One move combines lower body and core strength better than any other: the lunge.
“The lunge is a fundamental unilateral leg move that really helps us develop basic leg strength—but it can be way more than that,” says Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S. “It can help us develop core power, and it can also help us develop speed and acceleration to make us better runners, too.”
Grab a pair of dumbbells or kettlebells and get to work mastering these 5 lunge variations.
Level 1: Reverse Lunge
Reverse lunges are easier on your knees compared to front lunges.
“When we work on the reverse lunge, we get to protect this front knee and make sure we hit a nice 90 degree angle,” says Samuel. “And when we power up, you get to really squeeze your glutes and you’re basically mimicking a running stride.”
Grabbing your set of weights, think about your positioning.
“In your standing position, squeeze your glutes and rive those hips forward. Keep your core tight and keep your shoulder blades nice and tight. You’re going to lean forward ever so slightly because you don’t want your back in extension,” says Samuel. “Drop into that lunge and power up, really squeezing those glutes.”
Focus on actively exploding back to standing. Do 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Level 2: Front-Rack Reverse Lunge
Take your reverse lunge to the next level by holding your weights in front of you in a front-rack position, which will make this move more core-intensive.
“Try and close your elbows into each other, squeeze your abs, and think about having a perpendicular angle with your forearm,” says Samuel. “What I don’t want to see if a flared out position. Keep your torso upright and lean ever so slightly forward as you work in your reverse lunge.”
Remember to be powerful as you press up. Do 2-3 sets of 10-12 reps.
Level 3: Front-Rack Reverse Lunge To Squat
Adding a squat to your front-rack reverse lunge will challenge your body control.
“Step back into that reverse lunge, taking that power and controlling it so you can step into a squat hold and drive back to that stand,” says Samuel. “You’re also getting more time under tension for leg-building strength and challenging your hip mobility a little bit as you find a way to establish control coming out of that reverse lunge.
Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps.
Level 4: Front-Rack Reverse Lunge To High Knee Hold
This move creates even more power and control from that reverse lunge position that will translate to your runner’s stride.
“It’s all about ownership and it’s all about creating power,” says Samuel.
Start in your front-rack position with a tight core, stepping back into a reverse lunge and power up to that stand.
“Drive your knee up higher than your hip and maintain balance with all of your energy going in one direction,” says Samuel. “The challenge here is to create as much acceleration as possible as you drive up, which mirrors your running and sprinter’s stride. Trying to create that same level of energy is going to translate when you get yourself out onto the track as long as you execute that right.”
Make sure your foot remains dorsiflexed as you drive up. This move is about speed, not reps.
Do 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
Level 5: Half-Rack Half-Overhead Reverse Lunge To High Knee Hold
This move integrates your upper body.
“We get to still work on that high knee function, but we need that much more hip control, that much more core control, and that much more balance in our standing leg,” says Samuel. “And the more balance we can establish there, the more power you’re going to be able to create both in your lunging and other leg movements and when you go out and sprint too. Basketball players, this is also for you. We’re learning to drive upwards and forwards at the same time.”
To do it, start in a half-rack half-overhead position, staying strong through your wrist with a vertical forearm that is perpendicular to the ground.
“Drive up straight and tall with your kettlebell, which forces your torso to stay in a nice tight line as you lunge,” says Samuel. “Step back into that reverse lunge, and drive up with power without arching your back. This creates a lot of anti-rotation balance. Create power as you drive your knee high, making sure you dorsiflex your foot.”
This move includes a lot of glute, hamstring, quad, and overall balance.
“That is going to make you a great runner and make your legs super strong,” says Samuel. “You don’t have to go heavy because the whole balance component and intent to create acceleration is going to power you through.”
Do 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
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