The reverse lunge can be an effective way to reduce pain and strengthen the muscles around your knees.

Editor’s note: Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of the book “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”

CNN  — 

Knee pain is a common issue affecting millions of people worldwide. Whether it’s due to past or current injury, arthritis or simply the wear and tear of aging, the discomfort can be debilitating.

In most cases, proactive ways can help you soothe and strengthen your knees. As a mobility coach, I teach people how to use movement as medicine. In the case of knee pain, there’s one simple yet effective exercise I favor to help alleviate pain and strengthen the muscles around your knees: the reverse lunge.

Unlike traditional lunges, the reverse lunge is gentler on your joints. This lunge variation not only has the power to strengthen your knee function but also enhances overall lower body strength and stability. Read on to learn how incorporating reverse lunges into your fitness regimen can help you move past the pain and build a stronger foundation for knee health.

Understanding your knee pain

Knee pain is hard to ignore as it affects your ability to perform everyday activities such as walking, climbing stairs and even sitting and standing. The knee joint is a complex structure made up of bones, cartilage, ligaments and tendons, all working together to provide stability and movement.

When any of these components are compromised, pain can ensue. It may be experienced as a constant or intermittent ache, throbbing or even stabbing pain that may or may not come with swelling.

Common causes of knee pain include:

•  Osteoarthritis: a degenerative joint disease that results in the breakdown of cartilage.

•  Patellar tendinitis: inflammation of the tendons connecting the kneecap to the shinbone.

•  Meniscus tears: injuries to the shock-absorbing cartilage in the knee.

•  Ligament injuries: tears or strains to any of the four main knee ligaments (ACL, MCL, PCL and LCL).

•  Bursitis: Inflammation of the bursae, small sacs of fluid that cushion the knee joint.

It’s important to determine the cause of your knee pain before attempting any specific rehab plan. Addressing knee pain often requires a multifaceted approach that may include physical therapy, lifestyle modifications, medication and targeted exercises such as the reverse lunge.

Before adding reverse lunges to your fitness regimen or beginning any new exercises or therapies, check with your doctor or other health care professionals you are seeing for help with your knees.

Benefits of the reverse lunge

The reverse lunge is a basic yet powerful exercise that strengthens the muscles around your knees, improves your core strength and enhances overall lower body strength, mobility and stability.

Here are some key benefits:

•  Reverse lunging strengthens muscles that support your knees. Building stabilizing muscles around the knee joints improves movement quality and reduces pain and injury risk.

•  The dynamic movement of reverse lunging increases joint lubrication by stimulating the production of synovial fluid. Lubricating the knee joint reduces friction and promotes smoother, pain-free motion.

•  Unlike forward lunging and other forward stepping exercises, the backward motion of reverse lunges puts less strain on the knees and emphasizes more stability, making them an ideal choice for individuals with knee pain.

•  Practicing reverse lunges improves balance and stability. Because reverse lunges are unilateral, they are a balance training exercise that strengthens your core and stabilizing  muscles to reduce the risk of injury by “moving wrong.”

•  They enhance mobility. Regularly practicing reverse lunges improves hip, knee and ankle mobility.

•  They aid in functional activities. The movement mimics everyday activities, such as kneeling down to tie your shoes or picking something up off the floor.

How to perform a reverse lunge

The reverse lunge can also improve your core strength.

Performing a reverse lunge correctly is crucial to reaping its benefits and avoiding injury. Follow these steps for proper form:

1.  Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, shoulders relaxed, and arms at your sides or on your hips. Engage your core to maintain balance.

2.  Take a step backward with your right foot, landing on the ball of your foot. Your left foot should remain in place, fully connected with the floor.

3.  Bend both knees to lower your body until your left thigh is parallel to the ground and your right knee is either lightly touching or nearly touching the floor.

4.  Keep most of your weight in your front foot and leg and ensure that your left knee is aligned over your left ankle, not pushed too far forward beyond your toes.

5.  Maintain good upper-body posture with your shoulders back and chest open. Avoid leaning forward.

6. You do not need to hold the lunge position for any specified length. Go at your own pace, returning to the starting position by pushing through your left heel to lift your body back to standing. Repeat the movement with the opposite leg.

Aim for two to three sets of eight to 12 repetitions on each leg, depending on your fitness level.

Need to modify or want to progress?

The intensity of reverse lunging can be varied to accommodate different fitness levels. Beginners or anyone struggling with balance should place one hand on a stable support, such as a chair or wall.

Add a kettlebell or dumbbells if you want a more advanced version of the exercise.

For those wanting an advanced variation, hold dumbbells at your sides or a kettlebell at your chest or in one hand at your side or overhead to add resistance and increase the intensity. Use an appropriate weight for your fitness level and goals.

To get the most out of practicing reverse lunges, keep these tips in mind:

Consistency is key. Regular practice yields the best results. Aim to include reverse lunges in your routine at least two to three times per week.

Focus on form. Quality over quantity. Proper form maximizes effectiveness while preventing injury.

Listen to your body. If you experience any painful sensation beyond normal muscle fatigue, stop and reassess your form. Consult a health care professional if necessary.

Knee pain doesn’t have to sideline you from staying active and enjoying life. By incorporating reverse lunges into your fitness routine, you can take proactive steps toward healthier, pain-free knees. So, step back, lunge and move forward with stronger, more resilient knees.

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