The dumbbell reverse lunge is an outstanding lunge variation

It’s highly effective because it trains your entire lower body, helps you build functional strength, and is kinder to your knees than many lower-body exercises.

In this article, you’ll learn what the dumbbell reverse lunge is, what muscles reverse lunges work, the benefits of “backward lunges,” how to perform them correctly, common mistakes and how to avoid them, the best reverse lunge variations, and more. 


What Is the Reverse Lunge?

The reverse lunge, or “backward lunge,” is a lower-body exercise that primarily trains the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

To perform it, step one leg backward and lower your body by bending both knees until your trailing leg’s knee touches the floor, then stand up and return to the starting position.

There are many effective reverse lunge variations, but the most common and the one we’ll focus on in this article is the dumbbell reverse lunge.

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Reverse Lunge vs. Forward Lunge

Many people over-egg the differences between the reverse lunge and forward lunge

There’s some evidence that the reverse lunge trains the glute muscles slightly more than the forward lunge, while the forward lunge may emphasize the quads more than the reverse lunge.

Nevertheless, these differences are minor, so it’s unclear whether they have a meaningful impact on long-term muscle growth.

Rather than compare the reverse lunge vs. the forward lunge to determine which is “best,” it makes more sense to include both in your training. 

A good way to do this is to alternate between the two exercises every few months.

This is how I like to organize my training, and it’s similar to the method I advocate in my strength training programs for men and women, Bigger Leaner Stronger and Thinner Leaner Stronger.

Reverse Lunge: Benefits

1. It trains your entire lower body.

The reverse lunge trains all the muscle groups in your lower body, especially your quads, hamstrings, and glute muscles.

It also trains many smaller “stabilizer” muscles throughout your body, including your upper and lower back and abs.

2. It trains your lower body unilaterally.

The dumbbell reverse lunge is a unilateral exercise, which means it allows you to train each side of your body independently. 

Unilateral exercises are advantageous because they enable you to lift more total weight than you can with some bilateral exercises (exercises that train both sides of the body simultaneously), which may help you gain more muscle over time.

They can also help you establish a stronger mind-muscle connection because you have less to focus on, they’re useful for finding and fixing muscle and strength imbalance, and they may enhance athletic performance more than bilateral exercises. 

3. It’s highly functional.

The dumbbell reverse lunge mimics movements that we use in everyday life.

Using the backward lunge to train the muscles involved in these movements helps improve your balance, stability (especially core stability), and strength, making day-to-day activities easier.

4. It’s gentle on your knees.

In the forward or walking lunge, your front leg has to absorb force as your front foot touches the floor. Your knee joints typically bear the brunt of this impact, which can cause knee pain for some. 

Your weight-bearing front leg doesn’t move in the reverse lunge, which makes it slightly gentler on your knee joints than other lunge variations.

5. It’s highly adaptable.

The reverse lunge doesn’t require specialized gym equipment, such as a rack, bench, or machine, so you can perform it virtually anywhere.

You can also add resistance to the exercise using whatever you have available, including dumbbells, kettlebells, a barbell, or resistance bands. And if you have none of these, you can use just your body weight.

In other words, it’s a highly adaptable exercise suitable for any environment or setup.

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Reverse Lunge: Muscles Worked

Because the lunge is more dynamic than most exercises, many people wonder what muscles do lunges work.

The main muscles worked by the backward lunge are the . . .

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Calves

They also train your forearms and several stabilizer muscles throughout your body, including your abs, core muscles, and upper and lower back

Here’s how the main muscles worked by the dumbbell reverse lunge look on your body:

Reverse Lunge: Muscles Worked

How to Do a Reverse Lunge

To master the dumbbell reverse lunge, split it into three parts: set up, lunge, and descend.

1. Set up.

Hold a dumbbell in each hand and let your arms hang at your sides. Stand up straight with your feet about hip-width apart and keep your chest up and shoulders back.

2. Lunge.

Step back about two-to-three feet with your left leg, placing most of your weight on your front foot. Lower your body by bending both knees until your left knee touches the floor.

Keep your chest up and your arms at your sides as you descend. 

3. Ascend.

Reverse the movement and return to the starting position. 

Once your legs are straight, repeat the pattern with your other foot (to complete one full rep). Continue to alternate legs until you’ve completed the desired number of reps with each.

Here’s how the dumbbell reverse lunge should look when you put it all together:

Common Reverse Lunge Mistakes

1. Taking an overly narrow stance.

Placing your feet almost in line with each other as you step backward can make balancing more difficult. To avoid this, ensure your feet are about hip-width apart throughout the exercise. 

2. Bouncing your knee off the floor. 

Descending too quickly can cause you to bounce your knee off the floor. 

While it might make the exercise feel easier, it can increase injury risk and prevent your legs from working as hard, robbing you of muscle and strength gain.

To prevent this, control the descent of every rep.

3. Stepping too far backward.

Taking an overly long stride backward can make the backward lunge uncomfortable and balancing more challenging.

Avoid this by stepping 2-to-3 feet backward on each rep.

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The Best Dumbbell Reverse Lunge Variations & Alternatives

1. Deficit Reverse Lunge

The deficit reverse lunge, or “elevated reverse lunge,” trains your muscles through a longer range of motion and in a more stretched position, which benefits muscle growth. 

2. Barbell Reverse Lunge

You aren’t limited by grip strength in the barbell reverse lunge, so it allows you to lift more weight than the dumbbell variation, which aids muscle and strength gain. However, if you lose balance, you can’t drop the weight as easily in the bar reverse lunge, making it unsuitable for some beginners. 

3. Bodyweight Reverse Lunge

The bodyweight reverse lunge is a good variation for people new to training, working around an injury, or those who want to train their legs at home.

+ Scientific References