are ideal for those who experience knee discomfort or have balance concerns, as they engage similar muscle groups to traditional lunges but reduce joint impact.

This exercise works the quads, glutes, and hamstrings while promoting improved balance and coordination.

To perform a static lunge:

  1. Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Go forward with one foot, keeping the heel of your back foot raised.
  3. Go low until both knees are bent in a 90-degree position.
  4. Keep the front knee above your ankle and the back knee pointing down.
  5. Push with your front foot to go back to the starting position.

Sled Drag

A person doing sled drag workouts at the gym

Sled drags stand out as a unique and rigorous alternative to lunges.

This exercise offers effective endurance and strength training for women, targeting the lower body muscles and significantly enhancing cardiovascular fitness.
To perform a sled drag:

  1. Stand facing the sled, holding the straps or handles in both hands.
  2. Lean back slightly and dig your heels into the ground, starting the movement with a slight squat.
  3. Drive through your legs and walk backward, pulling the sled towards you.
  4. Keep a steady pace and continue for a set distance or time.

Sumo Deadlift

Embracing the Sumo Deadlift into your routine provides an intriguing variation to the conventional lower body workout.

This type of exercise puts more emphasis on the inner thighs compared to regular lunges.

Here's how you can effectively execute a sumo deadlift:

  1. Stand with your feet spread wider than the width of your hips, with your toes pointing slightly outwards.
  2. Bend your hips and knees to reach down and grip the barbell with both hands inside your legs.
  3. Raise your chest and straighten your back, then push through your heels to lift the weight off the floor.
  4. Fully extend your hips and knees at the top of the movement before carefully lowering the barbell to the ground.

Glute Bridges

A person doing glute bridges at a home gym

I often recommend glute bridges to my clients as a great alternative to lunges. This exercise primarily targets the posterior chain, focusing on strengthening the glutes and hamstrings.

Glute bridges are a low-impact exercise that provides several benefits. They are particularly effective in improving hip mobility and promoting lower back health, which I've observed in many of my clients.

Here’s how to perform it with just your body weight:

  1. Go on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat.
  2. Put your arms and palms down.
  3. Lift your hips and push through your heels. The goal is to form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  4. Squeeze your glutes and lower your body back down.
  5. Repeat as needed.

Walking Lunges

Though reminiscent of traditional lunges, walking lunges bring exciting motions.

This variant engages your core while enhancing balance and coordination, enriching your fitness regimen. 

Here's how you perform walking lunges:

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Move forward with your right foot and lower your body with your right knee at a 90-degree angle.
  3. Push through your right foot to stand up, bringing your left foot forward to step into the next lunge.
  4. Repeat the process with your left foot leading.
  5. Continue the walking lunges for your chosen number of repetitions or distance.

Combining Lunge Alternatives with Other Exercises

To create a well-rounded lower body workout incorporating lunge alternatives, consider mini-circuits or exercise pairing for optimal muscle engagement.

  • Start with a squat variation, like goblet squats, to activate the quads and glutes.
  • Follow with a lunge alternative, such as step-ups or Bulgarian split squats, targeting similar muscle groups with a different movement pattern.
  • Include a hamstring-focused exercise, like Romanian deadlifts, for balance.
  • Add calf raises for lower leg strength.

Cycle through these exercises in a circuit format, performing each for a set number of reps or time, with minimal rest between exercises to maintain intensity and maximize muscle engagement.

Low-Impact Workout Routine with Lunge Alternatives

A person doing glute bridges at home

“Among my favorite lower body exercises are sumo squats, leg extensions, and deadlifts, but if I had to pick a No.1, I personally love the simplicity and versatility of the lunge.”

- Harley Pasternak, Celebrity Personal Trainer

Here's a routine with lunge alternatives focusing on maintaining strength and muscular balance without causing undue joint stress.

  1. Reverse Lunges: 2–3 sets of 10–12 reps
  2. Single Leg Leg Presses: 2–3 sets of 10 reps
  3. Single Leg Deadlifts: 2–3 sets or 12 reps
  4. Single Leg Burpees: 2 sets of 8–10 reps
  5. Step-ups: 3 sets of 12 reps
  6. Split Squats: 2 sets of 12 reps

What Are Lunges?

Lunges are a lower body exercise that primarily targets the quadriceps and engages the glutes, hamstrings, and core.

They're highly versatile and can be modified to increase or decrease difficulty or target different muscle groups.

Why Should You Train Lunges?

A man doing lunges at park

You should train your lunges to improve lower body strength, balance, and stability.

According to ResearchGate, they also provide numerous other benefits [3].

These benefits include the following:

  • Better Daily Functionality: The lunge is a functional movement that trains a movement pattern you use in everyday life (like walking or climbing stairs).
  • Flexibility: Lunge exercise increases flexibility in your hip flexors, which are often tight in people who spend a lot of time sitting.
  • Core Strength: Performing lunges requires core engagement, especially from your lower abdominals and obliques, which helps improve core strength and stability.

Considerations When Feeling Knee Pain While Training Lunges

A person at the park doing lunge workouts

When knees hurt during lunges, reassess your form and identify any contributing factors.

These could be:

  • Poor technique
  • Muscle overuse
  • Muscular imbalances

You should lower intensity, correct your form, or switch to low-impact lunge alternatives.

"Lunges are a quintessential exercise; you can do them anywhere and the effects can be seen in no time, in the form of shapely, toned legs and rear."

- Harley Pasternak, Celebrity Personal Trainer


Are Lunges for Bad Knees Effective?

Yes, lunges are effective for bad knees. They fortify the muscles around the knee joint, increase stability and progressively reduce discomfort over time. If traditional lunges cause knee pain, there are alternatives to minimize knee strain while still providing the benefits of this exercise.

How Can I Reduce Knee Pain?

You can reduce knee pain with lunge exercises, but performing them correctly and mindfully is essential. If not executed properly, lunges could worsen knee issues.

How Can I Strengthen My Legs Without Lunges?

You can strengthen your legs without lunges by integrating various exercises. Squats and deadlifts target multiple lower-body muscles, while single-leg drills enhance strength and balance.


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About The Author

Christiana Mikesch, CPT
Senior Coach
Christiana Mikesch, CPT is a personal trainer and author with contributions to publications like the Chicago Tribune and Yahoo. She emphasizes a holistic approach to weight loss, combining an energy-fueling diet, goal-oriented workouts, and daily habits. Her approach avoids short-term goals and fosters a lifelong commitment to health and well-being.
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Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
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Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
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