The Basics of the Lunge for Runners
By Will Lind
Why the Lunge?
The lunge is a powerful exercise suitable for beginner and advanced runners alike. One of the reasons it is so excellent is that its literally kinda like running. You are off balance, there is extra emphasis on a single leg at a time and it’s dynamic. Plus, as the movement develops you end up with a highly dynamic lunge that encompasses and emphasises certain portions of your running stride. Becoming proficient at lunging and lunging variations develops coordination, strength and endurance that transfers very easily into better uphill running, downhill running, endurance and also builds a lower body less prone to injury. What’s not to love about the lunge?
Lunging also works directly to strengthen your prime runner mover, your glutes, and your thighs and hamstrings. In addition to that, due to the instability of the lunge you indirectly work to strengthen stability muscles that are also recruited when running (including the glute medius and glute minimus in your butt).
This is a beautfiful thing for a runner, and you want to be building up to lunging and all it’s wonderful variations as soon as you can, and never start thinking you’re too strong or advanced for this basic movement.
The simplicity of the lunge also makes it a great tool for any runner, anywhere. You don’t need equipment and you don’t need a gym. There are a number of handy variations you can use to change the emphasis on different parts of your lower body, also without needing equipment, and you can make your lunge focus as brutal as your running goals demand.
How to do it?
Stand tall, chest proud, with your legs apart and feet stacked under your hips (legs straight, probably slightly narrower than shoulder distance apart). The basic lunge pattern is to take a step out in front of you, drop the rear knee down near to, but not touching, the ground, push up via the front foot and then return to standing.
Your upper body needs to remain in an engaged but neutral position, just like when running or standing still with good posture. Concentrate on maintaining alignment in your pelvis from your left to right side (don’t tilt), but also from front to back (don’t lean forwards or backwards), and don’t twist either.
At the bottom of the lunge your front thigh will be near parallel to the ground.
To check if your stride length is right, take a stride out in front of you and drop your rear knee gently to the ground. Look to see the angle in your knees. A safe bet is to aim for a 90 degree angle in both knees (the one touching the ground and the one out in front of you). If the angle is tight, shift your front foot out further. If the angle is wide, shift the front foot inwards. Raise yourself back up without returning to your standing position, and that is roughly the stride length you want to aim for.
That’s a beginner level guide to the stride length in your lunge. As your mobility and strength improves, you can make changes and experiment.
This is your basic lunge pattern. Once confident with this movement, you can start to add variations, weight and seek to achieve some powerful conditioning.
A basic lunge is achievable by nearly all runners. If you struggle with the lunge, work on squatting, mobility and flexibility and consider uphill and downhill walking.
What comes next?
There are numerous variations on the basic lunge, including replicating the movement but holding weight at the same time, raising the rear foot while lunging and walking lunges. For the sake of brevity we’re not looking at any progression on the basic lunge here.
Pain in the knee or hips?
Pain is such a general term so the safest and most general advice is to not lunge until you’ve had someone in the know look into what the problem might be. Physiotherapists are a great start.
How to Begin:
A basic guide is to aim for 12 repetitions before you have a short break. Repeat that three times in total. For a full workout you will want to combine your lunges with other exercises like squatting, planking, push ups and bent over rows. As you progress you can begin to add weight to your lunges, and try new variations.
Are you more advanced than the basic lunge?
We aren’t looking at progressions of the lunge here, but even as someone very comfortable with the lunge, don’t ever write them off. Even a simple progression of walking lunges, where you lunge walk further, or faster, or with more weight, each week, is a brilliant strategy for increasing strength and stability, particularly for time crunched runners.