Her discussion and demonstration was both eye-opening and affirming. She emphasized the importance of training those small, supportive muscles, especially those around the core and hips. One of the best ways to strengthen these muscles is through incorporating lateral strength training exercises into your training.
I would add lateral exercises here or there, but since Crystal’s talk at the retreat, I have been much more deliberate with including lateral strength exercises in my training routine.
I think there’s a tendency to view exercises such as leg lifts as vanity exercises – exercises that are focused more on aesthetic than function. With the popularity of CrossFit, one can easily think that the best strength training exercises involve heavy weight and complex movements. However, that is simply not the case – especially if your goal is to run further and faster rather than to increase your muscle mass.
For runners, the best exercises involve controlled movements of the hips, glutes, core, and back. Those muscles, after all, serve as the powerhouse for running. Ideally, runners want to strengthen these muscles by working through multiple planes of movement – including lateral movements. Incorporating these movements will be much more valuable to a runner than throwing around a heavy barbell – not to mention much easier to include in a marathon or half marathon training schedule.
When you run, you are moving primarily through the sagittal plane of movement – forward. The other planes of motion – frontal (where lateral movements occur) and transverse – are often neglected in runners. Neglecting those planes of motion can lead to muscular imbalances, which in turn can lead to inefficient running or injury.
Lateral strength exercises are essential for trail runners and hikers in particular. You move laterally as well as forward during these activities, as you weave through the trails and dodge rocks and roots. Performing lateral strength exercises will not only reduce your risk of injury but also improve your efficiency and speed at trail running and hiking.
4 Lateral Strength Exercises for Runners
Ideally, you want to aim for 2-3 sets of 10-15 repetitions of each of these exercises. Start with once per week and work up to 2-3 times per week. You can add these exercises to your strength training routine or sneak them in after an easy run. You don’t have to include all of these exercises – pick one or two to add to your routine and be prepared to see your running improve!
Lateral Band Walks
Loop a resistance band around your calves and stand up straight with your feet together. Step directly out to the side with your right foot – far enough to create tension in the band – and then slowly step your left foot in toward your right foot. That’s one rep – repeat all reps on one side and then repeat with the other foot. Trust me – you will feel this exercise the next day!
Side-Lying Leg Lifts
This deceptively simple move is a staple in Pilates workouts and is possibly one of the best exercises runners can do. Why? Side-lying leg lifts improve your hip mobility and strengthen the muscles along your hips, core, and glutes. Arguably, this simple exercise is one of the best exercises you can do to prevent injury.
Lie on your right side with your legs in line with your body and your shoulders, knees, and feet stacked. You can prop your head up in your right hand or rest it down on your right arm. Slowly raise your left leg up, pause, and then slowly lower down. Don’t let your torso or hips sway. Keep your abs engaged and your feet flexed to get the most out of this exercise.
3 Way Lunges
You can do these with your own body weight or dumbbells in each hand. Begin by standing upright with arms by your sides and feet hip width apart. Step your right leg forward into a lunge, then return to start; step your right leg laterally out to the side into a lunge, then return to start; finally step your right leg back behind you into a lunge, and return to start. Perform all reps on one side and then repeat with your left leg leading. Be sure to keep your leading knee bent at a 90 degree angle in each lunge and don’t slouch your shoulders or bend at your waist.
Lateral Step Ups
Stand next to a step or exercise bench so that your right side is closest to the bench. Step up onto the bench with your right foot and engage your core and glutes to step all the way up, raising your left leg to 90 degrees. Slowly lower back down. Do all desired repetitions on one side and then repeat on your other side. You can do this with your own body weight or hold a dumbbell in each hand.
Do you include lateral exercises in your strength training?
What’s your workout today?