Deficit Reverse Lunge – Add This Underrated Lower Body Workout To Your Next Leg Day

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Julien Raby

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We all know how good the reverse lunge is for building strength in the glutes, but did you know you can get even more bang for your buck by adding height to your starting position?

With a standard reverse lunge, your range of motion is limited by the floor, but by adding height you get greater hip flexion (the function of the glutes) as you drop into the lunge, so it’s going to benefit you in a ton of other movements.

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Enter the deficit reverse lunge, it’s a compound leg exercise with a deeper lunge that builds greater lower body strength, power and balance.

It’s a logical progression for anyone who is ready to level-up (literally) their lunges. Try the deficit reverse lunge, add this underrated lower body workout to your next leg day.

What Is A Deficit Reverse Lunge

The lunge is a relatively simple unilateral exercise with enormous benefits and options for variability. One of these variations is the deficit reverse lunge. The workout can be performed using your bodyweight, with dumbbells or a barbell. Also known as the ‘elevated reverse lunge’, the deficit reverse lunge starts on an elevated surface, such as a box or step, instead of the floor.

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Stepping back from an elevated surface is where the magic of the deficit happens. The deficit requires a deeper lunge which allows us to get our hips below our knee at the bottom of each rep. This is going to increase activation of the glutes, hamstrings and vastus medialis.

Who Should Do A Deficit Reverse Lunge?

This comprehensive exercise won’t suit everyone. If you’re a beginner, it’s better to stick with the reverse lunge. Work on mastering that first because it’s going to offer easier angles in terms of knee position. The traditional reverse lunge still offers plenty of good hip extension benefits. If you’ve mastered your range of motion in the reverse lunge, adding the deficit is a natural progression for anyone who is already comfortable with the lunge and wants to add more load when weights aren’t available.

This makes the deficit reverse lunge a move that increases strength, mobility and stability. Because of the extra tension on the glutes at a lengthened position, it’s going to stimulate muscle building. This is going to add more power to other leg workouts like squats, as well as a ton of other overall athleticism benefits from walking to jumping.

Muscles Worked

While the deficit reverse lunge primarily targets the glutes, it also works the whole lower body, including the hamstrings and quads. But how we perform the exercise will determine which muscles work the hardest.

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Works The Gluteal Muscles

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The deficit reverse lunge is a glute training workout. Together with the hamstrings, the glutes are responsible for hip extension and knee flexion. The deeper drop in the lunge means the entire gluteal region has to work harder to power through an increased degree of hip extension.

If you want to up your glute game, lean forward slightly, and take a longer step back. This forces the hips into flexion which increases the range of motion of the hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings). Take an isometric hold at the bottom of the lunge, this is going to give your lower glutes an additional stretch.

TargetsThe Quadriceps

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During the lunge, your quadriceps are responsible for extending the knee and flexing the hip. You can target the quadriceps by taking a shorter step in the lunge and keeping your body upright. This limits the amount of stretch on the hamstrings which places more demand on the front leg muscles (the glutes).

Increases Core Strength

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Even your core will get a workout as it works to stabilize and balance your body throughout the lunge. Your abductors and adductors activate as you work to keep your shoulders and hips squared to the front as you step back. Adding heavier loads in your dumbbells or barbells is going to add an even greater strain.

Deficit Reverse Lunge Benefits

Easily Scalable Exercise

For the height, you can use multiple plates for a deeper stretch. The deeper you go, the lower you can get your hip joints which means you’re going to need more power to drive back up again. Adding weights is another way to create more muscle building. There are three main options to add load which we’ll delve into later.

Uses Minimal Equipment

The lunge is a floor-based exercise so the only equipment you need is height and weights (optional). To add height, you can use a weight plate, or an aerobics step up box, but anything can work as long as it’s stable. You can perform the lunge using only your body weight as resistance, or most commonly adding dumbbells or barbells.

Unilateral Training

There are considered two types of exercise, unilateral and bilateral exercises. Because the lunge recruits one leg at a time, it is considered a unilateral training exercise. Research has found performing any unilateral training is going to benefit other single limb movements, such as Bulgarian squats, pistol squats and one leg hops. You’ll also improve your overall athleticism, including functional exercise and sport-specific skills like running, jumping and changing direction.

Easier on the Knees vs forward lunges

The forward lunge requires us to take a step forward, before pushing back up to standing. Common knee issues happen when the front knee travels over the foot, putting stress on the knee joints. With the reverse lunge, we can remove the force on the knees because the main leg remains standing the entire time. The glutes and hamstrings fire up, rather than the glutes, meaning even less strain on the knees.

Larger Range of Motion

With a regular lunge, the range of motion is restricted by the floor, but by adding that extra height, we’re getting a larger range of motion every single rep. Because of the deeper lunge, you need more hip flexion and power to snap back up to standing.

Some of the most effective exercises have a large range of motion, think Romanian deadlifts and full pull ups. This range of motion exercises increases the movement and function of the joint and which enhances the efficiency of the entire limb.

