These Exercises Are Better Than Lunges For Bad Knees!

March 6th 2020

Lunges have been touted by some as the ultimate full-body exercise. 

There are those who claim that there isn’t anything better, and that lunges are part of every healthy and balanced workout routine. 

If you have bad knees, though, you don’t want to be doing lunges—and it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out.

While you might technically be missing lunges, know that there are definitely ways that you can get all the benefits of a lunge—and more—simply by using some alternative moves. 

Read on as we discuss the pros and cons of some alternatives to lunges! 

What is a lunge, and what do they do for your knees? 

Larysa DiDio from notes that lunges can be an incredibly important move, but you need to do them correctly to reap the benefits and avoid doing any further damage to yourself. 

Start, she says, by putting your hands on your hips and standing with your feet cinched together. 

Look forward; 

Make sure your back is straight and your hips are square. 

Step one leg back, making sure that your toes are both pointing forward. 

Bend your other leg, making sure that your front leg eventually forms a ninety degree angle with your knee hovering precisely over your ankle. 

Stay there for a moment, breathing long and deeply. 

Return to standing. 

Repeat on other side, then multiple times for a set. 

As you can see, this is a lot of knee action. 

If you have fine knees to start with, will the process of doing lunges irritate you? 

Unless you have a known issue in your knees, which we’ll talk about in a moment, the only ways that lunges will actively irritate you are if you have improper form or a muscle imbalance, says Meg Lappe, C.T., from

She suggests static lunges—or lunges where your feet don’t move—as well as modified bridges to help fix the issues that might be causing lunges to be impossible for you, and a laying-down clamshell exercise. 

However, those are only applicable if you don’t already have bad knees. 

If you have bad knees, lunges are going to be killer—and here’s why: 

Rodriguez, also from, says “Normally, when you step forward into a lunge, your knee can naturally push forward. 

But if your hips are weak, your knee can push out farther past your toes because the hip muscles don't keep it in line, which puts added pressure on the knee.” 

Your knee wasn’t necessarily meant to be the strongest link in the chain, and so when it is used as such (particularly if you have a weaker knee), things don’t tend to go so well. 

If lunges are hurting your knees, don’t worry—there are definitely other exercises you can use to make sure you’re working those muscle groups! 

What are some alternative exercises for newer lifters with bad knees that want to do lunges?

If you have bad knees but still want to work out the same general muscle groups as a lunge would, you’re in luck—there are definitely other exercises that do the same thing. 

You’re likely going to want to find a compound exercise that can help you get the job done. 

What is a compound exercise? 

Simply put, a compound exercise is about what it sounds like: 

It’s one motion that works out multiple muscle groups at the same time.

Compound exercises are great for efficiency, and most trainers and workout regimens incorporate multiple compound exercises into their programs so that you’re really doing as much as you can with the amount of time you’re investing in your workout.

I can provide you a set of compound movements that do not require a barbell.

Hopefully, this will help get you moving and get you confident enough to do more exercises that are more efficient for making progress.


  • Reverse Lunges. 

While it might sound counterintuitive, you might be able to handle the motion in reverse, and it moves the same muscle groups! 

  • Single Leg Press. 

If you have access to a single leg press machine, then your work is done. 

While this isn’t necessarily a compound exercise, it is very easy to perform and level up; and, while you’re on the machine, as long as you’re doing it correctly it should be difficult to hurt yourself while you’re doing it.

  • Split Squats. 

The Bulgarian Split squat is the king of the lower-body muscles, and as a beginning lifter, you really should be including a squatting motion to use your time efficiently. 

Go slowly, and see if your body can handle this motion if you keep yourself in excellent form. 

  • Step-Ups. 

This one doesn’t require any specialized equipment other than perhaps a step. 

You’ll work your upper and lower leg muscles, and you’ll feel better for it! 

Talk about a great compound exercise! 


Ultimately, you need to listen to your body. 



If you’re doing any of these exercises and you feel joint pain, definitely take a moment to consider what that may mean. 

And of course, you have the kings of all exercises for a lower body leg workout:

  • Barbell squats
  • Barbell deadlifts
  • Barbell hip thrusts

Just to name a few...

But again, you need to remember.

You need to do pain-free movements that do not cause you pain.

You will find an exercise that will work for you.

I find it impossible that you will be in pain with EVERY single exercise.

There are so many variations that there will be something that works for you.

You just need to be creative and figure out what you can and cannot do.

Are lunges bad for your knees? 

The short answer is simply—no! If you don’t have bad knees and if you do them properly, there’s no reason to fear the lunge, say most experts. 

Most people do perform lunges “with a knee-dominant technique”—and even though this might seem like the right way to do the move, the power should actually be going from your core. 

Do them properly, and you’ll have no issues—but if you have knees that hurt, to begin with, looking for another move might help! 

Should I be doing lunges? 

If you can handle the lunging motion, you definitely should—as they’re fantastic for your legs and for your whole body. 

“Lunges and lunge variations build amazing lower-body strength and stability,” says Baltimore-based strength and conditioning specialist Erica Suter, C.S.C.S. 

“In addition to strengthening the glutes and quads, which are some of the largest muscle groups in the entire body, by requiring a split stance, lunges improve stability at the hips, knees, and ankles.” 

A key phrase she used—lunge variations! 

If you’re unable to do lunges, you should try to incorporate squats or any of the other motions described above to make sure you’re targeting your glutes and your quads, perhaps by a compound exercise. 

However, are you making optimal progress?

You will see many personal trainers and workouts that stress how vital it is to do lunges for a lower body workout.

Or if they need to work out their legs, lunges definitely need to be in the program.

I would like to open you up to another perspective.

I have been strength training for over 6 years now and I have never done a “lower body” workout where lunges were heavy enough to stimulate strength and muscle growth.

I stuck with heavy barbell training.

That is how I got to a 315lbs squat in 2018.

And now, I am focused on LONG TERM progress in strength gains.

Of course, muscle growth will always follow strength gains since you are training with a sufficient amount of volume,

Unless you are not eating enough food, then I would find it hard to believe that you are not growing muscle.



I am sure you want progress.

I know you hate being weak.

With the current program I am running, I feel confident that my strength will remain for a very long time.

Want to know what program?

This program will make sure you never have to worry about the microlevel thinking of a workout.

You are focused on how to build strength, not chasing gym numbers or gym PRs.

Caught your interest?

I am running 5/3/1 Forever and I detailed my first cycle here.


Ultimately, do your research and make sure that you’re doing the exercises you need to target the right muscle groups so you can stay healthy and reach your goals.

But make sure that you listen to your body while you’re doing so, as you definitely don’t want to endanger your joints while you pursue your goals of being a strong lifter. 

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