Split squats (sometimes called single leg squats by commercial gym-goers) are an excellent example of why not all accessories have to be isolation movements. That’s why coaches love ‘em, and powerlifters love to hate ‘em.
The basic, vanilla split squat already has tons of benefits, but the list gets even longer when we start adding variations. And just like other favorites like dumbbell rows, there are lots of variations to review.
So we’ve broken down everything you need to know about split squats for powerlifting in one, handy article so you can get the most out of this awesome accessory movement.
Performing a split squat is relatively simple. The easiest way to do them is get into a lunge-like position and squat down without allowing your knee to touch the ground. Unlike lunging where you have to motion back and forth, you stay stationary and simply squat down with one leg.
There are two ways to emphasize more quads or glutes during a split squat. This involves manipulating your front foot to be closer to you which allows for more forward knee travel and therefore more quad involvement.
Inversely, by having your front foot farther away from you you decrease the forward knee travel and add more emphasis to the glutes as they drive hip extension on the way up. Granted this doesn't mean that you are taking the quads or glutes out either variation but can help place more emphasis on either one by manipulating the front foot.
The most common way athletes perform this is by resting their rear foot on a bench to keep it elevated which creates a rear foot elevated split squat. While this does work the bench height is fixed and may be less than optimal for the taller or shorter lifter.
The most ideal way to ensure every lifter can do an appropriate split squat is to have a split squat roller, whether that be a rack attachment or a standalone roller both would work. If your gym does not have either one try elevating the bench (if you are taller) or elevating your front foot (if you are shorter) to create the necessary range of motion.
This will help put most of the focus on the leg that is pushing up, allowing your legs to really get the most of it!
Now the opposite of the rear foot elevated split squat is the front foot elevated split squat. As the name states in this variation you would rest your front foot on a slight elevation to increase the range of motion in the front foot creating . You could also load this variation through the SSB or holding dumbbells.
The most common variation I see is the Bulgarian Split Squat. Getting into a rear foot elevated lunge position, hold a dumbbell in the opposite hand and simply squat down.
You could also do an SSB (Safety Squat Bar) split squat . Same idea, elevated your rear leg and squat down into the position. Although the nature of the SSB will position the weight slightly in front of you making it a harder movement it is less balance demanding than a Bulagarian split squat.
I would recommend athletes who struggle with balance to do an SSB split squat if possible but to those athletes who have good balance but are newer to training to do the inverse.
Often, lifters and athletes have a dominant leg, which can lead to overuse injury on the dominant limb. By focusing on one leg at a time, split squats help you correct this imbalance and improve stability.
For athletes who struggle with proper bracing in Squat or Deadlift, the split squat gives them more sets of bracing work in similar positions. That’s especially true for SSB or other loaded variations.
Most of us sit all day, which gives us very tight hips, weak glutes, shortened hip flexors, and chronic lower back pain. Luckily, split squats are the single best exercise for hip mobility.
By simultaneously working the glute and hamstring of the front leg, plus the hip flexor of the rear leg, split squats put you at the intersection of stretching and weight training. Stretching under active loading can be an absolute godsend when it comes to seeing real changes.
Split squats are best incorporated as secondary or tertiary movements in your training sessions. Since split squats have no back loading, we can overload this movement much more during a given training block with both volume and intensity.
Simply put, the split squat is a great training tool to start incorporating and progressing to really help improve your leg size and strength to help you get that bigger squat and dead you want!
Overall, the split squat and its many variations can be incorporated throughout all your training blocks to really help improve your entire leg strength.
It's one thing to read it; it's another to do it. And when you're training without a coach, you need to make sure you know what you're doing.