How to Do a Reverse Lunge

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If you’ve grown a little bored with your typical bodyweight workout, try taking a step back — literally — with the reverse lunge. A twist on the classic forward lunge, the reverse lunge offers movement variety to help keep your brain engaged and your body challenged (and far away from the dreaded fitness plateau) while still providing many of the same benefits of the forward lunge, plus some unique ones.

“In addition to working just about every muscle below your waist — especially your quads — the reverse lunge can help enhance stability,” says Trevor Thieme, C.S.C.S., Openfit’s director of fitness and nutrition content. Also, there’s inherent value in moving backward. Besides offering you the opportunity to move in a direction you may not often travel, the reverse lunge puts less stress on the joints, making it a smart alternative for people with problematic knees, hips, and ankles.

For more workouts that will help you reach your goals check out Openfit’s T-Minus 30 Program, try it free today!

How to Do a Reverse Lunge

Program: Tough Mudder T-MINUS 30

Workout: Extreme Conditioning 1.0

  • Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips. If you’re adding resistance, hold a pair of dumbbells at arms’ length by your sides.
  • Keeping your chest up, back flat, shoulders back, and core engaged, take a large step back with your right leg
  • Lower your body until your left thigh is parallel with the floor. Your knees should be bent about 90 degrees, with the right knee hovering a couple of inches above the ground.
  • Pause, and then push off your back foot to return to the starting position.
  • Perform equal reps on both sides.

What Muscles Does the Reverse Lunge Target?

While the reverse lunge will fire up your core, it’s primarily a lower body-strengthening exercise that targets the quads and glutes while also engaging a handful of other muscles below the waist.

  • Quadriceps: Located on the front of your thighs, the quadriceps are comprised of four muscles — the rectus femoris, the vastus intermedius, the vastus lateralis, and the vastus medialis — that work together to extend your knee.
  • Glutes: Beyond giving you a shapely profile, your butt muscles, aka your “glutes,” play a key role in hip extension, pelvic stabilization, leg rotation, and leg abduction (lifting out to the side). The three muscles that make up the glutes are the gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus.
  • Hamstrings: The hamstring muscle group is found on the backs of your thighs below your glutes. They’re responsible for bending your knees, and also help extend your hips and rotate your legs inward and outward.
  • Adductors: The adductors run along your inner thighs and draw your legs toward your body’s midline.
  • Calves: Found on the backs of your lower legs, the two muscles that comprise your calves — the soleus and gastrocnemius — are responsible for pushing your foot downward (plantar flexion).

How to Make the Reverse Lunge Harder

If you’re cranking through reverse lunges without breaking a sweat, it’s time to dial up the intensity.

  • Add resistance by holding dumbbells at your sides or a weight plate or kettlebell in front of your chest.
  • For an added stability challenge, try an offset reverse lunge, holding a weight in just one hand.
  • Thieme also suggests experimenting with your foot placement and the direction of your reverse lunge. “Perform a crossover lunge by stepping your rear foot behind your front foot when you step backward,” he says. “Or do a reverse lunge with rotation: Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest and alternately rotate left and right in the direction of your front leg as you step back.”

How to Make the Reverse Lunge Easier

If you find using weights too challenging, stick to just your bodyweight until you’ve built up enough strength to start adding iron. And if you can’t drop down into a full lunge (in which both knees are bent 90 degrees) without compromising form, limit your range of motion until you can, lowering yourself just halfway or three quarters of the way down.

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The reverse lunge is a “must” for you to include in your workout routine for your next leg day. It challenges not only your leg and glutes muscles but also your core strength. Doing lunges going forward is hard enough – try going backward! If you are participating in our newest challenge, you can’t miss this video – it’s definitely an exercise included in the She Sweats Workout Plans.

Let us be your personal trainers with our detailed 4, 6 and 12-week She Sweats Workout plans! We guide your workout each day, telling you exactly what to do and what intensity to work at. We have everything you need! Find out more!

Watch this video tutorial to learn the proper form for a Reverse or Backward Lunge:

  1. Add weight – dumbbells and kettlebells work great!
  2. Add a pulse – come up and down a few more times once you are in your lunge to really challenge your muscles.
  3. Add a shoulder press – work your shoulders by adding bands or dumbbells while also increasing your core strength and balance. Be sure to do the “press up” as you bend down into your lunge.

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Why Reverse Lunges Are Better Than Forward Lunges

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The Reverse Lunge, or Step-Back Lunge, is an under-appreciated variation of a popular leg exercise. The Walking Lunge, Dynamic Forward Lunge, Split Squat, Side Lunge, and Clock Lunges are all adequate ways of strengthening leg musculature. However, the Reverse Lunge should be at the top of your Lunge variation list.