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  • Tested for purity and safety
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How to do a Deficit Reverse Lunge

Here’s how to correctly perform the deficit reverse lunge:

  • Place a weight plate, step or low box on the floor 2-8 inches high. Then, take a step onto the platform with both feet.
  • If you’re using weights, hold the dumbell/s or barbell, ensuring your hips and shoulders are square to the front. Plant the toes of your standing foot and step the leg back into the reverse lunge. Lower your rear knee until it nearly touches the floor.
  • Bring yourself back to starting position by squeezing your glutes and driving your hips up and forward to power back up again.
  • You can switch legs or continue working the same leg before alternating. Some find staying on the one leg is easier for balance.

Technique

Here are some tips to ensure you get the most out of the exercise:

  • Remember to squeeze your glutes and hold for a few seconds at the bottom of the lunge.
  • Activate your core, keep a neutral spine and focus on correct posture.
  • Make sure you’re stepping back into a comfortable landing position.
  • Keep your front knee behind your toes on your planted foot.
  • Start and finish with both feet on the step or box.
  • Ensure you remain in proper form. Be aware of how your body feels and stop if there is any pain or discomfort.
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Platform Height

You need good hip mobility to perform a reverse lunge at a larger deficit. This can be a challenge if you’re struggling with injury or tight hips. For this reason, it’s best to start with the deficit about ankle height, roughly 2 inches high. This reduces the chance of injury or strain. Any deficit is going to ramp up the standard lunge and you can always progress more height as you increase mobility.

Alternating Legs

Whether you switch legs or do one at a time comes down to what works best for you.

You can choose either of these options:

  • Complete all reps on one leg before resting, then switch over and work the second leg. It can be easier to maintain balance this way because the standing leg remains stable the entire time so there’s less wobbling. If you’re chasing strength, you want constant tension which is what you’ll get this way.
  • Alternative legs after each lunge gives each one a slight rest between reps. The drawback is that it’s harder to maintain balance as you switch legs and shift around weights. And note that when you alternate, it becomes a dynamic exercise which means it can be less efficient for strength gains.

Mistakes to avoid

Missing the deficit

The biggest mistake people make is not taking advantage of the deficit. The elevation that allows that deep stretch is the entire purpose of this exercise. You want to make sure that the rear knee almost touches the ground. That’s where you’re going to get that greater hip extension. On the first rep, it helps to let your rear knee actually touch the ground, that way you’ll know roughly how low to go next time.

Load Distribution

If you’re using weights, at least two thirds of the load should be focused through the standing leg. Think of the rear as the stabilizer, rather than the sole driving force of the move. When you stand back up again, use the bulk of the weight on the standing foot as an anchor to power back up. You can risk an injury if you don’t follow this distribution.

Step Distance

Step distance has a huge effect on which muscles are worked throughout the movement. If you don’t step back enough, the front knee of the standing foot can move over the toes and you’ll naturally lean forward. This drives the knee into flexion, rather than the hips, which makes it a quad-dominant exercise, rather than a glute-dominant move. You can try in front of a mirror first to find the right technique for your fitness goals.

Selecting weights and reps for the deficit reverse lunge

The results of this workout depends on how you choose to load (or not load) the move. This versatility means it can be used as a primary leg day workout routine, or even as part of rehabilitation.

When deciding which way is best, you need to consider what you’re trying to achieve. Adding weights builds strength because it requires more power on your glutes to get back to standing. I’m going to give you the three main options for adding weights.

Body Weight Deficit Reserve

A simple regression of this movement is to perform it without weight. Variations include starting on one leg instead of both, or reaching the arms forward as you step back. This adds a bonus activation of the anterior abdominals which improves balance stability and reinforces proper upper body mechanics. For extra support stand next to a wall, or use a TRX or ring assisted device.

Using a Single Dumbbell or Kettlebell

If you want to add load, start with a single dumbbell. Hold it on the same side as the leg that is stepping back. This is going to give you a good degree of stability as you drop into your reverse lunge. This offset load activates the external obliques, vastus lateralis, gluteus medius and lateral trunk, ultimately increasing strength and stability.

Using a Pair of Dumbbells or Kettlebells

Performing the exercise with dumbbells possibly feels the most natural. Holding the dumbells on either side of the body requires a little extra balance than the single dumbell, which makes this a more advanced option. Adding heavier dumbbells builds strength in your leg muscles, especially your glutes and core.

Lunge with a Barbell

Your most advanced option is the lunge with a barbell. By introducing the barbell we can add so much more weight, building strength in the quads, glutes and core. The distribution of the barbell means the abdominal and lower back musculature get a work out too. This complex challenge is for those who have already mastered the reverse lunge technique.

How many sets of deficit reverse lunges should I do?

The amount of deficit reverse lunges to perform depends on a number of factors, including your fitness level and overall training goals. For experts adding a larger load, it’s crucial not to add too much weight that it causes a drop in reps. In general, aim for 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps, while a beginner can start with 2-3 sets. This can gradually increase as you gain strength. Be mindful of your body and avoid overtraining.

