A woman doing a lunge in the park

Strength training: why reverse lunges are one of the best variations, and how to do them properly

Posted by for Strength

A fitness trainer gives us a step-by-step guide to reverse lunges, and why they’re so good to do. 

When it comes to lower body training, compound moves are the best way to build muscle. Up there with the classic muscle building exercises, such as squats and deadlifts, are lunges. They’re one of the most versatile moves and can be done statically, walking, rear foot elevated, in a deficit… the list goes on.

Lunges are an absolutely amazing functional exercise, because it directly mimics what you do when walking and running,” explains Emma Obayuvana, Strong Women ambassador. “Adding weight to them will help you build muscle and strength, but they can be done just with bodyweight too.”

One of the best variations of lunging is the reverse lunge – done by stepping one foot backwards instead of treading forwards. While it might sound like a tricky move, it’s actually suitable for almost everyone to do. 

What are the benefits of reverse lunges?

Reverse lunges put less impact on the joints than other variations of lunging and squatting, which means that they’re a bit easier on people who have knee or hip pain (but of course, check with a fitness trainer or doctor before working out if you’re injured). 

That doesn’t mean they’re the easy way out: according to a study presented at International Conference of Biomechanics in Sport, reverse lunges had the biggest effect on glute and quad development. That means more muscle building from just one exercise in both the anterior and posterior muscles in the lower body – which sounds like a great trade off to us. 

Becoming stronger with your reverse lunges will also help you in other sports, according to Emma: “The movement translates into your performance when it comes to running by mimicking the direct body mechanics and muscles during as you drive that reverse leg back up to standing.” 

Strong Women ambassador Emma demonstrates a lunge
Emma Obayuvana shows how to do a reverse lunge

What muscles do reverse lunges work?

Reverse lunges work the anterior and posterior muscles in the legs, including:

  • Glutes
  • Quad
  • Hamstrings
  • Core 

How to do a reverse lunge:

  1. Stand straight, with feet hip width apart. Keep the shoulders back and engage the core as you step one foot back as far behind you as possible. 
  2. Bend at both knees to lower to the ground, taking the back knee as close to the floor as possible and keeping the front leg bent at 90 degrees, so the thigh is parallel to the floor.
  3. Now to stand up. Lift the back leg off the floor by taking the weight into your front foot heel, squeezing your glute and hamstrings. 
  4. Now you’re back to starting position, either complete the set by alternating which leg steps back or do the reps on one leg before moving on to the other.

Key tips for a reverse lunge

You won’t get those amazing glute and quad gains by just moving through the motion, so use mind-to-muscle connection to reap the benefits of the reverse lunge. “When you stand up, the most important thing to think about is which muscle you’re activating,” says Emma. You should really feel your glutes work here.

“However, just because this is a leg exercise it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be thinking about your upper body,” says Emma. “It’s crucial to keep your chest up and open.” This will help to reduce sagging through the spine, which can lead to back pain. You should also protect the back by engaging the core – you shouldn’t be arching your back during the movement.

You should also remember to stay strong through the knees so that they don’t collapse inwards: this puts a lot of pressure on your joints but will also compromise your balance.

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Chloe Gray

Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).