Why do Reverse Lunges?

I believe Reverse Lunges are superior to Forward Lunges because backward momentum keeps the body in the ideal lunge position—weight on the heel with the knee above the ankle. During a Forward Lunge, momentum shifts the center of gravity too far forward, placing the body weight on the ball of the foot rather than the heel and moving the knee too close to the toe. In this position, the quads apply too much pressure, while the glutes and hamstrings lose leverage and power, often causing knee pain. The reduced glute and hamstring activity decreases knee stability and diminishes power development on the upward phase of the Lunge.

RELATED: Andre Johnson DB Reverse Lunge to Upright Row

The Reverse Lunge is great for developing an athletic lower body, perfect for any sport requiring speed and power. It is also a more sport-specific movement for sprinting than the Forward Lunge. During the upward phase of the Lunge, swinging the back leg forward to a standing position is ideal for developing power in the front leg in the proper direction, thus making the Reverse Lunge an ideal move for athletic performance.

Where’s the Difference?

Notice the dissimilarities in the two Lunge photos.

  • During the Step-Back Lunge, the back remains extended, reducing pressure on the lumbar spine and maintaining a neutral center of gravity, ensuring stability.
  • Lunging backwards places the athlete in a more powerful position since the front leg is parallel to the floor.
  • The shin is more vertical during the Step-Back Lunge, with the knee a good distance back from the toes.
  • Stepping back allows the athlete to get deeper into the Lunge while maintaining adequate joint angles for optimum power.
  • The Step-Back Lunge ensures that pressure stays on the heel, whereas the momentum of the Forward Lunge is more likely to shift the pressure to the ball of the foot.
  • The calf is more contracted during the Forward Lunge, illustrating that more pressure is toward the toe, compromising the knee.

RELATED: Troubleshooting the Lunge: How to Fix Your Form

Adding the Reverse Lunge to Your Workout

The most important thing to learn before adding the Reverse Lunge to your workout is balance. Stability is important to build strength and power; if you are unstable, you will not be able to add sufficient weight to improve your leg strength. Start by practicing a Split Squat with no weight. When you can complete 3 sets of 15 reps without losing your balance, add a kettlebell to the hand corresponding with the front leg. Adding the weight to the opposite hand reduces stability and decrease effectiveness. Adding a weight to one side increases abdominal and spinal erector activation.

Once you can complete 3 sets of 15 reps per leg, you are ready for the Step-Back Lunge. Start with no weight and hold the squat rack for added stability if necessary. When you can do 3 sets per leg without losing your balance, you are ready to let go and add back the kettlebell. Do your Reverse Lunges early in your leg workout with increased weight for strength and power. Do your Reverse Lunges late in your leg workout with lower weight for hypertrophy, muscular endurance and a good burn.

RELATED: Speed Drill of the Day: Reverse Lunges

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

When you think of a lunge, you probably picture an exercise where you take a big step forward and bend at both knees to lower yourself down toward the ground. But you’ll find reverse lunges—where you step backward instead—in lots of workout programs and group fitness classes, too. At first glance, these two types of lunges seem similar enough. They’re essentially the same exercise, just done in opposite directions, right? The answer, turns out, is not so simple.

There are actually a few key differences in the biomechanics and benefits of each version of the classic lower-body move. Which direction, then, is better for your body? The answer, again, is not so simple. Here’s what you need to know and how to choose.

Let’s start with the similarities. First, the muscular benefits of forward and reverse lunges are essentially the same.

Whether you’re doing forward lunges or reverse lunges, you’ll challenge these same lower-body muscles, Scantlebury says. The only time you might notice a difference in strength benefits is if you feel more comfortable loading your body in one particular direction, and therefore, work at a higher intensity moving in said direction, he adds.

Both forward and reverse lunges are great tools to help pinpoint—and fix—muscle imbalances.

Because both forward and reverse lunges are unilateral exercises, meaning they are performed with the strength of just one leg at a time (as compared to bilateral lower-body movements like squats and deadlifts), they are a great tool for identifying and correcting any muscle imbalances that you may have between your right and left side, Johnny Tea, C.S.C.S., founder of JT Strength Therapy, tells SELF.

For example, your right quad might be naturally stronger than your left quad, which is something you’ll likely notice if you do the same number of lunges on both legs and experience greater fatigue afterward on your left. Over time, these types of imbalances can lead to chronic pain and injury if they’re severe enough for you to notice—what happens is that certain muscles will overcompensate and work harder than they should to make up for an imbalance in another connected muscle. This increases the risk of injury in those muscles that work overtime, which is why it’s important to do exercises that can help identify any discrepancies. Lunges, whether forward or reverse, are a great way to do just that.

