Strength Training for Runners: Exercise 1 – Lunges

Consider this post a teaser! Videos are forthcoming on Monday or Tuesday; today I’m sharing a thoughts on the lunge and one exercise that I consider a staple of this movement category. If you’re a newbie and you want to try these out, hopefully you can wait until after your long run today or Sunday to try this out. In Monday’s post I’ll also provide two variations that I mix into my own training.

Running primarily takes place in the sagittal plane – front to back – (unless one is doing sideways skips for plyometrics or crossover step, or something). However, the frontal plane – side to side – is the locus of control and stability when we run. There is more happening than one might think as we hurl or shuffle ourselves forward. I contend that improving strength, stability, and ease of mobility in the frontal plane can be a tool to help stave off injury by increasing the strength of hip stabilizers (gluteus medius) and lengthening and loosening parts of the hip that can be tight in runners (psoas & groin, etc.)

Why the Lunge?
I recommend lunge variations first and foremost because the basic motion should feel reminiscent of what occurs during running. A more technical matter – asymmetrical standing movements, of which lunges are an example, can challenge a runner’s overall balance, the body’s ability to transmit information regarding position of limbs and adjust with proper position (proprioception). In some cases dynamic flexibility can be positively affected. The emphasis of one leg over two is right in a runner’s “wheel-house” as well, since running is the act of ‘falling’ forward one leg at a time. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for bilateral leg exercises, and I’ll be detailing squats and at least one two-legged deadlift I subsequent posts. Last, but not least, lunge variations can help runners ‘zip up’ and mobilize the torso and lower body – the muscles of the core including the hips to improve stability and possibly improve your posture toward the end of a race.

Split Squat with Dumbbells

This is one of the staples of classic lunge options. You may have seen someone making their rounds across the gym floor doing walking lunges. For you Python fans out there picture ‘The Ministry of Silly Walks” with DBs. Most typical lunge variations capitalize on motion in the sagittal plane, like running does. These can be your pita and hummus or your gluten-free cracker and spicy white bean dip… choose your vegan analogy. Suffice it to say, this is where one starts.

Tip for breathing rhythm – breathe in as you descend and out on the way up.

Remember: use a manageable weight and never dismiss the idea of doing exercises with bodyweight; we can often be our best barbell.

Good, safe technique is most important. Particularly in the options that will be presented later the groin and other smaller hip muscles are more directly under pressure. Lower your body slowly, contract your glutes at the bottom of the motion to help begin the ascent, and come up out of all lunges in a controlled, smooth fashion. Also keep in mind that a lower lunge can mean more force on the knee, so consider your injury history, the tightness of your hamstrings, and current level/experience with regard to weight bearing exercise. In short, use discretion and listen to your body when considering the depth of your lunges.

Begin with your feet hip width apart and side-by-side. Take a big step forward. The front leg will be primary in doing the work of this lunge. With the dumbbells at your side, begin descending by bending your front knee and hip to lower yourself. If it’s comfortable for you, aim to get your front thigh parallel to the floor. Form tip: your body and your front shin should remain perpendicular to the ground throughout. If you find that your knee if moving forward past your toes then reset and take a slightly larger step forward. Keep your front knee in line with your foot side-to-side as well. Proper alignment maintains the knee directly over the ankle from every angle.

Running a Fall Marathon? Strength Training May Make You Faster!

Twin Cities, Bank of America, and Marine Corps. If you’re a distance runner, like me, you probably recognize these as a well-known trio among a pantheon of fall marathon offerings. Perhaps some of you are gearing up for a fall race and you’re getting into the high-mileage heart of your training schedule.

A great many runners whom I’ve met and some for whom I’ve provided training advice share something in common. They overlook or eschew lower body strength training because they want to save their legs and not fatigue them with activities other than running. I have been there.

“I’m gonna run a 4-miler today, that’s all the leg work that I need.” Or “I don’t wanna max out my legs, I have a long run on Sunday!”

Sound familiar?

The most important line that I’ll share with you today: Strength training helps you run more efficiently. (So do mobility exercises and core work, but I’ll save these topics for a later date.)

I can sense the furrowed brows and skeptical looks directed at the screen. Stay with me. I’m not going to suggest that you take up high volume, heavily weighted training and then go out and do a fartlek workout or tempo run. You needn’t know what a squat rack is or where to find one in your local gym. What I am suggesting is a reasonable, balance between your paramour, cardio, and strength work. My reasoning goes a little something like this:

The gluteus maximus commonly, your butt or glutes in regular people speak, is part of the biggest single muscle group and a prime mover in the body. We demand a lot of this muscle. We demand that though we sit for hours during work, school, or Netflix marathons and then be ready to immediately “switch on” automatically for a quick 3-miler or an 18 miler on a weekend. The glutes as a whole (the maximus, medius, minimus, & the TFL) move the hips forward, bring your foot down to the ground, and propel the body forward after each footstrike. Of course the hamstrings, calves, and hopefully the core musculature support this motion but the more efficiently the glutes do their job, the more seamlessly the rest follows.

Three key exercises (in my professional opinion) for glute strengthening:
1. Lunges
2. Deadlifts
3. Squats

Over the next week, I’ll be discussing each of these exercises in turn including technique & ways of approaching them as well as presenting i variations. The idea is not to have you spend hours in a gym. It’s even possible that you needn’t go to a gym at all… More on this later.

Happy running, and may the “bonk monster” stay at bay.