But there are some important differences between the two types of lunges. For one, a reverse lunge is generally more beginner-friendly, since it requires a whole lot less stability than a forward lunge, says Tamir.
“A reverse lunge has less momentum going forward,” he says. “We make sure that people master the reverse lunge first before they even do front lunges.”
That’s because with forward lunges, the leg stepping forward is the main driver of force—you need the glute, hamstring, quad, and other muscles in your forward leg to decelerate you and then push you back to starting position, says Scantlebury. With a reverse lunge, the stationary leg is the main driver of force, which makes it easier to control.
Which brings us to another difference: Because there’s more stability with a reverse lunge, it’s easier to load up, meaning you can probably go heavier with reverse lunges than forward lunges, says Tamir.
Reverse lunges also tend to put you in a better, safer lunging position, he says. With a reverse lunge, it’s easier to cue you to push through your heel, which helps fire up your posterior chain, or the muscles in the back of your body. When you lunge forward, some people tend to put the pressure on the ball of the foot or the toe, he says. This can put extra pressure on the knee joint, says Scantlebury—which means reverse lunges may be the better choice for someone with knee issues.
In fact, the torque (force of rotation) at the knee joint is significantly greater in the forward lunge versus the reverse lunge, Doug Perkins, D.P.T., C.S.C.S, of North Boulder Physical Therapy in Colorado, tells SELF. That means a forward lunge can place more stress on the knee than a reverse lunge, and the deeper you sink into a forward lunge, the more pressure you potentially place on this area.
If you have knee issues, you can decrease the depth of your forward lunge to reduce the compression load on the knee—or you “might wish to limit or avoid this type of movement,” he says. In fact, if someone is rehabbing from an injury, such as an ACL injury, they’ll generally start with a reverse lunge before progressing to a forward lunge, Perkins says.
What are some reverse lunge variations?
As with any exercise, it’s a good idea to get the form down with just your bodyweight first before you start adding any external resistance—and reverse lunges are no exception, says Tamir.
Once you are ready to add weight, there are a bunch of different ways you can do so. You can do reverse lunges with dumbbells or kettlebells, holding them at your sides or in a racked position. If you have access to a barbell, you can also do reverse lunges this way, but you’ll want to make sure you mastered all the other variations first.
If you don’t have a ton of weight at your disposal—hello, at-home workouts—but want to work harder, you can use one dumbbell or kettlebell for an offset reverse lunge, Tamir says. You would hold the weight on the side of the leg that is moving backward, so you’ll be loading up the side that’s not doing the work.
“This requires more stability and more core work,” says Tamir.
Another option is a deficit reverse lunge, which you can do with or without extra weight. Stand with your planted foot on a sturdy step, and then lunge backward with your other leg.
“This increases your range of motion, so you can really go deeper in the glutes, and the stability is also more challenging too,” he says.