Reverse lunges are an incredible lower body exercise… when they’re done right.
The “reverse” in reverse lunge refers to the motion of stepping backward to initiate the movement, followed by a powerful push from the front leg to stand back up. There are many different variations of lunges that all have their own unique benefits. None is better or worse, just different. The reverse lunge is best for working on strength and muscle building in the glutes.
Let’s imagine we are going to start by working the left leg.
It would be really easy to think of the reverse lunge as simply to “step back, and then step forwards” and essentially, that’s what’s happening. However, if you want to get stronger and build up that dump truck (dude’s too), doing it the right way is what will make that happen. Otherwise, you’re just going through the motions, and that’s cool, just not as cool, you know?
Create 90-degree angles through the ankles, knees, and hips.
As simplistic as the reverse lunge may seem, there are many common mistakes that turn this great exercise into a haphazard jumble of movements that serve no purpose other than getting you sweaty and increasing risk of injury.
I know it’s counter-intuitive that the leg that isn’t really moving is the working leg, but it is. At the bottom, the front leg hip is fully flexed. Moving from hip flexion through hip extension (standing back up) is how we train the glutes. The back leg hip is already extended, so if you push off the back foot, you’re only using that leg’s quadricep in a very weak position. Which is likely to cause some knee pain. And not to mention just not very effective and giving the exercise a totally different intention.
Plain and simple, this is just going to hurt you for no reason. You do this once and have bruised knees for a week, and then never again. On the training aspect of this, if you are slamming into the ground, it means you’re not controlling the movement. Not controlling means no tension through the muscles, and no tension means no growth. So, maintain tension and control the entire time and gently kiss that back knee off the ground.
When you step back, the front knee should remain in line with the second toe. You want to avoid the knee caving towards the inside. This is an almost universal rule-of-thumb with any lower body exercise but especially highlighted with any single-leg exercises. When the knee moves inside the toes, it places a lot of unnecessary strain on the joint, and commonly leads to pain and injury. Push the knee outwards and keep it in line with the second toe.
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This is not necessarily unique to lunges, it is simply a benefit of any single-leg exercise such as Bulgarian Split Squats and the Traditional Split Squat. David wrote a full article on the benefits of single-leg training here so give that a read through. To sum it up quickly here are the main benefits: it helps correct right to left imbalances, it more closely mimics sport and day-to-day activities, it’s an excellent way to build strength bilaterally, and it’s generally safer. You’ll get all of that and then some when you start using reverse lunges.
Reverse lunges don’t require that much weight to be used since they’re already pretty tough. You can certainly load up a barbell and have at it, but it will require relatively lower amounts of weight compared to other exercises like a back squat. Getting a similar training effect with less load on your spine is always a good thing.
Generally, when we train the glutes, hamstrings, and posterior chain overall we’re using hinge movements. Which are great and should certainly be included in your programming, but too much can certainly take a toll. The reverse lunge is a great exercise to target the posterior chain without a hinge.
I hear you already: “how is that good?” Well, part of training is learning how to train hard and embrace the suck. Lunges are one of those exercises that will just always be difficult. If you can crush sets of lunges to finish off your workouts then it makes the rest of the problems in life seem a little less daunting.
Barbell Front Rack Reverse Lunge
There are tons of variations of reverse lunges and many of them are simple biomechanical changes. Earlier I mentioned how you want to maintain 90-degree angles all around. There are variations of lunges where you might want the front knee to be bent more and be past the toes. Or you may want the back leg to actually be straight. Or any number of alternate configurations. None of these are incorrect, or better, or worse, they’re simply different exercises with different intentions. They look similar enough to categorize them all as a “reverse lunge”, but their purpose is different. That would be an entirely different article, so for our purposes here, we’re sticking to the more standard definition of a reverse lunge, which creates 90-degree angles to bias the glutes and posterior chain.
Once you’ve nailed down the bodyweight reverse lunge, here are some progressions:
If you’re having trouble with the reverse lunge, here are a couple of regressions to get you started:
Suitcase Deficit Reverse Lunge
Reverse lunges are an awesome exercise and depending on your training can be used as your main lift of the day or as more of an accessory movement at the end of the workout. They never really get easier, but they make you stronger… and isn’t that what it’s all about?
In a very general sense, if you’ve never done reverse lunges properly, here’s how I’d program them over 12 weeks:
Week 1: Bodyweight Reverse Lunges: 3 sets x 10 reps per leg.
Week 2: Bodyweight Alternating Reverse Lunges: 3 sets x 10 reps per leg.
Week 3: Dual KB Front Rack Reverse Lunges: 3 sets x 10 reps per leg.
Week 4: Dual KB Front Rack Alternating Reverse Lunges: 3 sets x 10 reps per leg.
Week 5: Offset Load Reverse Lunges: 3 sets x 12 reps per leg.
Week 6: Offset Load Reverse Lunges: 3 sets x 15 reps per leg.
Week 7: Suitcase Reverse Lunge: 3 sets x 12 reps per leg.
Week 8: Suitcase Reverse Lunge: 3 sets x 15 reps per leg.
Week 9: Suitcase Deficit Reverse Lunge: 4 sets x 6 reps per leg.
Week 10: Suitcase Deficit Reverse Lunge: 4 sets x 8 reps per leg.
Week 11: Barbell Back Rack Reverse Lunge: 4 sets x 6 reps per leg.
Week 12: Barbell Back Rack Reverse Lunge: 4 sets x 8 reps per leg.
Now of course, the programming has to be in cohesion with the rest of your training. Haphazardly following this program while following something completely different for the rest of your body is not gonna get you anywhere. But for the purposes of getting better and stronger at reverse lunges, certainly give this a go.