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Columns: Exercise Technique

Reverse Lunge With Single-Arm Kettlebell Overhead Press

Handy, Richard Jr MS, CSCS; Kerksick, Chad PhD, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D

Editor(s): Dawes, Jay PhD, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D, FNSCA

Author Information
Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2017 - Volume 39 - Issue 5 - p 89-93
doi: 10.1519/SSC.0000000000000313
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In the growing world of athletic performance, quality and effective movement is a top priority on and off the field. Multiplanar movements are excellent considerations for coaches to improve movement quality and maximize physical performance. The reverse lunge with single-arm overhead press is a ground-based exercise that challenges the frontal and sagittal plane (13). The overhead press portion of the movement initiates muscle activity within the core and shoulder, whereas the reverse lunge portion effectively challenges all major muscle groups spanning the hips, knees, and ankles (2,5). When combined, the core musculature is required as a base of stability for the ensuing upper body–pressing movement. In addition, integration of a kettlebell instead of a dumbbell will further challenge neuromuscular involvement (5).


Upper-body and lower-body muscles are both involved during the reverse lunge with a single-arm overhead press exercise. For example, the primary lower-body muscles involved in the movement include rectus femoris, vastus medialis, vastus lateralis, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, biceps femoris, semitendinosus, and semimembranosus (2,7). Of note, previous studies have indicated that the gluteus medius and vastus lateralis show higher activation during the reverse lunge in comparison with other versions of the lunge movement (2,7). The overhead press combined with the lunge will activate the stabilizing core muscles including transverse abdominis, erector spinae, rectus abdominis, and external oblique abdominis (13). The muscles directly contributing to the overhead shoulder movement are the deltoid (anterior and lateral) (1,8), rotator cuff (subscapularis, supraspinatus, infraspinatus, and teres minor) (4,8,11), trapezius (upper, middle, and lower) (6), and serratus anterior (6). Kettlebell integration and its distant center of gravity (COG) causes greater neuromuscular control to coordinate synchronized recruitment among the scapulothoracic muscles and related muscles in the glenohumeral joint to control the overhead motion (4,5,11).


The reverse lunge with a single-arm overhead press provides many benefits. When compared with the traditional forward lunge, the reverse lunge offers unique and intricate biomechanical challenges to test the athlete. Hip flexion initiated during the reverse lunge is similar to that seen during the traditional forward lunge but has lower hip-joint moment allowing for more focus on developing the weaker hip extensor muscles (3). Interestingly, although greater peak knee angles occur in the forward lunge, peak relative eccentric and concentric vertical ground reaction forces are similar in the reverse lunge (3).

The forward lunge produces greater moments in the knee when compared with the reverse lunge (3). With the increased knee-joint moment and knee flexion, patellofemoral-joint compressive forces increase; therefore, the forward lunge is likely to be more stressful on the patellofemoral joint than the reverse lunge (3). In addition, the increased knee-flexion angles seen in the forward lunge result in increased tibiofemoral-joint compression load and associated shear forces (3). From an injury prevention perspective, the reverse lunge achieves higher activation of the gluteus medius, and the entire group of hamstring muscles in comparison with the forward lunge (7,10,12). In this respect, the gluteus medius is important for increasing pelvic stability, improving alignment of the lower extremity, and decreasing knee valgus (7). The hamstrings limit anterior tibial translation on the femur which subsequently reduces detrimental forces being translated to the anterior cruciate ligament (7,14).

The single-arm overhead press includes an additional challenge of the core (13) and scapulothoracic musculatures (1,11), as well as the musculature of the glenohumeral joint (4,8,11). It is executed by pressing the kettlebell straight up, locking out the arm, while maintaining a stable base. The abdominal musculature (erector spinae, rectus abdominis, external oblique abdominis, internal oblique abdominis, and transverse abdominis) is highly activated to maintain spinal stability in the frontal plane (13). The shoulder musculature (rotator cuff muscles (4,8,11), deltoid muscles (1,8), trapezius muscles (6), and serratus anterior (6)) is also highly involved during the overhead press. The rotator cuff muscles are important in controlling the shoulder complex and must be effectively synchronized with the deltoid muscles, specifically the supraspinatus and lateral deltoid force couple, to facilitate efficient overhead movement (8,11). Inadequate rotator cuff activation significantly compromises the deltoid's function as a prime mover of the humerus because the translator force of the deltoid will pull the humerus toward the acromion of the scapula, leading to instability (8). Activation of the serratus anterior, upper trapezius, and lower trapezius works together to support proper posterior tilt and upward rotation of the scapula on the thorax (11). A balance between all trapezii is important for scapular stability (4). As mentioned before, the scapulothoracic articulation and glenohumeral joint musculature must coordinate together and the use of a kettlebell has been shown previously, to further increase motor unit activation in comparison to performing the same movement with a dumbbell (5).


