You have probably asked, “what can I do instead of lunges that won’t hurt my knees?”
There are several alternatives to lunges that will strengthen your lower body & won’t put as much pressure on the knees so that you can get more gains with less pain.
I organized these six lunge alternatives from beginner to advanced. For each exercise, I included the benefits and muscles targeted, how to execute the move with good form, and tips.
Try these moves to crush your next leg day.
1. Goblet Squats
Goblet squats are better than lunges if you have bad knees. Squats require less stability, and it’s easier to master good technique.
Goblet squats are a beginner exercise that targets the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and core.
You can also build more leg strength with goblet squats than with lunges because you can use heavier weight.
- Hold a light dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointed slightly out.
- Keep your weight evenly distributed through the feet.
- Sit back like you are sitting in a chair and keep the torso up.
- Press through your feet to return to standing.
Keep your gaze forward and your torso up. If there were a logo on your shirt, you would want someone standing in front of you to be able to read it.
Think about pressing through your heels if you are rising onto your toes.
Press your knees out away from each other as you squat down and stand up. Making sure your knees are tracking over your toes will protect you from knee pain.
You already do steps ups all the time when you walk upstairs. If you can’t do lunges because they hurt your knees, step-ups are the next best thing.
Step-ups primarily target the quadriceps muscles on the front of your things. Strengthening the quads helps protect the knees from injury. When you do this exercise with good form, it puts little stress on the knees.
Step-ups are a full-body exercise because they also work the hamstrings, glutes, and core. They are a great balance exercise.
- Place your right foot flat on the step.
- Press through your whole foot to stand up.
- Bring your left foot up to meet the right.
- Shift your weight to your left foot and step back to the floor with your right foot.
Bring your left leg up to meet the right only after the right leg is entirely straight to ensure that your working leg is doing all of the work.
Think about pressing through your heel as you stand up if you find your weight shifting too far forward as you stand up.
Make step-ups more challenging by holding dumbbells at your sides or by increasing the height of the step.
3. Single-Leg Press
The single-leg press will help you build massive lower body strength while protecting your knees.
Leg press works the quads, hamstrings, and glutes unilaterally, so you can’t favor your dominant leg.
Single-leg presses don’t require as much stability as lunges, so it is easier to control the movement. You can choose your foot placement and range of motion to keep pressure out of the knee.
- Position yourself in the leg press machine with feet hip-width apart.
- Bring your left leg off the machine into a resting position below the moving platform.
- Bend your right leg until the knee is below 90 degrees, or however far you can go without knee pain.
- Press into the heel of your right foot to straighten your leg.
- Repeat for several repetitions before switching legs.
Start with light weights and build to the heaviest weight you can do with good form.
Position your foot higher if your heel comes off of the platform during the exercise.
Doing smaller sets with heavier weight will boost your strength gains.
4. Static Lunge
Static lunges are great because it is easier to maintain correct form than with traditional lunges. Poor technique is often the cause of knee pain in lunges.
Static lunges work the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and stabilizing muscles of the hips and knees. They are also a great way to work on balance and build core strength.
- Place your feet hip-width apart.
- Step your right foot forward and your left foot backward.
- Position your torso upright and place your hands on your hips.
- Lower yourself straight down as far as you can with good form.
- Return to standing by pressing into both feet equally.
Place one hand on a chair if you are having trouble with balance.
Make the exercise harder by holding dumbbells in your hands at your sides.
Stick with one of the other exercise options if you are still having knee pain with static lunges.
5. Single-Leg Deadlift
Single leg deadlifts are a top alternative to lunges if you have bad knees because they don’t require as much bending at the knees.
Single leg deadlifts require more bending at the hips than the knees, so they primarily target the hamstring. The other muscles involved include the quads, glutes, abdominals, back, and many stabilizing muscles.
Single leg deadlifts are also excellent for balance training.
- Place feet hip-width apart.
- Shift your weight to your right foot.
- Bend your right leg slightly.
- Hinge your torso forward with a flat back until your chest is parallel with the floor.
- Let your back leg lift off the ground in alignment with your torso.
- Return to standing by lifting your torso back to vertical.
- Repeat for several repetitions before switching legs.
Keep your supporting leg just slightly bent through the movement. Don’t bend the knee more as your torso hinges forward.
Press into the big toe of your working leg if you are losing balance. You can also lightly place one hand on the wall or a chair to help you balance while you get the hang of it.
Think about keeping the toes of the back foot pointing toward the ground to maintain proper hip alignment.
Hold dumbbells to make the exercise more challenging.
6. Single-Leg Box Squat
Single leg box squats are a challenging exercise that can build strength and stability in the lower body. Working the stabilizers of the hips, knees, and ankles will help prevent injury and reduce knee pain. Because you are working on each leg individually, you can’t favor your dominant leg. Proper technique is key to reaping the benefits of single-leg squats.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart with a box or chair directly behind your heels.
- Lift your left leg and sit back onto the box with control.
- Stand back up by shifting your torso forward slightly while pressing into your right foot.
- Stand up entirely between repetitions.
Start with a box that is tall enough where you can control the entire movement.
Don’t let your knees cave in toward each other. You want your knee to track directly over your toes.
Holding a weight out in front of your body can help counter-balance you.
Don’t Skip Leg Day Just Because You Have Bad Knees.
You now have six great alternative exercises to do even if you can’t do lunges. Add one or all of them to your routine and see what works best.
Use the tips to customize the exercise to your needs. Focus on good form to get the most out of each movement and avoid pain.
These exercises will help you achieve massive gains in the gym while keeping your knees pain free.