The standard lunge is great, but the inverted lunge can do even more. It’s a “full” exercise that hits the quads, ham, and glutes while protecting your knees.
Here are five ways you can improve your reverse lunges for you.
1. Keep the back leg from helping too much
Reverse lunges are a one-legged exercise. That said, they should allow you to focus on developing one leg at a time without the other side contributing anything. But that̵
Two-thirds or more of the weight should go through your front leg. And that is really the bare minimum. The back foot is there to allow just a little stability when jumping back. Your foreleg should be hit the hardest.
If you depend too much on that hind leg, you are cheating on your progress and doing no good to your knees or hips either.
2. Make Sense of Your Deficit (or Don’t Use It)
A deficit is a deficit! As you lift your forefoot to jump deeper, your knee should drop below the point where it would hit the floor (without the deficit). If not, there is no reason to.
A deficit is not for everyone. If you can’t do a flawless backward jump without your back leg cheating on the lift, or without your back knee nearly kissing the floor, then you have nothing to do with taking it a step further.
Adding a deficit takes you into a deeper area of hip flexion. This puts strain on your glutes in a more stretched position and possibly activates more of the “lower” gluteal fibers (gluteus maximus).
Choose the range of motion that will help you avoid pain and feel your muscles at work.
3. Choose wisely: Alternating legs for equal lunges
Google “Reverse Lunges” and you’ll see a mix of reverse lunges with alternating legs (left, right, left, right) and others jumping back on the same leg for the entire set.
These people only do what they prefer, but there is actually a reason you could take turns or opt for one leg at a time, and it’s pretty obvious when you think about it.
Alternating legs are more unstable. A mini reset is required at the beginning of each rep, which requires additional balance and coordination. But it also causes a loss of tension. While alternating legs are great for stabilization, athleticism, and compensating for fatigue on each leg between reps, it may not be as good from a physical development standpoint.
Reverse lunges, one leg at a time, are more stable. There’s less chance of straightening your limbs in silly positions and more of a chance of feeling that tension through those target muscles.
Neither option is better, but you should choose the one that better suits your goals.
4. Choose wisely: Weight & Placement
Choose the right tools to do the right job. Randomness in the choice of exercises, whether lunges or other exercises, is not an option if you want to achieve a specific goal quickly.
There is a place for doing reverse lunges while holding a plate above your head. It can develop some core strength and shoulder stability. But as an exercise to build strength and size, it’s pretty terrible.
When using a kettlebell front rack position (see above), great importance is attached to maintaining this rack position. It requires a hard brace of your core and a strong and stable spine. However, the weight is limited by this position and not by the weight your legs can support.
If you’re looking to grow your legs, choose variations of reverse lunges that will allow you to put the most strain on your legs without being held back by another factor. As a rule, it is better to hold dumbbells or kettlebells by your sides or a barbell on your back to achieve this goal.
5. Adapt your shape to specific muscles
Notice how I have an anterior shin angle and an upright torso here. Reverse lunges are extremely versatile. You can easily make minor changes to the body position to shift the emphasis. By focusing on pushing your front knee further forward and keeping your torso upright, you can put more load through your quads.
If you want to put more emphasis on glutes and ham, focus on keeping the shin of your front leg more vertical and more likely to tilt your torso forward (or tilt your hips back). This shifts the load away from your quads and makes them more hip dominant. These work best with kettlebells or dumbbells hanging by your sides.
You also need to take into account that any change in muscle emphasis is due to the manipulation of torque on the hips, knees and spine. When you reduce the stress on one joint, you stress another joint more.
Use a more hip-dominant inverted lunge if you want stronger glutes and hamstrings, or if you’re trying to take pressure off your knees. And if you want better quads and less stress on your lower back, use a knee-dominant lunge. You can also just stick to something between the two.
When to do it
Reverse lunges are usually viewed as a support or secondary exercise to your key indicator lifts. This is mainly because the load you can lift is less than what you would use for squats and leg presses.
However, one-legged exercises have similar metabolic requirements as these “big” exercises and in some cases can result in higher muscle activation with less joint stress. Well worth considering.
There are also no reverse lunging rules for reps and intensity. Use the set and rep ranges that best suit your goals. If that requires you to do some heavy, high-quality reps, go for it.
Related: Rock Hard Glutes & Strong Hamstrings
Related: Kung Fu Lunges for Killer Quads