And once you notice an imbalance, continuing to do unilateral movements can help you correct it—you’ll challenge the weaker side to step up and do all the work without relying on the stronger side to help, which over time, will help you build more equal strength. (Here are a few more tips for properly using single-leg exercises to get rid of muscle imbalances.)

They also both require mobility in the hips and ankles.

Ankle mobility and hip mobility are two things that are essential to lunging and can affect the quality of any type of lunge, Doug Perkins, D.P.T., C.S.C.S, of North Boulder Physical Therapy in Colorado, tells SELF.

Certain people who are limited in their dorsiflexion, meaning they have difficulty flexing their foot up toward the shin, can get “stuck” at the ankle when lunging. When your ankle is tight and can’t bend the way it needs to during a lunge, your knee may overcompensate by flexing further, which increases the forces on the joints in the knee, explains Perkins. The same problem can happen with tight hips: Your knee and/or lower back may flex forward more and create additional compression in these areas if your hips aren’t able to hinge forward to the extent that is needed for proper lunging form (more specifics on form later).

Why the Reverse Lunge Is One of the Best Exercises to Target Your Butt and Thighs

Lunges may seem like a #basic strength exercise, compared to all the crazy tools, techniques, and move mash-ups you might see on your Instagram feed. However, it’s important to remember that these “basic” moves are key to master before trying any of the tricky stuff-and they come with plenty of benefits, no matter how simple they seem.

The reverse lunge is a perfect example. Though it’s a foundational functional movement, the backward motion of the reverse lunge exercise makes this more of a coordination challenge than a strictly strength-training exercise. (BTW, how good is your balance?)

Reverse Lunge Benefits and Variations

Why switch it into reverse? Stepping backward challenges your balance and body awareness, says NYC-based trainer Rachel Mariotti, who’s demo-ing the exercise in the video above. “It requires a little more focus and control than the forward lunge.” Mastering this move will help you improve coordination so you’re better able to handle agility work and other athletic skills, like pushing sleds, doing box jumps, and jumping laterally.

Not to mention, it helps teach you how to properly hinge at your hip joint, pushing weight through the heel vs. the ball of the foot, and it activates your glutes more than other lunges, says Mariotti. Bonus: If you have cranky knees, reverse lunges may also be the best option. Compared to other lunges, reverse lunges were found to be the best in developing the glutes and quadriceps muscles with relatively low shearing force at the knee, according to a study presented at the 2016 International Conference on Biomechanics in Sports. (But that doesn’t mean you have to stick to doing only reverse lunges; there are so many different lunge variations that you’ll never get bored.)

Before you try the reverse lunge, master the forward lunge and the walking lunge. To make it even harder, add a knee drive at the top (stand on the front leg and drive the back knee forward and up to high knee position), add external resistance (try a kettlebell, dumbbells, or a barbell), or even combine the reverse lunge with a cable row to make it a total-body exercise (just like Shay Mitchell did in this workout with trainer Kira Stokes).

A. Stand with feet together and hands clasped in front of chest.

B. Take a big step backward with the right foot, keeping hips square to the front and pelvis neutral. Lower until both legs are bent at 90-degree angles, keeping chest tall and core engaged.

C. Press into the mid-foot and heel of the left foot to stand, stepping right foot up to meet the left.

Do 8 to 15 reps. Switch sides; repeat. Try 3 sets.

Reverse Lunge Form Tips

  • Make sure to step straight back and keep knees at 90-degree angles.
  • Try not to step too far back.
  • Don’t arch lower back; keep core engaged.
  • By Lauren Mazzo @lauren_mazzo

How To Do The Reverse Lunge

The lunge is a terrific functional exercise. You work a whole host of lower-body muscles in a manner that directly translates to improved sporting performance. And if you don’t play any sport, then you’ll at least appreciate how much better you’ll be at walking. Frankly, there aren’t many lower-body exercises better than the forward lunge, but one of them is the reverse lunge.

While both the forward and reverse lunge do a great job of working your thighs, glutes and calves, the latter has the edge because the forward momentum generated when you drive back up to the starting position more closely mimics the movement of running. It’s also easy to overstep and get your weight in the wrong position during the forward lunge, whereas if you put it in reverse the movement naturally brings your weight over the front heel, which is where it should be.

So the reverse lunge is one of those rare cases where the variation might be better than the original exercise, like the Godfather Part II. And if you want to argue about that then let’s turn to the unassailable example of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls being better than Ace Ventura: Pet Detective – we can all agree on that at least.

