split squat image

The Split Squat

The Back Squat is labelled as the king of lower body exercises for good reason, when applied correctly it is unrivalled at producing size and strength of the lower body. Despite all this, it’s not for everyone. Why?

Well a lot of us simply do not have the ability to squat properly. This may be due to a lack of mobility, pain caused when squatting or issues from past injuries. You might be sitting there thinking “I have back pain” or “My hips hurt when I squat” if this is you then you need an alternative to effectively work your lower body….

… enter the Split Squat!

So how do you perform the split squat?

Key Points

Here are a few of the key teaching points you must understand when performing the split squat.

  • Front foot is elevated
  • Feet are hip width apart, imagine your feet are on train tracks
  • Front foot is flat against a step
  • Stand on the ball of your foot on your back foot. Heel off the floor.
  • Imagine that you are pulling yourself down to the floor with your front foot
  • Knee travels over the toes until hamstring and calf touches

Why is the split squat so good?

  1. The split squat allows us to train each leg independently, which is ideal if you have one leg stronger than the other, so that you alleviate any strength discrepancies you may have. We also get an active stretch of the hip flexor of the trailing leg, meaning you will get better range in your hips over time.
  2. Ironing out any imbalances that you have means that you will be less likely to get injured later on.
  3. You can adjust the height of the step to suit your current level of flexibility, meaning that even Mr Tighty McTighterson has a starting point for this exercise.
  4. You can easily adjust the step as you improve and get better range, meaning that it is a very easy exercise to progress and make more challenging.
  5. It is tough! The demand of this exercise is huge if loaded correctly, meaning that it can be effectively programmed into either a fat loss, muscle gain or strength program.

Common Mistakes and how to solve them

Problem: Excessive arching of the lower back. Normally this is to compensate for a lack of mobility in the hip joint or flexibility of the hip flexors (or both). It is easily corrected by adjusting the height of the step.

Solution: Try putting the step up a couple of notches, or until you can perform a rep without arching back too much.

Problem: The heel of the front foot lifts off. This normally occurs due to a lack of strength of the posterior chain, coming onto your toes could be a sign that you are too reliant on your quads/lack strength in the posterior chain.

Solution: Try pushing through your heel a little more. On the way down try to actively pull yourself toward the step through your heel, before driving through the heel on the way up.

Problem: Rounding of the shoulders. This could be down to poor postural strength but is more likely down to a technique issue.

Solution: Imagine that you have a pen between your shoulder blades and you are trying to keep them tight so that the pen doesn’t fall to the ground.

Advanced Methods

Barbell Split Squat

With this method we swap DBs for a Barbell. This means the exercise is less grip intensive, but means that we have to be spot on with our posture, keeping our shoulders back and chest up at all times. It’s also great for getting used to have a heavy bar on the top of your back, meaning we’ll be ready for the day we can add full Back Squats back into our routine.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

The added depth of the rear foot elevated split squat means that there is a great emphasis on the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings).

Example Split Squat routine

Weeks 1-3
Front Foot Elevated DB Split Squats 3 x 15-20 reps

Weeks 4-6
Front Foot Elevated BB Split Squats 4 x 10-12 reps

Weeks 7-9
Rear Foot Elevated DB Split Squats 4 x 6-8 reps

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