Lunge Directions - INSTAGRAM

Lunge Directions – Forwards, Backwards, Sideways, Rotational

Lunges are one of the most commonly performed exercises in rehab and general fitness alike – and for good reason. You are able to target different muscle groups or movement patterns just simply by changing up lunge directions from forward, to backwards, to sideways, or even into a curtsey squat. In this article, we’re going to dissect one of the easiest ways to spice up your lunges by simply changing directions.

I love lunges and the split stance position as a whole. Not only is it a good bridge between double leg to single leg exercises, but you can target a lot of different muscles for activation or stretching based on the plane of motion/lunge you choose.


Rotational Lunge Directions

Transverse and curtsey lunges are great for introducing transverse plane loads to the knee and controlling tri-planar motion. Rotational lunges are considered for most to be a progression or more advanced option than your traditional forward or backwards lunges. Adding arm drivers or medballs is a great way to increase demand at the hip/core as well. If rotation at your knee makes you feel nervous, don’t worry that’s okay! You’ve probably heard or been instructed before never to let the knee collapse or rotate, but in all reality that happens all the time in life. You don’t pick up objects directly in front of you nor do you go upstairs exactly up and down in a straight line. Sometimes you move sideways or turn while reaching. These are all natural motions that your knee can in fact handle, it just may take some time getting used to.


Transverse Lunge

PrehabX Sample Video

HOW: Take a step 130 deg back and out to the side. Bend at your hip and knee and descend into a lunge. You will need to turn and pivot your back leg to spin. Push yourself back up to starting position. The goal is to learn to control the rotational forces are your knee.

FEEL: You should feel your glutes work to stabilize the rotational movement

COMPENSATION: Don’t let either your front or back knee dive inward.


Curtsey Lunge

PrehabX Sample Video

HOW: Step backwards and out to the side like you were to perform a curtsey. Keep your weight on your front leg

FEEL: You should feel a good glute stretch and your hip muscles activated

COMPENSATION: Don’t put too much of your weight on your back leg as you step back


Backward Lunge Directions

Reverse or backward lunges are great for targeting the posterior chain (glutes/hamstrings) and naturally allows a more forward trunk lean. The biggest fault I see when people do reverse lunges is they shift their weight back into their rear leg and don’t keep their weight on their front leg.

The working leg in the backwards lunge should always be the front leg.

Yes, in a lunge you will use both of your legs to push, but your should be pushing much more with your front leg than your back leg in a backward lunge. A really cool added benefit of a backward lunge direction is that you can get a really nice stretch of one of your hip flexors (the rectus femoris) in the rear leg during the step back. To do so, make sure to hold your belly button in and keep your back from arching.

Backward Lunge

PrehabX Sample Video

HOW: Starting in a standing position, take a moderate length step backward and perform a lunge movement. Pause at the bottom, then return to starting position. Repeat and then perform on the other side.

FEEL: You should feel at least 70-80% of your weight is on the front leg. This is the leg that will be doing most of the work, with your quads and glutes getting a workout.

COMPENSATION: Do not take too short or too long of a step, maintain space in between your feet, you don’t have to step back as if your feet are exactly in line with one another. Don’t lose balance or put too much weight on the back leg.


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Forward Lunge Directions

The forward lunge is great for targeting the knee and naturally allows a more forward tibia translation over the foot. Remember, knees past toes isn’t inherently a bad thing! The forward lunge is unique in that you actually use a lot of your rear leg to return to the starting position when doing forward lunges in place, using the rectus femoris in a lengthened position. So walking backward lunges actually are a great way to target the quads in a lengthened position.

Forward Lunge

PrehabX Sample Video

HOW: Step forward with one of your feet and slowly descend into a lunge position. Push yourself back to your starting position with both of your feet

FEEL: Your should feel your glutes, quadriceps, and hamstrings working on both sides

COMPENSATION: Don’t let your knee cave in

Half Inch Lift Offs

Here is another drill I really like to use to work the rectus femoris in a lengthened position. I particularly like this drill for patient’s with anterior knee pain once they are able to comfortably stretch the quads without discomfort. It’s a great way to build up their tolerance of their anterior knee structures (knee cap, tendons, muscles, etc) under both stretch and load simultaneously, which is usually the things that piss off people’s knee in the first place! Remember to build tolerance to positions, you must expose yourself to said position in a gradual manner. Don’t fear the exposure!

PrehabX Sample Video

HOW: Start in a half kneeling position. The goal of this exercise is to work the kneeling leg. Keep your toes pointing into the ground. Keeping as much weight as you can on your back leg, drive your toes into the ground and try and lift your back knee about a ½ inch off the ground. Hold for the prescribed amount of time.

FEEL: You should feel the quadriceps muscle of your down knee holding your body up.

COMPENSATION: Do not lean forward and shift the weight to your front leg. Try to use your back leg as much as possible to achieve the lift-off.


Sideways Lunge Directions

The lateral lunge is great for targeting the frontal plane hip muscles like the adductors and hip abductors. The fault I most commonly see with this is people like to pull themselves back up to the starting position with their post leg (the leg that is straight). The working leg is the leg that you shift your weight to with the bent knee, so use that leg to PUSH yourself back to the starting position towards your other leg. If you want to target the inside thigh a bit more, you can PULL yourself up and bring your extended leg towards you. Now you have two different variations of the same sideways lunge direction that can be equally as effective! When it comes to stretching, you can also get a really nice adductor stretch through the post leg.


