When it comes to building lower body muscle, lunges probably come second to only squats (sorry deadlift fans).
Lunges work your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and even your calves to some effect.
The front leg is the working leg during lunges, whereas the back leg is simply there to provide support.
However, I know that many gym-goers complain of feeling lunges in their back leg.
So, allow me to explain why this occurs, and what you can do to fix it.
Why Do I Feel Lunges in My Back Leg?
There are quite a number of reasons why you feel lunges in your back leg. The most obvious of these is that you haven’t evenly distributed your weight between both legs. In effect, you’re placing more weight on your back leg, so you’re likely to feel it more. This could also be a case of taking too large or too shallow a step when you lunge. You’re more likely to feel the strain in your back leg’s hip flexors or quads respectively.
1. Your Weight isn’t Evenly Distributed Between Both Legs
When you perform lunges you’ll want all the effort to go through your front leg.
In effect, your back leg is there in a supporting role, and nothing more.
The best way to achieve this is to ensure that you have your weight evenly distributed between both legs.
In fact, some people try to place more stress on the front leg by leaning forward ever so slightly.
Personally, I don’t think this is a bad way to perform lunges, as long as you’re not overdoing the forward lean.
When performing any exercises, lunges included, you should activate your core, while maintaining a neutral spine.
The main problem with overdoing the forward lean is that your back may round, thus meaning that you’re not properly contracting your core.
However, if you’re mainly feeling lunges in your back leg, you could be leaning back slightly, or you’re using your back foot to return to the starting position.
Something you should always concentrate on during lunges is pushing through the heel of your front foot.
By doing so, not only are you ensuring that it’s your front leg working, but also that you’ll get great glute activation during lunges.
I would also recommend that you practice stationary lunges first to really get your form down.
In fact, you could almost turn your lunge workout into a superset.
Firstly, perform your reps in the stationary lunge position.
This will help you to determine the perfect distance between your feet, while also working your front leg.
Then immediately perform a set of forward lunges straight after and really feel the burn in your front leg.
2. Too Large or Too Shallow of a Step Forward
The length of your step forward can also make a huge difference as to where you feel lunges.
Your aim is to achieve a perfect 90 degree angle between the upper and lower leg on both legs.
But, if you’re not hitting this 90 degree angle it’s likely that you have either taken too large or too shallow of a step forward.
Firstly, if your forward step is too long, you’ll find it harder to push through the heel of your front foot, plus you’ll feel the movement much more in your hamstrings.
Secondly, the additional stretch in your back leg will place much more stress on the hip flexors and the quadriceps.
Plus, once more, you may be forced to push off the back foot, as opposed to the front heel.
In fact, this is the reason why another related exercise like the Bulgarian split squat has some people complaining about foot cramps.
Remember, your back leg does nothing but support you throughout the movement.
On the other hand, if you’re taking too short a step it’s much harder to push through your front heel.
In truth, you’ll probably find that you’re balancing on the toes of your front foot if your step forward is too shallow.
Unfortunately, this position won’t allow you to create as much force through the front foot.
3. You Have Tight Quads or Hip Flexors
I’ve already spoken of the stress placed on the back quad and hip flexors when you take too large of a step forward.
However, if your form is absolutely on point, but you’re still feeling it in your back leg, this may point to muscle tightness.
So, as an example, let’s say you lunge forward with your left leg.
This means that your left leg should take all the strain and your right leg is simply there to support you.
However, at the bottom of the lunge your right hip will be in full extension, while your right knee is in flexion.
Either one of these scenarios would typically cause a stretch in your right quadriceps.
Therefore, you could say that when you do both at the same time (hip extension and knee flexion), you’re stretching the quad muscle even more.
The exact same can be said for the hip flexor on your right-hand side, in that it is also being stretched while you’re in the bottom of a lunge.
You’ll notice this stretch even more, or perhaps even feel some pain, if you have tight quads or hip flexors.
Therefore, the more you perform the exercise, the more your weakness is going to be revealed.
So, it may be time for you to work on your tight quadriceps.
Admittedly, lunges are a great way to stretch your quads and hip flexors, but you can also work on some of the following stretches.
Daily Hip & Quad Stretches
4. Perform the Reverse Lunge For Better Results
Personally, I never actually perform forward lunges anymore, as I think that reverse lunges are a much better alternative.
Firstly, the reverse lunge allows you to have much more control over the movement.
Plus, with your momentum moving backwards you’ll be more likely to maintain the ideal lunge position.
This means that you’ll be able to push through the heel on your front foot, your knee remains directly above your ankle, and your weight is more evenly distributed between both legs.
Furthermore, the forward lunge can often shift your centre of gravity too far forward.
This means that you could end up placing your body weight on your toes, as opposed to your feel.
I will also say that this can play havoc with your knees.
Basically, you’re placing much more pressure on the front quad than you need to, and there will be reduced glute and hamstring activation.
Finally, due to the additional control you have during reverse lunges you can use your back leg solely for control purposes, as it should be.
So, as you can see, there are a variety of reasons that you feel lunges in your back leg.
The most obvious of these is that your body weight isn’t evenly distributed between both legs, thus applying more pressure to the back leg.
This can actually be made worse if you’re taking too long or too shallow of a step.
Additionally, feeling lunges in your back leg could point to the fact that you have tight quads or hip flexors.
So, this is definitely an area you should work on.
Finally, try replacing the forward lunge with the reverse lunge.
This provides you with far more control over the movement, plus it’s a lot better for your knees and overall muscle activation.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.