When it comes to unilateral work, most lifters tend to relegate it to benches in favour of bilateral movements. Their rationale: what allows me to use more weight provides the most amount of progress. Single-legged work in particular is eschewed for more popular movements like back squats and leg presses. However, if you think that unilateral leg work done with light to moderate weight is simply too “wimpy” for your tastes, this brutal combo will prove you wrong.
The most popular unilateral movement for legs is without a doubt the walking lunge. Whether done with load or just bodyweight, the lunge tests the ability of the legs and hips to absorb and exert force as the weight of the body shifts from one side to the other. This also means that the core musculature has to work to keep the body stabilised in a moving environment. When done for distance or time, the walking lunge can be an effective metabolic conditioning tool as well.
Pairing the forward and reverse standing lunge into a combo movement allows you reap this metabolic benefit even if you’re short on gym real estate. The elimination of a constantly forward direction of movement also takes momentum out of play, increasing the muscular demand of the lunge. The back-and-forth motion of the forward-reverse lunge combo disrupts the body’s natural state of equilibrium, incorporating an aspect of instability to the movement as well.
Location and equipment courtesy of TripleFit
When performing the forward-reverse lunge, it’s important to avoid overstepping with your lead foot. While doing so may allow you to get a deep stretch of your stationary side’s hip flexor, that is not the purpose of this exercise. You also end up having to do unnecessary work when it comes to bringing your foot back into your midline. Furthermore, poor hip control (i.e. anterior tilt) combined with an excessively stretched leg can result in lower back issues. A conservative step forward followed by a downward motion to a point where your rear knee is just above the floor is good enough.
A good place to position the forward-reverse lunge combo is at the end of a lower-body workout, where it can act as a finisher. Keeping it to higher reps with even-numbered sets and switching legs after each one allows you to hit the legs and hips hard while skyrocketing your heart rate. Alternatively, incorporating it into your warm-up regimen can be beneficial as well, as the movement requires a fair amount of coordination and proprioception for it to be done correctly. Performing it with just bodyweight can help you to focus on activating the appropriate musculature and “greasing the groove” when it comes to proper movement mechanics.
If you’re serious about your ability to function athletically, then you should approach single-legged work with as much seriousness as you do with your two-legged movements, maybe even more! Aside from reducing the amount of bilateral deficit in your body, you also address whatever weak links you might have in your lower body, as unilateral leg work often exposes flaws in a particular movement pattern (e.g. knee valgus, foot pronation, weak hip abductors, poor glute control, etc.). Use such tools to keep your training grounded and real!