How to Master the Split Squat: From the Ground Up

The Split Squat is an exercise that every basic gym goer is familiar with.  The ability to do the Split Squat is a different story and performing it correctly is harder than it looks.

Not only is there the challenge of one leg taking the majority of the weight upon itself, but also a balance and stability issue as well.  Because of this I have started to train my clients from the ground up, backwards style.

I find that this helps them feel more stable and builds strength in the weakest part of the exercise. They imagesalso are able to target and feel it, where I want them to feel it, in the front heel.  Compared to feeling and focusing on the stretch or stabilizing of the back leg.

Once a split squat can be confidently and correctly performed, you have a plethora of exercises and new ways to increase your training, add variety, balance out weakness between legs and use as assistance work for bigger lifts.

So on to the progressions….

Split Squat from floor

From the floor you will get yourself set up with the front shin fairly vertical.  This prevents the knee from protruding forward over the toes.  You are resting on the back knee, and are on your back toes.  Keep your torso up vertical, while keeping your shoulders back.  Lean slightly from the hip keeping the torso in a straight line.  Transfer the majority of your weight into your front heel and push through it like you are trashing to smash it through the floor raising yourself up into a standing lunge position.  Slowly bring yourself back down to the floor and repeat again from a dead stop.  Make sure you keep the knee in alignment over the second toe, not allowing it to internally/externally rotate in/out.

Standing Split Squat

Graduating up to beginning from the standing position… Stand with legs in a split stance.  I use a cue of “pretend your in a box, you want this  box to be big enough to move without making you crunch up like an accordian.  Drop your body vertically down towards the floor, as your front  and back legs make 90 degree angles at the knees.  Go down as far as comfortable, or your front thigh is parallel to the floor.  Focus on pushing up through the front heel again as described above, back into a standing position.

Foot-Elevated Split Squat

For the elevated split squat the back foot is going to be elevated on a bench, racked bar, training buddy (haha) whatever is available and sturdy.  Everything stays the same, no sense repeating, if you have made it this far you should have the form down by now.  More weight will be put on the front leg, isolating it out even more than the previous exercises.

Suspended Split Squat

The suspended split squat can be done on the TRX Suspension System or similar products.  Place your foot in both handles and move yourself out far enough to drop into the lunge smoothly.  This will challenge the stability of the knee even further, so awareness of not allowing the knee to rotate in or out it is very important.

There are various ways to progress each one of these patterns so rushing to the the TRX progression is not needed or the peak of the mountain.  I would recommend using a version of each one somewhere in your training no matter how far you are.

For more information and similar articles on the split squat and progressions, check out…One Leg Exercise For Strength and Mass Part 1 and Part 2.


About The Author

Kevin Fulton

Kevin Fulton is personal trainer in Pittsburgh, PA. His goal is to help his clients look, feel, and move better. In his spare time you can find him under a barbell or practicing jiu jitsu.

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