Sideways Lunge

PrehabX Sample Video

HOW: Begin this exercise with taking a large step to your side. The larger the lunge the deeper you will be able to perform this exercise. Once you have lunged, lower yourself as far as you feel comfortable then push into the ground forcefully to return to starting position.

FEEL: The leg that you are lunging on will be working, from the calves up to the thigh and hips. Most feel a burn in the quad muscles here. You may feel a stretch in the groin on the hip of the leg that is straight.

COMPENSATION: Avoid landing very stiff on the leg that is lunging, you want to absorb shock with the muscle by landing softly. Avoid allowing the knee to go forward past your toes. Also avoid your knee caving inward, make sure to keep your ankle, knee, and hip in alignment.


Once Mastered, Progress To Sliders

Sliders are some of my favorite pieces of equipment as it serves as a good transitionary exercise variation to progress someone to single leg exercises. The progression from something like a double leg squat to a single leg squat is hard for many, but having a slider allows for not only a more stable position due to having another point of contact on the ground, but also a little less load through the lead leg.

The same rules in regards to muscle activation or stretching with lunge directions that we discussed early apply to slider directions. It’s the exact same movement pattern (a lunge) with just more weight through the lead, working leg. With all slider exercises, the goal is to have >90% of the weight on the stable leg. The slider should have very little weight (if any) through it and should more of less serve just to help your balance.

Think of an eggshell under the slider. Don’t break the egg!

Also, no need to buy fancy sliders from a sports/fitness shop. You can just simply get furniture mover sliders (they are literally the same thing). Or at home if you have hardwood/linoleum, just use a sock/pillowcase on the ground. If you have carpet, throw a magazine page on the ground! BOOM!


Slider Lunge Exercises



Getting Stronger? Now On To Step Downs

Step downs are a stable in my lower extremity rehab progressions and for good reason. You can isolate/bias one leg without any “cheating” using the other leg like on squats, deadlifts, or the lunge variations we have discussed. Furthermore, depending on which direction you step, you can preferentially bias either the glutes or the quads, or work around people’s mobility constraints like a lack of ankle dorsiflexion.

It all comes down to simple biomechanics and lever arms – if you know your biomechanics you know movement! If you want to:

➡️Target the knee go with anterior step downs

➡️Target the hip go with lateral or posterior step downs

With knee rehab patients, I will typically start with backward step downs as the demand is less on the knee and more on the hip. The trunk will flex forward naturally to keep your center of mass on the box, thus utilizing the glutes/hip more in addition to shortening the lever arm on the knee. For hip patients, this is a good starting place as well.

Posterior Step Down

PrehabX Sample Video

HOW: Stand on the step. Shift all of your weight to one leg. With the non-weight bearing foot, you will reach back and lightly tap the ground, and then come back up to your starting position.

FEEL: You should feel the thigh muscles and the butt muscles working in the weight-bearing leg.

COMPENSATION: Avoid putting too much weight (if any weight at all) on the foot you are reaching down with. Don’t let your knee cave in, and avoid rounding your back or side bending.


Due to the step down occurring more in the frontal plane than the sagittal plane, the sideways step down exercise will place more demand on the hip ABductors. The big keys here are to ensure your hips stay level and do no drop. Imagine wearing a belt and keeping it straight the entire time. Furthermore, do not reach to the ground. Lower yourself. Love using this for both hip and knee patients.


Sideways Step Down

PrehabX Sample Video

HOW: Stand on the edge of the box/step with all of your weight in the affected leg. The non-affected leg will be hovering off the edge of the step. Slowly lower your hips, lightly tap the ground with your non-affected leg, and then come back up.

FEEL: You should feel all of the thigh muscles and butt muscles working in the leg that you are standing on.

COMPENSATION: Don’t let the knees cave in or bow out. Be sure to maintain equal weight distribution throughout the entire foot of the standing leg.

Opposite of the posterior step down, the trunk has to stay more upright to keep the center of mass on the box with a forward step down. Furthermore, there will be more anterior knee translation as well as ankle dorsiflexion required with this variation. Thus, this is a more advanced progression for knee patients. And YES, I want the knee to translate forward past the toes here as we need to build tissue resilience and load tolerance. For someone with ankle mobility deficits, I often program in some sort of anterior reaches ie an anterior step down to load the ankle into dorsiflexion after mobilizing it.


Forward Step Down

PrehabX Sample Video

HOW: Stand on the step. Shift all of your weight to one leg. With the non-weight bearing foot, you will reach forward and lightly tap the ground with your heel, and then come back up to your starting position.

FEEL: You should feel all the thigh muscles and the butt muscles working in the weight bearing leg, but primarily in the thigh muscles.

COMPENSATION: Avoid putting too much weight (if any weight at all) on the foot you are reaching down with. Don’t let your knee cave in, and avoid rounding your back or side bending.


Hopefully through the examples of different lunge directions, you are able to grasp the biomechanical concepts and apply the to any lower body exercise. As we demonstrated with progressions onto sliders and step downs, the biomechanics all stay the same – the only thing we changed was the load and intensity of the exercise on that lead leg.

Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below!

Master The Lunge [P]Rehab Program

If your goal is to learn and master the lunge, get back to lunging again, or stay lunging without limitations, look no further. This program takes the guesswork out of learning the lunge and all of its variations and builds your lunge from the ground up to ultimately improve your lunge performance! Learn more about the Master The Lunge [P]Rehab Program HERE!

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