The reverse lunge is one of our staple lifts at Endeavor with all of our athletes and clients as we are big advocates of single leg training. This is one of the lower body lifts we require everyone to master as quickly as possible. But sometimes we encounter a couple different flaws early on that we need to fix: leaning too much forward, taking too small of a step back, losing balance while stepping back, not getting a full range of motion, putting too much weight on the back leg, etc. But these are all pretty quick fixes with a couple good coaching cues and a little practice. One thing that I found to be harder to fix though is when people shift their weight too far forward. That usually translates into the front knee moving too far forward and the front heel leaving the ground.
Weight shifted too far forward = Bad Form
Sometimes telling the athlete/client to keep their weight on their heel will solve the problem, sometimes not; even if you keep repeating it over and over.
One quick fix that I’ve found extremely useful lately to solve that problem is to have the athlete/client line up a couple inches behind a bench. That way the knee can’t travel too far forward, otherwise it’ll hit the bench, so it forces them to shift their weight back a little bit and keep their heel down.
Give it a shot with athletes or clients who have a hard time keeping their heel down or if their knee has a tendency to travel too far forward. It works really well!
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As I’ve mentionned often in the past, I’m a firm advocate for single-leg training. I believe it is truly one of the most important part of lower body training, especially for athletes. It’s more functional, more sport-specific and better for injury prevention purposes. At Endeavor, we use a ton of single-leg lifts with all our athletes, and most of the time we use these single-leg lifts as our main lower body strength exercise.
Some of you might wonder what type of exercise we’re using, because let’s face it, you can’t DB reverse lunges all the time. So here’s a little insight to the progressions we use with our single-leg lifts.
- The DB reverse lunge is the first variation we use 99% of the time. Dumbbells keep your center of mass low, so therefore it’s not too hard on your balance compared to other variations.
A reverse lunge will allow you to use a good push off your back leg, so it is easier for athletes and clients who don’t have a lot of single-leg strength. A reverse lunge is also easier than a forward lunge because you don’t have a big deceleration component on your front leg like you have with a forward lunge. This deceleration component makes it much harder to keep a proper upper body posture throughout your set.
- The second one on our progression list is still a reverse lunge, but in which we will change the center of mass by using a back squat grip or a front squat grip with a barbell. Since the load is much higher, the center of mass moves up and it makes it harder to maintain your balance.
Another variation we use to make it harder by moving the center of mass higher is to use dumbbells overhead. This is a variation we will use more in conditioning circuits or to unload the joints, because the overhead position makes it very hard on the core and shoulder muscles. So what happens most of the time is the core and shoulder muscles will be the limiting factors before you get to a weight that’s going to be heavy enough to be challenging for your lower body.
- Third on the list would be the rear foot elevated (RFE) split squats with dumbbells (a.k.a. bulgarian split squats). Having your back foot on a bench makes it harder to get help from your back leg compared to a lunge; so, more weight is supported on your front leg. Some beginners don’t have the strength to do a RFE split squat; they need to do lunges for a little while to get their strength up before they can progress to a RFE split squat.
- Then, of course, you can progress the RFE split squat with dumbbells to a RFE split squat with a back squat grip or a front squat grip with a barbell. Once again the center of mass is shifted higher, so it makes the exercise more difficult.
- Once you’ve mastered the reverse lunges and RFE split squat variations, you can progress to a slideboard reverse lunge. Don’t let the name fool you, because it is much harder than any other lunging variation. The reason is that because of the nature of the slideboard (slippery…duh!), you can’t really use your back leg to help you much; putting more weight on the back leg would make your foot slide away from your body and dangerous things could happen. Just keep in mind that you have very little support from your back leg and you’re using mostly your front leg to pull yourself up, so you need a decent amount of single-leg strength before you try it.
- Last on the list is the single-leg squat and its variations. The main reason why it’s the hardest one is because the leg you’re not using is totally unsopported, therefore it can’t help you at all. You need very good single-leg strength in order to do this one; especially when you perform it with a full range of motion.
All in all, this might not be the exact same progression we use with 100% of our client because there is many factors to consider when building a program; how old is the client? how much lifting experience does he have? how strong is he? does he have any restriction or injury? etc. All these factors will dictate the progressions we’ll use with everyone of our athlete. Also keep in mind that there are many other ways to progress single-leg lifts and make them more challenging, but this is a basic progression that should give you a pretty good idea on where to start and how to progress athletes and clients from there.
I mentioned in a previous post that single exercises like reverse lunges, back leg raised split squats and 1-leg squats can have great value in a training program as it improves your strength, your stability and your balance on 1 leg, which is the way most sports are played. Whether it is when you run, when you change direction, when you skate (if your sport is played on the ice) or when you decelerate, all of these actions take place on one leg at a time.
For these reasons, single leg exercises might be more “functional” than 2-legs exercises like squats. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love squats, but they might not be as useful as single leg exercises when it comes to transferring strength gains to your sport. You just need to know which one to use and when.
For many years I have been a big fan of single leg exercises as they help develop strength and balance in the knee extensors (quadriceps), hip extensors (glute maximus and hamstrings) as well as hip abductors (glute medius) and hip adductors (adductor magnus, longus and brevis) all at the same time. But I have to say that I have always been hesitant to use single leg exercises as a main lower body lift in the past because I always thought that you could load 2-leg exercises like the squat a lot more than you could with single leg exercises. And more loads also equals better strength gains….Well that’s what I thought a couple months ago….Not anymore.
With all the athletes we’ve seen at Endeavor this summer, I am now convinced that you don’t NEED 2-leg exercises to significantly load a lower body exercise and see great strength gains.
We’ve had numerous hockey players use over 225 pounds for a barbell reverse lunge with a front squat grip, a couple of them going up to around 265! These guys were D-1 College players or Junior League players around 18-19 years old.
Here is Endeavor athlete Charlie Vasaturo, 19 years old, doing reverse lunges with a front squat grip with 255 for 6 reps:
This is also not uncommon to have younger kids(around 14) do dumbbell reverse lunges with over 50 pounds in each hand.
Here is a video of an other Endeavor athlete, Conor Landrigan, 14 years old, who started training with us about 6 months ago and had pretty much no lifting experience before that. Here he is doing a dumbbell reverse lunge for 6 reps with 65 pounds in each hand:
The fact is that once you get used to the movement pattern of a single leg exercise, you can load them up almost as much as you can with 2-leg exercises like squats(in fact, we have our athletes front squat as well and their number are not that much higher than they are for reverse lunges and split squats).
So don’t be affraid to use a single leg exercise as your main lower body lift, as you will be able to load them significantly, your strength gains will transfer better to your sport and you will improve your balance in a sport-specific way.