At the start of the exercise, the eyes should be looking forward, resulting in a neutral spine position with the feet hip-width apart, directly beneath the hips (Figure 1). The kettlebell is in the rack position.

Figure 1.
Figure 1.:
Starting position.

While keeping the core or abdominal musculature tight, a long enough step back with the ipsilateral foot should be executed, keeping the front shin perpendicular to the ground (Figure 2). A slight exhale will be executed throughout this movement. All the weight should be on the heel of the front foot with the back knee approximately 1 inch above the ground. The upper body will remain upright with the kettlebell still in rack position. The opposite arm may be abducted for balance purposes.

Figure 2.
Figure 2.:
Reverse lunge and bottom position.

Maintaining a neutral wrist position while holding the kettlebell is preferred, as in the authors' experience, excessive wrist extension unfavorably shifts the COG of the kettlebell further away from the body, which consequently makes the movement unnecessarily difficult. A slight inhale into the belly will create stability for the press. The kettlebell should be pressed straight up toward the ceiling. The biceps should be covering the ears as the head stays upright. The lower body should remain still and the back knee should remain approximately 1 inch above the ground (Figure 3).

Figure 3.
Figure 3.:
Kettlebell overhead press.

After the press, the kettlebell should be returned to the rack position in a slow and controlled manner. The lunge position will be held until the arm is no longer extended. The opposite arm may be abducted for balancing purposes (Figure 4). The front leg will drive the body up through the front heel, and the back leg will move forward beneath the hips. A slight exhale will follow this movement. Both hips should be fully extended to reach full range of motion before starting the next repetition (Figure 5).

Figure 4.
Figure 4.:
Return to bottom position.
Figure 5.
Figure 5.:
Return to starting position.


This movement transmits lighter loads through the knee joint which should allow an athlete to perform consistently with reduced sharing force (3). The sets of the reverse lunge with an overhead press should range from 1 to 6 sets (9). For muscular hypertrophy, reps should range from 6 to 8 at 60–70% of half the athlete's overhead press 1 repetition maximum (1RM) (9). For example, if an athlete has an overhead press 1RM of 100 pounds, their 70% load assignment would use a 35-pound kettlebell (50% of 1RM of 100 = 50, then 70% of 50 = 35 pounds). Rest time should range from 1–2 minutes between sets, allowing for optimal muscle growth (9). Athletes who are focusing on muscular strength should focus on 3–6 reps at 70–80% of half their 1RM, respectively (9). Rest time should range from 2 to 3 minutes to allow for full recovery for performing at heavier loads. The amount of reps may be less than normal for muscular hypertrophy ranges, but the complexity and unilateral aspect of this exercise causes the athlete to fatigue at a much faster rate. Manipulating the time under tension, by slowing down the movement, can increase the perceived exertion of the exercise without increasing the amount of sets and reps. This may help keep the quality of the movement high, with less chance of sacrificing technique.

The reverse lunge with an overhead press can be used for many different aspects of the training session. This exercise can be used as a dynamic movement to prepare the body for a training session. Integration of the exercise in the beginning of a training session can also be done to focus on strength development in the upper and lower extremities. Implementation of this exercise is appropriate for lighter training sessions and training cycles because it is a unilateral load and, by nature, does not allow for maximal loads. Also, this exercise can be placed at the end of the training session where the athlete is asked to be efficient in their movement when they are tired. This is a complex movement that requires much efficiency because the sagittal and frontal planes are challenged to a higher degree with a combined lower- and upper-body movement. The exercise is much more intensified with the combination, than just a lunge or just an overhead press (13). When looking ahead and developing an annual plan for training, this exercise can be performed from the start to the end. Volume should remain low to moderate due to perceived exertion being high because of the unilateral aspect of the movement.

All athletes should use this movement because it is a complex movement that challenges both the sagittal and frontal planes tremendously. An overhead athlete should not fear this movement because of the benefits that it has for scapular tracking which decreases the risks for shoulder injuries (1). An injured athlete should not be utilizing this exercise because there are so many requirements for this movement to be completed correctly. Not only does the lower body coordinate to stabilize the load while getting into a lunge position, the core and upper body must work to maintain that stable position and synchronize to stabilize the load overhead. If one factor is not working effectively, the movement would not be completed or could even lead to further injury.


The reverse lunge with overhead press can be programmed and implemented in many ways for all athletes. It may be best to add into the warm-up when first introducing the exercise. Although there may not be an external load, the movement is challenging enough to emphasize mobility and stability of the athlete (13). Once competent in the movement, then load can be added to increase the intensity. Although the load may not be adequate for the lower body, the combined movement and heightened neuromuscular activity is appropriate for improving dynamic athletic performance.


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