Forward Lunges vs Reverse Lunges

Forward Lunges vs Reverse Lunges

Lunges are one of my favourite exercises for developing the legs. They are a great quad builder and can be used to hit the hamstrings and glutes too. There's one catch though...not all lunges were created equally.

In the gym, the most common lunge variation you will see performed is likely to be the standard forward lunge. Here, you step forward, bend the front knee while the back knee simultaneously bends towards the ground. The forward lunge lights up the quads and you will be burning in no time. The trade-off that many people find with the forward lunge, however, is knee pain.

If you've ever completed a few sets of forward lunges, particularly weighted forward lunges, the chances are you have experienced this. Pain is typically felt below the knee cap as you push off the front leg in the lunge position. Sore knees are not fun and can seriously hamper the remainder of your leg workout, so what can you do? Well fear not, the reverse lunge can save you!

To perform the reverse lunge you step backwards instead of forwards. The front leg bends with the thigh parallel to the floor as the back knee moves towards the ground. The torso is slightly inclined forward and the front heel remains firmly on the ground.

One of the biggest problems with the forward lunge is that is pushes your centre of gravity forward. Weight is more likely to be applied to the ball of the foot rather than the heel which in turn places additional stress on the knee. In contrast, the reverse lunge pushes your centre of gravity backwards. You push through the heel and mid foot while providing more glute and hamstring activation. The front thigh is also closer to parallel with the ground when pushing off when compared to the angle of the thigh in the forward lunge variant. This combination puts you in a much more balanced and powerful position and greatly reduces the incidence of knee pain.

If you are just starting out, learn the movement pattern with no weight. A great first progression is a goblet reverse lunge. You can build further with dumbbell reverse lunges and barbell lunges.

You may now be getting the impression that I'm in favour of the reverse lunge, but this isn't to say forward lunges should be consigned to history. They can still be used sparingly although I would recommend performing the movement slowly and with minimal weight, if any at all. Programming lunges in a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of reverse to forward is a safer bet for your knees. Adding them later in your workouts once the knees are warmed up can also reduce the risk.

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