One Dirty Magazine

3-Minute Mountain Legs

A quick routine to strengthen your legs for climbing and descending.

David Roche January 14th, 2019

3-Minute Mountain Legs

Strength work is like flossing. We know we should do it, but … let’s be real. Most of us floss or do strength for a few weeks before letting it fall by the wayside.

If you have a good strength routine that you do without fail, stop reading now. Detailed routines designed by physical therapists or strength coaches are the best options.

The coolest thing about this simple routine is that you can do it for years without worrying much about changing approaches.

But what I see in coaching is that lots of athletes are like me, with a switch that flips from “RAWR I WORK HARD” to “Exceedingly lazy unless we’re talking about potato-chip testing” as soon as the daily run ends.

So over the last few years, my co-coach Megan (a doctor and the brains of the operation) and I designed a quick routine that we found athletes can do almost anytime. It started at five minutes, but was shortened even more when we saw some athletes not completing it consistently, plus we decided that a couple of the exercises were physiologically redundant.

What we are left with is the 3-Minute Mountain Legs routine. Pros like Jason Schlarb use this quick routine to build strength for climbing and descending, along with most of the other athletes we coach, including road racers. We recommend athletes do it three to four times per week after runs, aiming to concentrate the stimulus on days when they are doing harder training. There are just two exercises.

Single-Leg Rear Lunge (20 to 50 on each leg)

The single-leg rear lunge targets the glutes and quads, two of the main power-centers for running. We have found rear lunges are more protective of the patellar tendon, avoiding runner’s knee and more serious conditions.

Rear lunges also involve eccentric contractions, with the muscle engaged with a straight leg, then lengthening under load. That’s similar to running steep downhills, and some of our athletes attest to far less post-activity soreness when they do rear lunges consistently.

Warning: you may get exceedingly sore from these at first, especially in the glutes and upper hamstrings. Start with just 5 to 10, increasing up to 50 for advanced athletes over time. Personally, I settle in at 20 to 30.

Single-Leg Step-Ups (30 to 100 on each leg)

To understand why single-leg step-ups work, it might be most helpful just to do a set, preferably after having run up a steep hill. After 20, you’ll probably notice a feeling that is very similar to what you just felt on the hill. They engage the quadriceps muscles with similar biomechanical patterns as uphill running, and doing one leg at a time doesn’t let the muscles relax between work bouts, giving it a boost that some athletes attest helps them climb stronger.

Unlike rear lunges, step-ups are mostly concentric motion, much like uphill running (though there may be a minor eccentric stress during the downward movement). Some athletes on the team have excelled on doing up to 100, but I personally cannot do 100 consistently without having my heart fill with dread and sadness for the pain that awaits. For me, 50 is ideal, and that’s generally what we recommend to athletes.

Do them up two steps, or other surface of similar height, to maximize power demand without reducing the angle formed by your shin, knee and femur below 90 degrees, which could increase knee-injury risk.

For both exercises, just use your arm to stabilize, not letting it support weight, and aiming not to use it at all to work on balance and stabilization. Avoid bouncing in the motion, trying to stay controlled, while still moving somewhat rapidly through each repetition. And remember: the goal isn’t to get good at doing strength work, it’s to get better at running. The coolest thing about this simple routine is that you can do it for years without worrying much about changing approaches.

Combine this routine with mobility work (like Coach Jay Johnson’s myrtl routine) and stretching/massage that you find works for you, and you can transform yourself into a injury-proof super runner. You may even find the resolve to start flossing.

I promise, 3-Minute Mountain Legs will never be easy to finish. But its simplicity will make it easy to start, and that’s the most important thing.

—David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. His book, The Happy Runner, is about moving toward unconditional self-acceptance in a running life, and it’s available now at Amazon.

 

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Matthew
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Matthew

The old routine included forward lunges. Any reason why that piece has been taken out?

David Roche
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David Roche

Great question Matthew! In some people, we found them a bit more risky for knee and hip issues (some of the research backs it up, but it’s mixed). THANK YOU!

guy
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Things the editor should have told you: I know you love your dogs but we need you to put them away while filming. When doing he exercises, we need actually count.

Things you should tell the editor: Just because people can’t stick with a program doesn’t always mean it needs to be made shorter.

David Roche
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David Roche

Thanks for your input Guy! The editors of Trail Runner are amazing, so deficiencies in my work are on me. Really wishing you the best with everything!

Mark Carey
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Mark Carey

I tried this today after my run. While I was a bit skeptical that such a short time would result in soreness, but …. WOW. And I only did 10 lunges and 15 step-ups on each leg! Definitely gonna try to make this a post-run routine. Thanks!

Ric M
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Ric M

Since you mentioned it might even motivate me to floss regularly, I’ve just GOT to try this routine now. 🙂

Larry Lutzak
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Larry Lutzak

Great video on illustrations! The dogs almost stole the video lol!! Seriously, thanks for this singular workout. While I occasionally run trail, I am mostly a street runner/racer. However we have a very hilly park here in Queens, NY (Alley Pond Park) and this exercise routine looks like a great way to strengthen the gluten and quads. We also do an annual 50 mile relay race here on Long Island (Ocean to Sound) at the end of September so that would help tremendously.

Michael
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Michael

One of the best exercises for runners is a combo of rear lunge to a step up to a high knee.

Alberto
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Alberto

I loved the dogs. They weren’t a nuisance at all! Very handy tip. I’m going to introduce in my routine. Congrats.

Richard C
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Richard C

Thank you David for this 🙂 Can you elaborate on specific ways to do the rear lunge and one legged step up? It’s easy to cheat with both these exercises and quality is always better than quantity right?

Curt
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Curt

David! Great routine. And thanks for being such a positive presence in the running community. Just let me know when 2-minute mountain legs is ready!

Kim
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Kim

I live in KS where it is flat and have a run scheduled in Oregon with 3,000+ elevation. Thank you for the tips, I am for sure going to add this to my routine!! Loved the dogs!! So cute!!

Graham King
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Graham King

Hi David,

First, thanks for training us all!

Do you still recommend lunges in the 5 min warmup? https://trailrunnermag.com/training/trail-tips/5-minute-running-warm-up.html

Or do we do just leg swings to warm up, and this routine afterwards?

Thanks again!

Candy
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Candy

I love the dogs! Mine are my favorite running partners.

RBQ
Guest
RBQ

LOL! I had already reduced David’s 5 min leg workout to these 2 exercises last year to suit my schedule – maybe I should charge David some royalty (oh wait, US went to a first-to-file system for IP) 😉 Both the 5 min workout and this shorter version really do work and I daresay, work better than a lot of more complicated gym strengthening routines. I am amazed at the change I feel while running uphill. And best of all, these workouts are so short that I don’t need to plan or think about when I have the time to… Read more »

Sundari
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Sundari

Thanks so much for the article — and video — David! It’s so helpful to have the visual. AddieDog was great (if I had done the video, there would be two-year-old and it would be much worse!).

Clare
Guest
Clare

Amazing — super informative and good update to the previous video from a few years back. Less seems to really be more when you know you’ll actually do the routine! Also, the dogs were fantastic additions.

Bryan
Guest
Bryan

Thanks for the great workout routines. Being a flatlander from FL this is what I needed as doing incline on the treadmill to prepare for races with elevation gets old real fast.
And the dogs were great…

Katie
Guest

Thanks for the great advice/accessory exercise to add to running!

 

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