There are many lunge variations to choose from. Find out what muscles reverse lunges work, whether they are enough to build muscle, and more.
Reverse lunges will mainly work your quadriceps (front thighs), gluteus maximus (butt), and hamstrings (back thighs).
Additionally, this exercise works your hip adductors (inner thigh muscles), hip abductors (outer thigh muscles), calves, and core muscles like your abs, obliques, and erector spinae to some extent.
By implementing the right weight, repetitions, and sets, reverse lunges can help you grow the main muscles you focus on.
Something interesting is that the way you do reverse lunges influences in what ratio you work the main muscles involved.
For example, if you only take a small step back and keep your weight above your front foot, reverse lunges will focus a lot on your quadriceps.
Primary muscles worked with reverse lunges
In many movements, especially compound leg exercises like reverse lunges, you engage a variety of muscles at the same time.
That being said, there are typically a few of these muscles that have to work the hardest compared to their relative strengths.
In reverse lunges, your quadriceps (front thighs), gluteus maximus (main butt muscle), and hamstrings (back thighs) will be the primary muscles you work.
Your quadriceps are a group of 4 muscles (rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus intermedius, and vastus medialis) located in your front thighs.
These muscles are responsible for knee flexion or in simpler words, stretching your legs.
The standard version of reverse lunges will mainly work your quadricep muscles.
Folding and stretching your legs are the main movements that make your upper body go down and up. Especially if you really keep your weight above your ankles.
Gluteus maximus and hamstrings
The gluteus maximus (main butt muscle) and hamstrings (back thigh muscles) are responsible for hip extension.
In simpler words, this means pulling your thighs backward in line with your upper body.
This movement powers a decent amount of the upward movement in reverse lunges. Especially if your step backward is really big.
One potential downside of taking big steps back is that less of your body weight will rest on your front leg. This could make reverse lunges slightly less effective.
Additionally, your quadriceps still have to do a lot of the work.
What leg is working in a reverse lunge?
In a standard reverse lunge, your front leg is mainly working to lower your body in a controlled motion and raise it back into starting position.
Your back leg is mostly there for balance and to enable the somewhat more unique movement pattern where you engage both your quadriceps and glute to a nice extent.
In something like squats, you would fall backward before being able to achieve this type of double focus.
Secondary muscles worked with reverse lunges
As mentioned, reverse lunges will also work a variety of secondary muscles to a certain extent. These are responsible for smaller amounts of the upward power and/or keeping you balanced.
More specifically, reverse lunges work your hip adductors (inner thigh muscles), hip abductors (outer thigh muscles), calves, and core muscles like your abs, obliques, and erector spinae to a certain extent.
The gastrocnemius and soleus are your two calf muscles.
In reverse lunges, these are responsible for plantarflexing the ankle joint. In simpler words, pushing the front of your feet down.
When you are in the downward position of reverse lunges, you will notice that your ankle joint is more dorsiflexed (your toes are closer to your shins).
The quadriceps will do most of the work required to put your lower legs back into a vertical position. However, the calf muscles help with this movement to some extent too.
Hip adductors and abductors
The hip adductors include a variety of inner thigh muscles like your adductor brevis, adductor longus, adductor magnus, gracilis, and obturator externus.
On the outer side of your thigh, you can find hip abductor muscles like your gluteus medius, the gluteus maximus, and the tensor fasciae latae.
These muscles are responsible for moving your thighs to the center and away from the center.
In reverse lunges, your hip adductors and abductors will have to work to a small extent to keep your thighs at the right angles. You need this to stay balanced throughout the movement.
Your core muscles are located around your waist and include the abs, obliques, and erector spinae.
These muscles keep your upper body upright. Without them, your ribcage could fall to all sides.
Similar to activities like walking around and standing up, reverse lunges will work your core muscles to a tiny extent.
In certain variations of weighted reverse lunges, your erector spinae (lower back muscles) will have to work a good amount to stop your upper body from falling forward.
Do reverse lunges build muscle?
To grow and strengthen muscles, you have to put them under enough pressure to start internal processes that make these things happen.
So if you do reverse lunges with enough weight, repetitions, and sets, they can help you build muscle.
If you grow your quadricep, glute, and hamstring muscles effectively, you would ideally do around 3 to 6 sets of 6 to 15 (weighted) reverse lunges with a resistance where you are just able to complete these ranges.
As your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings get stronger, you will have to increase the weight you use to stay within these ranges and keep seeing a lot of results.
That being said, even if you lack equipment, high-repetition sets of up to 50 lunges could be challenging enough to build muscle.
How to do reverse lunges for more focus on the glutes
An interesting benefit of reverse lunges is that you can adapt your technique to work your muscles in a slightly different ratio.
More specifically, some people want to focus more on their glutes while doing reverse lunges.
The first thing you can do to achieve this is to make your step backward bigger.
Another option is tilting your upper body more forward than usual.
These changes will typically make it so your glute and hamstrings have to move more of your weight and go through a bigger range of motion.
In turn, you could see more glute growth and strength progress from your reverse lunge workouts.
Forward vs reverse lunges muscles worked
You may also wonder how regular forward lunges and the reverse variation compare in terms of muscles worked.
Even though these movements work the same muscles from a high-level view, the ratio in which you work these will be slightly different.
You will typically have to do forward lunges in a way that focuses a lot on your quadriceps and not as much on your glutes and hamstrings.
In reverse lunges, the exact way you do the exercise influences whether the movement focuses on your quads or glutes and hamstrings.
If you really keep your weight above your front foot, reverse lunges will likely work your quadriceps to similar extents or even more than forward lunges.
On the flip side, if you take a “normal” step back where your knees are at 90-degree angles, reverse lunges will work your glutes and hamstrings more than forward lunges.
In short, forward lunges tend to focus more on your quadriceps and less on your glutes and hamstrings than regular lunges. At the same time, you can modify reverse lunges to have a similar effect.
Are reverse lunges or squats better for working my glutes?
Reverse lunges will typically be better for working your glutes than squats. Lunges typically involve more hip flexion and extension.
Are curtsy or reverse lunges better for working my glutes?
Curtsy lunges will typically work the gluteus medius and minimus in your outer thighs more than reverse lunges. In theory, these exercises would be similar in terms of gluteus maximus engagement. In practice, you may be able to lift more weight and engage your glutes more in reverse lunges without losing your balance.