How fast you can run is a product of stride length and frequency. The length of your stride depends on leg strength and power as well as sprinting form. While doing lunges won’t impact stride frequency -- the number of times your foot contacts the ground in a given period -- they will boost lower-body strength and power and make you faster. You can also perform various types of lunges to improve sprinting form.
The forward lunge is one of the most effective exercises for leg strength and can improve your speed, according to Sven Jönhagen’s 2005 thesis, “Muscle Injury and Pain: Effects of Eccentric Exercise, Sprint Running, Forward Lunge and Sports Massage,” at the Karolinska Institutet. They not only blast your lower body’s large muscles – quads, hamstrings and glutes – but also tax your core-stabilizing muscles. It’s a complex eccentric exercise in which you have to maintain your balance as you lower and lift your body weight. You can also hold dumbbells to increase the intensity of a forward lunge. If you do add resistance, use the dumbbells as dead weights and avoid swinging them.
Flexibility and Coordination
Walking lunges also develop leg strength and coordination and will make you faster, according to “Weight Training for Running: The Ultimate Guide” by Rob Price. This exercise is typically used as a dynamic leg warm-up for a variety of sports, such as basketball or baseball, and can increase the flexibility of your hip flexors. In a walking lunge, you perform a series of forward lunges, moving forward by alternating your lead leg. In a 2009 study by researchers at the Stockholm Söder Hospital, the leg strength and sprinting speed of 32 soccer players were tested after performing walking lunges and jumping lunges for six weeks. The players who did walking lunges increased their hamstring strength by 35 percent. Their speed improved but not as significantly as sheer leg strength.
The soccer players who performed the jumping forward lunges in the 2009 Stockholm Söder Hospital study not only improved leg strength but also increased their sprinting speed by 2 percent. Jumping lunges are a form of plyometrics exercise, which uses the stretch-shortening cycle of your muscles to build explosiveness and power. The exercise simply combines a forward lunge and scissor jump. When you jump from the lunge position, you switch legs in mid-air with a scissoring motion and land back in the lunge position with your feet reversed. The trail leg of the first lunge becomes the lead leg of the second lunge. If you perform 10 alternating lunges for three to four sets, you’ll also get a rigorous cardiovascular workout.
When you perform walking lunges, you simulate the mechanics of running and improve your form. Olympic sprinting coach Bill Collins has taken this concept one step further by developing speed lunges, according to Jonathan Littman’s article “Run (Fast!) for Your Life” in “Best Life.” To perform speed lunges, you use movements that mirror optimal sprinting technique. When you lift your right foot, you step forward about 24 inches in front of you and land on the ball of that foot. At the same time, you drive your left arm forward while pulling your right arm back as if you’re sprinting. Lowering your left knee to the ground, you stay on the balls of your feet. When you rise out of the lunge, you push off the ball of your left foot and then thrust your left foot forward 24 inches. Again, you land on the ball of your lead foot. Continue lunging forward in this way for 10 yards and then turn around and repeat the exercise for another 10 yards. Speed lunges can help you to sprint faster and with greater efficiency.
- Weight Training for Running: The Ultimate Guide; Rob Price
- Runner's World Guide to Road Racing: Run Your First (or Fastest) 5-K, 10-K, Half-Marathon, or Marathon; Katie McDonald Neitz
- Best Life: Run (Fast!) for Your Life; Jonathan Littman
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: Forward Lunge: A Training Study of Eccentric Exercises of the Lower Limbs; Sven Jönhagen, et al.
- Karolinska Institutet: Muscle Injury and Pain : Effects of Eccentric exercise, Sprint Running, Forward Lunge and Sports Massage
- RealJock: Alternating Lunges and Scissor Switches
- RealJock: Forward Dumbbell Lunges
- ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer; American College of Sports Medicine
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images