Lunges are not a new exercise, they have been a part of natural human movement long before physical training began in gyms. Lunges are one of our seven fundamental movement patterns and should be a part of everyday life. Unfortunately nowadays most humans spend the majority of their days behind computer screens and therefore not using this movement pattern as regularly as we should.
So why are lunges such a fantastic exercise for runners?
Firstly they assume the same movement pattern as running with one leg being in front of the other and therefore will recruit similar motor patterns and muscle fibres that are used for running. Similar to running, lunges also require use of the following muscles:
Due to using the same muscle groups, if we build strength in the lunge pattern it will have a carry over to running. The benefits of improving strength in the lunge will impact running performance by:
Load tolerance - The muscles, ligaments and tendons will be capable of bearing greater load (i.e. they will cope better with your bodyweight hitting the ground repeatedly) without getting injured. Not all, but most running injuries occur as a result of the human tissues not being able to cope with the stress they are being placed under. If you are new to running or looking to build the distance you are running then having a strength & conditioning regimen can be very important.
Improved Force Production - Another key reason then strength & power training is implemented for any sport is to improve the individual's ability to produce force. Your running speed is essentially a result of your impulse (the amount of force you can apply in shortest time possible). If you have a greater strength usually this will correspond with improved force production. Thus, by using lunges to build strength and the same muscle groups you use for running, you will be able to achieve a greater “push” into the floor to propel you forward.
So the lunge is a fantastic exercise, but what is the right version for you? As with any exercise it is important to perform it correctly and know the right progression and regression to use depending on your level. For many beginners, starting with a forward or walking lunge might be too advanced and lead to poor mechanics. Here are a few variations I use with clients as they progress through the performance continuum.
#1: Reverse Lunge
The reverse lunge would be my starting point. The reason this is easier than forward or walking lunges is because your centre of mass doesn’t change as much, therefore there is less momentum to control.
#2 Walking Lunge
Once you have mastered the reverse lunge and can complete at least 10-12 reps with good form and power then you can progress to walking lunges. Walking lunges are more dynamic than reverse lunges and thus require more trunk stability.
#3 Forward Lunge
Once you can comfortably perform bodyweight walking lunges for 8-10 reps on each leg you can progress to forward lunges. Forward lunges are more advanced as you need to decelerate your bodyweight and try to explode back to your start position.
#4 Sprinter Lunge
The sprint (runner’s lunge) is a great progression as it requires you to begin in a posture hold which requires good trunk stability and allows you to focus on correct mechanics. Once again the body needs to absorb more load as the leg is falling from a higher position.
#5 High Knee Forward/Reverse Lunge
Our final bodyweight progression is similar to the above but adds in one more dimension. After absorbing the forward lunge you push all the way through to a reverse lunge before returning to your start position. The reason this is a progression is because the movement is more complex and dynamic requiring improved coordination and stability.
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