This week's exercise is another great example of single leg exercises for runners (or anyone!). As any of my clients can attest, lunges are one of my favorite exercises because they focus on so many different muscles - gluteus, hamstring, calf & core! In addition, the lunge focuses on balance - another favorite of mine!
This lunge variation is the king of them all and here's why:
Let's start with the obvious one. Standing up slowly with one leg forces you to focus on your foot placement and its relation to the ground. Stepping out into the lunge forces your body to work unilaterally as well, by using one leg at a time. Working on your body's proprioceptors (how your body moves to counteract weight distribution and movement change) helps you in all of life, not just in the weight room. In running, it can mean fewer falls and stronger ankles!
This is the big one! Single-leg exercises (Check out my single-leg squat how-to!) are a GREAT way to utilize the glutes. The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in the entire body and it must fire to fully utilize your leg strength. When the glute muscles remain dormant, the other muscles of the leg - primarily the quadriceps - compensate to perform the movement. This leads to muscle imbalances and injury!
Tip: In this exercise, as you stand up, focus on squeezing your glutes (squeeze those buttcheeks TIGHT!) as you stand up and then again as you return to balance, before sitting down.
Hip Flexor Mobility.
Hip flexors are enormously important for running. The muscles that make up the hip flexors are primarily responsible for driving the knee up towards the abdomen. In today's society, most people spend the majority of their day sitting. When you're constantly in a seated position, your hip flexors remain shortened. After work, when you finally leave your desk to go for a run, your might feel a tightness in your hip flexors as you are NOW, hours later, stretching them through their full range of motion. If the hip flexors are tight, range of motion can be compromised, leading to injury!
Lunges are a great way to work through and increase strength and mobility in the hip flexor.
Tip: As you lunge, focus on keeping the back straight, but tipping the pelvis forward, opening up the hip.
While you might be able to easily imagine the impact that lunges have on the glutes and hamstrings, one large muscle group that is highly impacted by the lunge is the core! Keeping the back upright as you lunge forward contracts the abdomen to maintain stability.
I'm sure that you've heard this before: "What is your dominant side?" Each one of us has a dominant hand, that's simple enough. Which hand do you write with? Which hand do you throw a ball with? Now, is that the same foot? Do you kick with the same foot you write with? How about catch yourself as you start to fall? For some people, there is a cross-dominance. You may write with one hand and kick with the opposite foot. Regardless, almost everyone has a varying level of asymmetry - where one leg or hand "leads" more than the other.
This level of asymmetry is something that you might never notice - UNTIL you start performing a sport that requires dual dominance. Think about running. Each stride is a mirror image of the opposite leg. With perfect running form, you should land equally on each leg, pushing off each foot equally, before landing again, equally.
When you have a highly dominant side, you exacerbate your entire kinetic chain on that side! Too much single-sided dominance forces a shift to uneven weight bearing in dynamic movement. This leads, yet again, to injury or compensation.
This is why the lunge works so well. If you find that you have a weaker side (does it wobble more? Does it tire more quickly?), then you can perform additional repeititions to even out both sides.
So how do I lunge?
1. Start seated on a bench. Stand up, using only one leg (no hands to help!), making sure to push through the foot, driving the opposite knee up.
Tip: Pause. Make sure to squeeze the glutes!
2. Step forward into a lunge, making sure that the knee is directly over the ankle. Keep the back upright, tilting the pelvis forward.
3. Push through the lunging leg to return to standing, with the knee raised, and a the glutes squeezed.
4. Slowly (with control!) sit back down to the bench.
Perform 10 repetitions on one leg, before switching legs.