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.
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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.
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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.
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