Reverse the Lunge, Build Big Hard Legs

by Gareth Sapstead

5 Tips To Make Them Your Favorite

A few simple tricks make reverse lunges far more effective. Take them from the exercise you avoid to the one you can't pass up. Here's how.

The standard lunge is great, but the reverse lunge can do even more. It’s a “complete” exercise that’ll hit the quads, hams, and glutes, all while sparing your knees. Here are five ways to make your reverse lunges work better for you:

Tip 1: Keep The Back Leg From Helping Too Much

Reverse lunges are a single-leg exercise. That means they should allow you to focus on developing one leg at a time with very little input from the other side. But that’s hard to do with reverse lunges. You need to pay extra attention to what that back leg is doing.

Two-thirds or more of the weight should be traveling through your front leg. That’s the absolute minimum. The back foot provides just a little stability as you lunge back. Your front leg should be getting hit the hardest.

Depending too much on that back leg cheats you out of progress and doesn’t do your knees or hips any good, either.

Tip 2: Make Your Deficit Make Sense (Or Don’t Use It)

A deficit is for a deficit! If you’re elevating your front foot to lunge lower, your knee should drop below the point where it would be hitting the floor (without the deficit). If it doesn’t, then there’s no reason for it.

A deficit isn’t for everyone. If you can’t do a pristine reverse lunge without your back leg cheating the lift or your back knee almost kissing the floor, skip the step.

Adding a deficit takes you into a deeper range of hip flexion. This loads your glutes in more of a stretched position and arguably activates more of the “lower” glute fibers (gluteus maximus). Choose the range of motion that helps you avoid pain and allows you to feel your muscles doing the work.

Tip 3: Choose Between Alternating vs. Same Side Lunges

Some people do reverse lunges with alternating legs (left, right, left, right), and others do it with the same leg for the whole set. There’s actually a reason why you might alternate or choose to go with one leg at a time, and it’s pretty obvious once you think about it.

Alternating legs is more unstable. It requires a mini-reset at the start of each rep which requires extra balance and coordination. But it also causes a loss in tension. So while alternating legs is great for stabilization, athleticism, and offsetting some fatigue on each leg between reps, it might not be as good from a physique-development standpoint.

Reverse lunges performed one leg at a time are more stable. There’s less chance of lining your limbs up in goofy positions and more of a chance to feel that tension through those targeted muscles.

Neither option is better, but pick the variation that’s more closely aligned with your goals.

Tip 4: Choose Wisely on Weight and Placement

Pick the right tools to do the right job. Randomness in your selection of exercises, whether it’s lunges or any other lift, isn’t an option if you want to achieve a specific goal quickly.

Doing reverse lunges while holding a plate over your head has its place. It can develop some core strength and shoulder stability. But it’s pretty horrendous as an exercise to build strength and size.

Using a kettlebell front rack position places a lot of emphasis on holding that racked position. It requires a hard brace of your core and a strong and stable spine. But the weight is limited by the position, not by how much weight your legs can handle.

If you want to grow your legs, pick variations of reverse lunges that allow you to load your legs the most without being held back by some other factor. Typically, holding dumbbells or kettlebells by your sides or a barbell on your back are better choices for that goal.

Tip 5: Adjust Your Form to Target Specific Muscles

Notice how I’ve got a forward shin angle and an upright torso in the deficit reverse lunge. Reverse lunges are extremely versatile. You can easily make minor alterations in body position to shift emphasis. You can place more load through your quads by pushing your front knee forward and keeping your torso more upright.

To hit the glutes and hams more, focus on keeping the shin of your front leg more vertical and your torso leaning at more of a forward tilting angle (or hips back). This shifts the load away from your quads and makes it more hip-dominant. These work best with kettlebells or dumbbells hanging by your sides.

Also, consider that a change in muscle emphasis is a result of manipulating torque at your hips, knees, and spine. If you de-emphasize loading on one joint, you place more stress on another.

Use a more hip-dominant reverse lunge if you want stronger glutes and hamstrings, or if you’re trying to take some stress off your knees. And if you want better quads and less load through your low back, then use a knee-dominant lunge. You can also just stick with something in between the two.

When To Do Them

Reverse lunges are typically used as an assistance or secondary exercise to your key indicator lifts. This is largely because the load you can lift is less than what you’d use for squats and leg presses.

That said, single-leg exercises have similar metabolic demands to these “big” lifts and, in some cases, can create higher muscle activation levels with less joint loading. That’s worth considering.

There are also no rules with reverse lunges regarding reps and intensity. Use the set and rep ranges best aligned with your goals. If that requires you to do some heavy, high-quality reps, go for it.



Can I get an amen on this? I simply don’t understand the kettlebell front rack position on leg exercises IF your goal is strength and hypertrophy. Goblets, similarly, are fine for beginners and conditioning…but you’re limited by your ability to hold the weight, not by your leg strength.

Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s very simple… if you’re trying to grow your legs then your legs should be the limiting factor in that exercise. In most part the front rack and goblet positions with kettlebells are pretty sucky for it. For general health/strength though, and with more beginner populations, they have some benefits though.

What makes reverse lunge better than the regular lunge?

Not inherently “better” just different. Reverse lunges compared to forward:

  • More hamstrings decelerating the load as you step backward
  • More knee friendly
  • More controllable/stable
  • More ways you can manipulate them to change focus.

Forward lunges are still great, though. But from a bodybuilding perspective I’d stick to walking lunges. For athletes stationary forward lunges are a great option to improve deceleration.

Really good information. I did some reverse lunges yesterday after reading your article.

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Great to hear!