Forward and reverse lunges may simply look like a mirror image of the same movement, but there’s more to these leg-strengthening exercises than meets the eye.
While forward and reverse lunges have a lot in common, they also have unique benefits. Here’s what you need to know.
Forward and reverse lunges have several features in common.
First, both of these arch variations target the glutes, hamstrings (e.g., hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves), and abdominal muscles, according to Marc Santa Maria, national director of group fitness at Crunch Fitness. However, each variation works these muscles in a slightly different way and favors certain muscles over others (more on that in a moment).
In addition, both variations lengthen or extend one hip joint while the other is flexed or in flexion. According to CorePower Yoga Master Trainer Samson Frederick, adding exercises that include hip extension, such as forward and reverse lunges, is a great way to balance out all the hip flexion (i.e., sitting) that many of us do in our daily lives.” To counteract the sitting posture, layer in forward and reverse lunges, which moves your hips to the opposite of where you would sit in a chair,” he says.
Finally, the forward and reverse lunges (or any bow-and-arrow variations, really) are unilateral exercises, meaning they work each leg separately. Focusing on one limb at a time helps build single-leg strength, as well as overall balance, stability, and coordination. These are important for both daily life and athletic endeavors.
While both forward and reverse lunges work the glutes, hamstrings, and abdominals, each emphasizes a different leg muscle. Reverse lunges work the hamstrings (back of the thighs) and gluteus maximus (your meatiest glute muscles), while positive lunges focus more on the quads (front of the thighs).
Forward lunges may also challenge your core more than reverse lunges because stepping forward can lead to instability when the back heel is off the ground, Santa Maria says. As a result, your core must fire overtime to stabilize.
For some people, forward lunges may also feel more natural than reverse lunges.” The advantage of [forward] lung capacity is that it allows us to move in a way that we’re used to – we move forward,” says Santa Maria.
However, the instability of positive lung capacity may make it less acceptable or comfortable for many people. In particular, the instability means that many people have difficulty performing forward lunges correctly, which often leads to knee pain.” When moving forward, people often allow the front knee to track past the ankle and even past the toes, putting extra stress on the knee,” says Santa Maria.
At the same time, reverse lunges tend to be a much gentler and more acceptable change.” In the strength classes I teach, I generally use reverse lunges more because it helps participants protect their knees in an easier way,” says Santa Maria.” The reverse arch [keeps] the front foot super stable, the whole foot stays on the ground, and it allows us to control where the knee is on the ankle and protect it.”
In other words, forward and reverse arching provide unique benefits. It’s worth learning how to perform each variation correctly so you can incorporate both into your strength routine.
To protect your knees and maximize the effectiveness of each bowstep variation, Frederick offers these form tips.
Keep your knees stacked above your ankles.
Try to keep your weight on the heel of your forefoot or base foot.
Keep your toes pointing in a natural direction, and make sure your knees are pointing in the same direction.
If you feel discomfort or pain, reduce your range of motion.
Especially for forward movements, make sure you take a big enough step forward to be able to stack your front knee over your front ankle. Frederick says that many people make the mistake of not stepping far enough forward, which causes them to push their knee over their front ankle and pull on the knee of their front leg.