You might assume that a reverse lunge is exactly the same as a forward lunge done backwards, and you’d be more or less right. Start by standing straight and bracing your core muscles. Then take a giant step backwards with your left foot. Bend your right knee until it’s at 90°, and lower your left knee until it is also bent at a right angle. Then push back up and return to the starting position.

Make sure you keep your torso upright throughout the movement. You can opt to alternate legs with your reps, or do all of them on one leg before switching to the other.

Reverse Lunge Variations

Reverse lunge with dumbbells

Once you’re comfortable with the bodyweight version of the reverse lunge, add a little weight to make the exercise more difficult and more rewarding. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your sides as you lunge.

Reverse lunge to biceps curl

Don’t let your lower body have all the fun. Hold a pair of dumbbells by your side as you lunge backwards. Then, as you push forwards back to the starting position, curl the dumbbells up to your shoulders.

Are All Lunges Created Equal?

If you’re in the market to strengthen and sculpt your lower body, while also functionally preparing to tackle the activities of everyday life—like walking and climbing up stairs— with greater ease, the lunge should be an essential part of your workout routine. This no-equipment required move can be performed in a number of different ways, including moving forward or backwards. And, while stepping in one direction or the other might not seem to make that much of a difference, the truth is there’s more than meets the eye. Top personal trainers weigh in to break down the advantages and disadvantages of different types of lunges so you can determine which option may best suit your current fitness needs.

The Forward Lunge Lowdown

This tried-and-true move has long been a workout staple and for good reason. A research study by the American Council on Exercise found the forward lunge to be one of the most effective exercises for eliciting a high level of muscle activity in the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and hamstrings—significantly more than other common lower-body exercises like the body-weight squat. In addition to being highly effective the forward lunge is also quite functional, as this movement closely mimics our walking pattern. Because our brains are accustomed to putting one foot in front of the other, the forward lunge helps to reinforce the gait pattern in a way that challenges balance and the muscles of the lower extremities, explains Sabrena Merrill, exercise scientist and ACE Master Trainer based out of Kansas City, Mo.

This added challenge, however, can have implications for the knee joint. Jonathan Ross, award-winning ACE-certified Personal Trainer and author of Abs Revealed, shares that this version of the movement can be thought of as an acceleration lunge, because the body is moving forward and then backward. This results in a greater challenge, because the body is being propelled forward through space and returning from the bottom of the movement requires enough force to successfully return the body to the starting position. “The increase in challenge can make this lunge a problem for people with any knee pathology, because a higher amount of force and/or more range of motion is required to perform it properly.”

The Reverse Lunge Lowdown

This twist on the lunge offers the body an opportunity to move in a direction that most of us rarely go. While stepping backwards can offer a new challenge because it is not a normal repetitive movement most of us use, Merrill shares however that it can provide slightly less challenge to balance. This is because the center of gravity always remains between the two feet. “For the forward lunge, the center of gravity moves forward of the body during the forward stepping motion, so the reverse lunge may be an option for people who have problems with balance.” Part of the ease in performing this movement compared to the forward lunge is that the body is moving up and down and not through space, adds Ross. This makes it more of a deceleration lunge because you are moving up and down as one leg steps backward out of the way. “The strictly vertical nature of the movement requires less force than a forward lunge, which allows for an opportunity to train the muscles of the stance leg with less stress on the joints.” International fitness educator and Senior Manager of Training and Development for TRX Dan McDonogh adds that this variation on the lunge can be a suitable option for individuals with knee issues, as well as for those lacking hip mobility.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, the lunge—however you choose to perform it—should be a staple in your workout routine because of its emphasis on hip mobility and the translation to movement patterns in everyday life. In addition to providing great strengthening benefits for the muscles of the lower body, both the forward and reverse lunge require a significant amount of core control and engagement. “Both types of lunges, when performed correctly, require one hip to flex and the other to extend, while also controlling the pelvis through proper core activation,” says Merrill. “The hip abdominal and lower-back muscles must work in a synchronized fashion to control the tilting of the pelvis.”

Give This Lunge a Try

For a greater focus on technique and comfort when performing the lunge, Ross recommends adding the bottom-up lunge to your exercise arsenal. This movement allows you to learn proper movement first without the need to pick up and put down a foot during the movement, as required by both the forward and reverse lunge. To perform this static movement, begin with the right foot forward and left foot back, with the left knee resting on a balance pad or BOSU® Balance Trainer directly under the left hip. Keep the spine straight as you create the upward movement by pushing the right foot into the ground and straightening the right leg using the hamstrings and inner-thigh muscles. Reverse the movement by slowly lowering the left knee back down to the pad or BOSU® with control, using the muscles of the right leg. Alternate legs.

What is a reverse lunge?

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