When is the Best Time to Do the Deficit Reverse Lunge

It’s fine if you want to include a few sets of the deficit reverse lunge throughout your workouts, but you’ll see best results when it is a focused part of a balanced leg day workout.

If you’re using the barbell or using heavy dumbbells, you can even make this a lead exercise in your workout. It’s going to give you a lot of power and hip extension. You could then follow with high volume trap bar deadlifts or goblet squats. You can also incorporate it as a finishing exercise. For instance, after heavy deadlifts or front squats, keep your lunge reps higher and work with lighter weights.

5 Best Deficit Reverse Lunge Alternatives and Variations

Want to know a good substitute for the deficit reverse lunge? Try these alternative exercises.

Front Foot Elevated Bulgarian Split Squat

Bulgarian split squats with an elevated front foot is an amazing movement for gains not just in your glutes but your quads as well. It’s another lower body exercise that’s going to strengthen the muscles of the legs, including the hamstrings and calves. As it’s a single-leg movement, it’s harder to balance as you try to stabilize. You can load up using dumbell weights for a greater workout.

This is a good progression if you’re ready to move up from the deficit reverse lunge.

Single leg press

The single leg press is another unilateral movement that has a similar mechanism to the reverse lunge. Pressure is taken off your knee while your other foot is stationary. It’s a perfect alternative to the reverse lunge because it helps build lower body strength while building knee stability safety.

In particular, it’s going to help build the gluteus muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves, as well as addressing lower body imbalances, just like the deficit reverse lunge does. You can increase the weight for greater leg strengthening, or place your foot higher to focus more on your glutes and hamstrings.

It’s a great alternative if you’re wanting to add more load than you generally can in a reverse lunge.

Deficit split squat

The split squat is a unilateral exercise that builds strength and power. It’s a stationary movement that develops your glutes and quads. The added height allows a greater range of motion which is going to increase glute activation. You can also perform the exercise with weights to increase the strength training.

The deficit split squat is fantastic exercise great for anyone wanting to build strength and power in their lower body.

Deficit deadlifts

You can also perform deadlifts on an elevated surface too. The benefits of this deficit move is the extended range of motion. Your hips sit slightly higher which lengthens the glutes and hamstrings. As you’re not restricted by the floor, pulling from a greater distance improves the limitations of your deadlift, building greater strength throughout your entire body.

Naturally, this is more challenging than a regular deadlift and requires good mobility. Go lighter to begin with.

TRX reverse lunges

The TRX lunge is a great exercise for building lower body strength. It’s an assisted deficit reverse lunge that’s going to improve balance, endurance and overall function. It also helps with hip mobility. It’s not only a great exercise for beginners, it’s also beneficial for anyone with knee problems looking for a safe way to build strength in their legs.

This is an excellent variation if you want to get comfortable with the moves of a reverse lunge.

Slider reverse lunge

There are many variations of the lunge, including walking lunges. However, with the slider reverse lunge, you’re using a fitness slider under your foot to help you perform the move. It requires extra balance and stability, which activates the abdominal muscles. But by adding a slider to the reverse lunge you take the impact out of your knee joints completely.

You’ll still get a quad, glute and hamstring workout except this is effective, knee-friendly leg exercise that is perfect for beginners.

Deficit forward lunge

The opposite to the deficit reverse lunge, the benefits from performing this lunge forward is greater activation of the quadriceps. Stepping forward means it’s also harder on the knees. It’s still going to give you greater core stability, hip mobility, flexibility and better balance.

Try this beneficial exercise if you’re wanting a more quad-dominant variation.

Glute Bridges

This is a simple alternative not to be discredited. Glute bridges are very effective in building strength in the legs including the hamstrings with the advantage of being much more gentle than a lunge. You can perform the exercise on the floor with or without a weight plate resting on your abdomen, as a single leg bridge or as an elevated glute bridge.

FAQs

What do deficit reverse lunges work?

The deficit reverse lunge primarily targets your glutes and hamstrings, but your whole lower body gets a workout, including your quads and calves. Your core helps balance and stabilize your body and the added drop means there is a deeper lunge, so you get a greater hip flexion which keeps your glutes and hamstrings under tension during the move. You can also perform the workout so your quads are targeted.

Are deficit reverse lunges better for glutes?

Forward lunges focus more on the quads, while rear lunges focus more on the glutes and hamstrings. Adding the additional height provides a greater range of motion. Because your hips can dip lower, below your knee level, you get an extra challenge. Your glutes need greater power to get back to starting position. This builds added strength and improves other unilateral moves too.

How do you do a deficit reverse lunge?

The deficit reverse lunge is performed the same as a regular reverse lunge, except that you start on a step or box instead of the floor, and your back leg dips further than knee level. Stand with your feet together in proper form on a platform between 2-8 inches off the floor. Then step back into a lunge so the rear knee nearly touches the ground, contract through the standing leg as you explode back up again.

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About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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