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What's better for football - the traditional squat or lunges?

In a perfect world the squat would be better. Lunges are great for many things, considering you are actually getting closer to a more unilateral (one limb) verse bilateral (both limbs) movement. Both exercises have pros and cons.

Pros for the lunge you have the semi-unilateral component, this is a good thing considering most movement in any sport is preformed with a unilateral movement i.e. running, changing directions, and hopping. You do not have to load the spine with weight. In a traditional squat the weight is all on the spine (Con for squats), in most lunges, the weight is to the sides of you, which helps with decreasing injury. 

Cons for lunges are; limited external weight. In a traditional squat you have the ability to rack up a massive amount of weight (Pro for squats). 

If you have to choose one, go with the squat. But why not do both!

First determine the goal of the exercise, that can help you decide. There are merits for both lifts - each has specific advantages and disadvantages: 1.) Safety - without weight, both exercises are about equal; however, with weight the lunge may be a little safer. When performing a weighted lunge, there is a tendency to use less weight and technique is given more attention due to the unfamiliarity that most athletes have with the lift. Squatting has a tendency to prompt athletes to reach a little more beyond themselves - and the results can lead to an injured back or knees, more than the increase in capacity, strength, and power that an athlete is hoping for. 2.) Coaching/Learning - most athletes learn the squat a little quicker than a lunge when it comes to good technique. Squatting with both legs even seems to be a more natural movement that everyone has done to some degree. Lunging can be more difficult due to torso stability, knee placement, and the application of force through primarily one foot (front) over the other (back). This can require a little longer learning curve. 3.) Core development - when it comes to improving the core musculature's ability to handle spinal loading, the squat is the best exercise. Spinal loading requires the individual to keep the back in line and handle pressure on each individual vertebrae and disc - it is needed for football, and everyday life. 4.) Physical development - to increase muscular endurance, both exercises will get the job done. To improve strength and power, lesser experienced athletes will receive more benefit from the back squat. It's easier to learn and maintain form unless you are overloading the body's capabilities. For the more experienced or advanced athlete - both exercises are equally valuable. The squat allows for maximal loading of both legs evenly and demands optimal core musculature recruitment. The lunge provides alternative angles of hip and knee flexion to create specific gains. Both lifts are great, however to determine what lift to incorporate, determine what specifically you want to get from your training. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.