Cossack Squat vs Side Lunge – Benefits, Form, & Muscles Worked

Lateral training is often forgotten with most weightlifters, powerlifters, and fitness athletes, as the majority of the movements (squats, deadlifts, snatches, cleans, box jumps, etc.) occur in the sagittal plane. 

As humans, the ability to move and promote force output as a 360 degree athlete is key for optimal health and sports performance. While some of us may not think we need to train outside out our linear domain since we only “compete” on a platform, I am here to make a case for the inclusion of lateral training during warm ups or supplemental lifts to increase knee, hip, and ankle movement integrity, increase muscular hypertrophy, and help to prevent movement disorders and injury.

Two common movements seen in today’s functional training environment are Cossack squats and side (lateral) lunges. In this article we will compare and contrast the Cossack squat and the side (lateral) lunge to determine which movement is best based upon the purpose and specific situation.

The Cossack Squat

In the video above, we are walked through the three training phases of the bodyweight Cossack squat.

The Cossack squat is a unique movement that can promote strength, mobility, and multi-planar movement integrity for all humans. In an earlier article, I discussed the benefits and reasoning behind performing Cossack squats in a training regimen, with the primary purposes of:

  • Improving and/or restoring range of motion in the ankles, knees, and hips in a multi-planar fashion
  • Improving the elasticity and strength of connective tissue and muscles across various angles and force lines
  • Preparing an athlete for the worst, such as buckling knees, ankles, and/or od positioning in the catch of heavy barbells or on the field.

The Side Lunge

Note: The side lunge and lateral lunge are interchangeable terms.

Increasing lateral stability, abduction and adduction abilities (joint actions), and resistance to rotational and shearing forces is key for injury reliance and enhanced performance. The side lunge is a movement that can be done with various angles and ranges to:

  • Bulletproof an athlete from lateral forces and odd movements outside of linear domains.
  • Increase gluteal, quadriceps, and lower body control/strength outside of standard sagittal movement planes.
  • Enhance the neurological and motor movement function of athletes who compete and train in a 360-degree environment (mainly all athletes, with the exception of powerlifters and some weightlifters, but even then, having increased strength and mobility is key).

[Add these unilateral lunge movements to your mass gaining and injury prevention arsenal!]

Muscles Worked

The Cossack squat and side lunge are very similar to one another, stressing both control, mobility, and strength of the lower body and core. Generally speaking, the muscles used are similar, however the primary purpose of each movement is drastically different (see below).

  • Quadriceps
  • Gluteal Muscles
  • Hamstrings
  • Abductor Magnus (inner thigh)
  • Vastus Medialis Obliqus (VMO)

When determining which movement to use, coaches and athletes must first determine what they purpose of goal is. While both of the movements stress similar movement patterns and muscle groups, the applications and purposes are very, very different.

[Add one of these exercises to your training routine once per week to enhance muscle growth and injury prevention!]

Movement Integrity

For the purpose of mobility, movement integrity, and structural balance, the Cossack squat (not to say the side lunge isn’t as well) is the clear winner. The ability to transition the body side to side, having internal/external rotation, flexion/extension, and rotational movements occur around the joints and tissues is key for expressing control and stability in athletic movements. By performing the Cossack squat, which is often done for quality reps and expressed at the deepest depth one can maintain with control (often done with non rigid back and some passive tissue involvement), the athlete is able to train muscles and neurons that are often neglected with standard exercises.

Many variations of the Cossack squat exist, and often coaches and athletes can perform them under load, while moving, or simply allowing the athlete to explore their bodies tendencies and inhibitions to better prepare for fuller ranges of motion and enhance control throughout the body.

Strength and Hypertrophy

When it comes to building movement specific strength, control, and muscular hypertrophy, both movements can provide benefits to a lifter. With that said, I personally find that the slightly less range of motion in the side lunge while maintaining a rigid spine allows for greater loading and muscular control, as the lifter must rely upon strength and tension rather than passive tissues (while moving in the Cossack squat).

Both movements can increase positional strength and muscular hypertrophy, however the side lunge may be best used to target certain ranges and muscle groups once the lifter is able to restore full range of motion.

Final Words

Both movements can challenge a lifter’s control, stability, and range of motion laterally, which is vital to knee and hip health and injury prevention. Furthermore, increasing lateral strength and force production can help to increase performance in non-linear movements (athletes) as well as increase muscular hypertrophy of non-traditional leg muscles used during squats and deadlifts, which can further enhance health and performance.

Featured Image: @buleabroad on Instagram