What Are Split Squats? - NANBF

What Are Split Squats?

A compound leg exercise, split squats work several muscles of your lower body. These include your hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes, and quadriceps. If you’re using the right form, this type of exercise can both increase your leg strength and enhance your overall flexibility.

They’re performed by simply placing one leg in front of the other and lowering your body, and they’re not only beneficial in their own right; they also help you build up to the more complicated kinds of squats, such as back squats or single-leg squats. 

The following article will tell you all you need to know about split squats, including how to do the exercise with perfect form, all of the muscles worked by split squats, and variations of and alternatives to the split squat. 

How To Do Split Squats

How To Do The Perfect Split Squat 

When adding split squats to your routine, you’re going to want to aim for between two to three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions with each leg. The key is to maintain good technique throughout every repetition. This can be achieved via several specific steps. 

  • First, stand in a split stance. Your front heel should be two to four feet in front of your back foot. Raise your back heel in order to maintain weight evenly in your toes. Weight should be distributed evenly along your entire front foot, and you should be gripping the floor with this foot. 
  • Next, square your hips. Your torso should be completely upright, with your feet a shoulder’s width apart. When you bend your knees, your shoulders should be either above your hips or just ahead of them, with your head and neck in a neutral position. Keep your chin tucked throughout the squat. 
  • The next step is to put your hands on your hips (or, if you’re using dumbbells, hold them by your sides).
  • At this stage you should engage your core. 
  • Bend at the hip, knee, and the ankle of your front leg, allowing the back of your knee to bend towards the floor. 
  • Keep lowering your body until your front leg is parallel with the floor, with your back knee one to two inches above the floor, underneath your back hip. 
  • Once you get as low as you can go, keep this position for a couple of seconds. 
  • The first step to raise yourself back up is to push your front foot against the ground. 
  • As you stand up, your chest should be high and you should be squeezing your front glute. Let your front knee straighten and your hip travel forwards. 
  • By now you’ll be completing the movement. The last step is to squeeze your quadriceps, keeping your spine neutral and your knee slightly bent. 
  • You should finish the split squat with your shoulders just above your hips.

Benefits Of Split Squats 

There are three main benefits to performing split squats. 

Addresses Muscular And Movement Asymmetries 

When athletes and powerlifters adopt a dominant leg, be it intentionally or unintentionally, this can lead to movement compensation patterns, imbalances in the muscles, and overuse injuries.

Because split squats will have you focusing on one leg at a time, you’re building up the muscles of both legs equally. Muscular compensations can lead to injuries, and split squats are a good way to avoid these. 

Applications To Sport Or Human Movement 

Split squats focusing on both of your legs also contributes to an enhanced ability to move. Your joints will naturally be more effective if you’re using them more often, so regularly flexing both knees will improve your ability to run, jump, and do all kinds of squats. 

Unilateral Strength And Hypertrophy  

Unilateral exercises like split squats increase muscle growth and increase bilateral strength and performance. You’re improving your muscle activation, which is extremely beneficial.  

Muscles Worked By Split Squats 

The main muscle groups worked by split squats include the gluteals, the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the core. 

Gluteals 

Your glutes are the muscles that are responsible for both hip extension and for stabilizing your pelvis while you’re in the split position. You can manipulate the depth of your split position in order to further isolate your glutes, as well as your hamstrings.

Quadriceps 

Your quadricep muscles are responsible for extending your knees, and therefore responsible for the actual squat. Bringing your feet closer together will increase knee flexion- just be careful not to keep them too close together. 

Hamstrings 

Your hamstrings provide stability, balance, and strength while you’re lowering yourself into the split position. This increases both the strength and the size of your hamstrings, and also enhances your ability to run and jump. 

Core

The final primary muscles worked by doing split squats are your core muscles, including your rectus abdominis and your obliques. Stabilizing your core helps to support a rigid torso and to help your hips function properly.

The core also helps to resist rotational forces that can be caused by a lack of stability or balance. 

Variations Of The Split Squat

There are three common variations of the split squat. Athletes and lifters will often use these in order to keep their training progressive and varied.

The Bulgarian Split Squat

This variation of the split squat increases the range of motion in the exercise. When doing a Bulgarian split squat, you’re elevating your back leg on a bumper plate, a training bench, or a plyo box.

They are referred to as Bulgarian split squats because they originated as part of the training methods of the Bulgarian Weightlifting System.

The Front Rack Split Squat 

The front rack split squat involves you holding weight in front of you while you execute the squat. You can use either a Zercher position or a goblet position for front rack split squats. This variation helps to reinforce a vertical torso, as well as engage your quadriceps, your anterior core, and your upper back. 

TRX Or Suspension Split Squat 

This variation is a squat done with TRX straps or gymnastic rings. They involve you placing your back foot onto a stirrup or a loop, in much the same way as in the Bulgarian split squat. The use of suspension systems will increase the need for unilateral coordination and stability. 

Alternatives To The Split Squat

There are three main alternatives to the split squat. Much like split squats, these exercises will increase your strength and your muscle hypertrophy. 

Step-Ups

Step-ups increase your quadricep muscles, as well as the overall development of your legs. They can also help to even out strength imbalances and improve stabilization. 

Walking Lunges

Walking lunges are a more dynamic variation of the stationary split squat and the stationary lunge. They increase coordination and balance, and the movements involved apply directly to athletics. 

Front Foot Elevated Reverse Lunges

Targeting similar movements and muscles as the split squat, the front foot elevated reverse lunge has the additional benefit of more dynamic movement and increased knee flexion. The ladder can help with quadricep development. 

Conclusion: What Are Split Squats?

Split squats are a beneficial exercise for many reasons. They address muscular and movement asymmetries, apply to sport movements as well as routine human movements, and they enhance unilateral strength.

But all the exercises we listed have their own benefits, and executing a mixture of them will add necessary variety to your training program.

Kevin Harris
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