If you want to be the zippiest Nestie ever, roaring along in the 100, 200 or 400 meters -- or if you’re in a sport like soccer that demands sprinting -- you need quads and hamstrings that are up to the challenge. Lunges above all work your quads, which need to be strong, and straight-leg deadlifts address the hamstrings -- important in female athletes, who tend to have overdeveloped quads and underdeveloped hammies.
The Versatile Lunge
You can lunge forward, backward and sideways with a barbell, cable machine, dumbbells, kettlebells, a Smith machine, a weights sled or your own body weight. And you can lunge walking or staying in place. As long as you have a lunging motion that involves both knees bent so the trailing knee almost goes to the floor, you provide a challenge to the quads and glutes, with the hamstrings, calves and obliques getting into the act to help stabilize your body. All these muscles play crucial roles in sprinting, guiding your hips and knees and keeping your torso upright.
Before plunging into your sprinter-specific strength or speed training, you need to warm up. The authors of “Training for Speed, Agility and Quickness” recommend the walking lunge. Just as it sounds, this involves traveling forward with each lunge, rather than straightening to your starting position. You can perform this with hands on hips, with a barbell across your shoulders or holding dumbbells or kettlebells. Follow with the walking lunge with rotation, typically performed with a light medicine ball; you take a step, twist to same side of your body as your extended leg, step up and place your feet together, and repeat the twist on the other side with your next lunge.
Plyometrics and Patterns
Lunge variations can also help your lower-body power and quickness. The lunge with a power-up jump, as the name suggests, adds a forward jump to the walking lunge, improving your plyometric strength or explosiveness. You can also perform dance-like lunge patterns, stepping into a forward lunge, a side lunge or the transverse lunge, which resembles a side curtsy. These help your balance, range of hip motion and strength in three planes of motion, notes “Training for Speed, Agility and Quickness.”
Ultra-fast women including Olympic gold medalist Carmelita Jeter perform the clean move with a deadlift-like motion to train their glutes and hamstrings. You can do a regular deadlift, squatting with conspicuously bent knees to bring a loaded barbell from the floor to the front of your hips, to target your glutes. The more challenging straight-leg deadlift requires only a tiny knee bend, and you bend over at the waist rather than squat to grasp the barbell. The straight-leg dreadlift shifts your targeted muscle to the hamstrings, with the glutes and erector spinae of the lower back also trained.
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