Lunges, whether it be forwards or backwards, are a great lower body exercise that give you versatility in difficulty and the muscles that are targeted.
So, is it better to do forward or backward lunges? Forward lunges are a more dynamic option, moving the center of mass forward, making it more difficult for all experience levels to execute. Backward lunges maintain a constant center of mass, making it a better option for all experience levels to load and maintain tension on quads and glutes.
With that said, even though forward lunges are harder, they can be key in certain scenarios, which I will discuss down below.
In this article I will cover the following:
- The difference between forward and backward lunges
- Why backward lunges might be the better option
- The pros and cons of forward and backward lunges
- Tell you who should do forward or backward lunges
Forward lunges are a more dynamic option, shifting the center of mass forward onto the front foot, and leaning into a lunged position.
While we are shifting forwards, there is a balance component that can take away from leg and glute muscle activation.
Lunging forwards can also put a greater emphasis on loading the leg that’s leading the lunge. However, while the leg is being lifted, there is no tension being placed on the lead leg until contact is made.
Whether we are alternating repetitions or not, there are brief moments of time where tension is released between initiation and execution of the lunge.
Forward Lunge: Muscles Worked
The muscles that are primarily targeted during the forward lunge are the quads and glutes, while the hamstrings assist as a stabilizing force.
When lunging forwards, there is more forward knee translation over the toes (i.e. the knee will bend in front of the foot), which will in turn target the quad muscles more than the hamstrings.
Backward lunges maintain a stable base and a consistent center of mass at the starting point when lunging backwards.
A constant base of support allows for us to focus on time under tension and the muscles involved rather than execution of the exercise.
This can be extremely beneficial for those who are looking to increase loading (i.e. someone who wants to lift more weight while lunging) and implement options to improve leg strength and size.
Backward Lunge: Muscles Worked
The muscles that are primarily targeted during the backward lunge are the hamstrings and glutes, while the quads assist as a stabilizing force.
When lunging backwards, the glutes act first to hinge back, as we are lunging into the back foot and targeting the hamstrings.
Related Article: 12 Best Compound Glute Exercises For Muscle Size & Strength
3 Similarities Between Forward and Backward Lunges
- Forward and backward lunges target similar musculature. Even though they have some fundamental differences, backwards and forward lunges target the glutes, hamstrings and quads.
- Forward and backward lunges are similar lunge type movements. Forward and backward lunges are both knee dominant movements, having the similar mechanics of bending at the knee and breaking at the hips.
- Forward and backward lunges can be loaded similarly. During either lunging protocol, we can incorporate a goblet, dumbbell, barbell, or front rack variation to apply loads differently.
3 Differences Between Forward and Backward Lunges
- Backward lunges are more hinge-like when compared to forward lunges. If we are doing a forward lunge we are placing more demand on the bending, or targeting of the quad in the leading foot, whereas with the backward lunge we are hinging back to lunge, which places constant tension on the bending of the front foot.
- Forward lunges are more dynamic, whereas backward lunges are more stationary. If we lunge forward, our torso moves forward as we step into the lunge, which shifts our center of mass, making this a more dynamic lunge when compared to the backward lunge.
- Forward and backward lunges can be loaded to differing degrees. Forward lunges are going to be more difficult to execute, therefore more difficult to load. Whereas backwards lunges maintain a stable base of support which allow for greater loading.
2 Pros Of Forward Lunges
- Forward lunges are a more dynamic exercise that improves balance. When we are strength training, balance is commonly a component that is missed out on. Maintaining a strong center of base is a skill that most people can develop.
- Forward lunges have greater eccentric loading. During the forward lunge there’s more range of motion into the lead leg, and this allows you to target the quads in the lowering phase.
2 Cons Of Forward Lunges
- The dynamic nature of a lunge can make achieving muscle activation difficult. Even though we can get more eccentric loading onto our quad during the forward lunge, the shifting of the mass of the body can make achieving time under tension and muscle activation more difficult.
- Forward lunges are more difficult than backward lunges. Novices might have a hard time with loading and executing forward lunges. Regressing or opting to do backward lunges might result in better progress.
2 Pros Of Backward Lunges
- Backward lunges can be loaded up to a greater degree. Loading is a big part of getting stronger, and backward lunges allow for greater loading when compared to other lunge variations.
- Backward lunges are a simpler exercise. The simple nature of the backwards lunge allows for a consistent base of support, and all experience levels can benefit from this exercise.
1 Con Of Backward Lunges
- Backward lunges can put more stress on the hip rather than the knee. Usually when we incorporate some sort of lunge, our main goal is to improve strength in the quads. Contrary to this, backward lunges focus more on hip hinge and hamstring muscle activation.
Which Is Better: Forward or Backward Lunges?
Do Forward Lunges If
- Your goal is to build stability and balance. A major part of forward lunges is building balance, while moving the body mass forward. Balance is a major component in daily life that people neglect
- You want to target your quads more. Forward lunges load the quads to a greater degree by shifting the knees to bend over the toes. Incorporating these can be extremely beneficial for improving our pushing muscles or anterior chain.
- You want a more challenging exercise. Unlike the backward lunge, the forward lunge will give you a greater challenge by being more complex, by requiring you to focus on the bending of the knee while moving the entire body forward.
Do Backward Lunges If
- You want to target your glutes and hamstrings more. Backward lunges will target the glutes and hamstrings more, while utilizing the quads to stabilize the body. Incorporating these can be extremely beneficial for those who are looking to bring up their posterior chain muscles.
- You want to lift more weight. Backward lunges allow us to lift more weight, this can be extremely beneficial for loading the central nervous system to develop general strength.
- You want a simpler exercise. It can be more difficult to take on complicated exercises, and in this case backward lunges can be a great starting point for those who are looking to learn lunging patterns.
- You are a novice at the gym. Building off of the simplicity of the lunge, if you are new to the gym then backward lunges can be a better option.
Do Both If
- You want to build both your quads and hamstrings. You can cut the reps in half of both, and tie the backward lunge into the forward lunge. This way you can build both the backward and forward lunging patterns.
- You have extra time at the gym. I don’t think you necessarily need to do both the backward and forwards lunge, but if you have extra time at the gym you can incorporate both lunges into your program.
In my opinion, incorporating the backward lunge can be more beneficial, the added complexity of the forwards lunge isn’t necessary, and can be detrimental. Backwards lunges are a simpler exercise that can be loaded up to a greater degree, and this can have added benefits to strengthening other exercises.
However, I have personally incorporated forward lunges and seen a lot of added quad development. Alternating between the two might be something you want to play around with to find which lunge you prefer.
Check out our other lunge resources:
- Can't Feel Glutes In Lunges? Try These 6 Tips
- Cossack Squat vs Lateral Lunge: Pros, Cons, Differences
About The Author
Javad Bakhshinejad was born and raised in the Washington Area. Currently, he is a student at Seattle University where he’s been pursuing an MS in Kinesiology, and has been a Strength Coach in the athletic department. He was a competitive bodybuilder for 8 years where he later transitioned to competitive powerlifting for 4 years. Currently, He has his own personal coaching business, where he works with powerlifters and bodybuilders.