split stance, split squats, progressions


Everyday we are in a split stance at some point. For most people it’s just walking around, or they go for a run. That alone should tell you that we need to incorporate split stance squats into your routine. Split stance squats are more functional, meaning it will carry over to real world activities, in comparison to your traditional back squats. Your split stance strength is able to carry over to your barbell squats.. This is because a single leg stance requires much more stability in the pelvis and core to prevent unwanted movement. Back squats tend to put more stress on the lumbar spine and by doing more split stance work you can reduce this stress. You are able to get incredibly strong with your split stance movements and gain a good amount of muscles with less stress on the lumbar spine. After spending time with split squat exercises, when you go back to your barbell squats, you will feel more stable, stronger, and potentially better squat form. 


    First thing you need to do is get in ½ kneeling position with your front leg creating a 90 degree angle or slightly more. What you don’t want is your foot being too close to you or too far. You will want to brace your core and keep a neutral spine, to engage the butt more, slightly lean forward from the hip. Similar to a hip hinge, you want the bend at the hip, not the spine. For the assistance, you can use suspension trainers to help yourself up, or have a barbell locked into place. Starting the ascend, you will push your front foot into the ground, more specifically, the heel. Lifting your heels off the ground can put unwanted pressure into the knee. So press through your heel, and use your arms to help pull yourself into the top position. The front leg should be fully extended while your back leg has a slight bend. As you descend back into the original position, you want to go down with control so you don’t bang your knee on the floor. You can come to a full stop at the bottom until you get stronger, and then work on just tapping the floor with the knee with each rep. Slowly use the assistance less and less till you can comfortably move to bodyweight. 


    The next progression for your split squat is to change your center of mass, and you can do this by grabbing a small weight. With this weight, nothing greater than 10 lbs you are going to hold the weight straight out in front of you with both arms. This will help with your balance and make it easier to focus on the front leg. You can progress by slowly moving the weight closer and closer to your chest. When you are able to keep your balance and good form with the weight inches from your chest, you can move forward with the next progression. 


    You are probably thinking, what is contralateral? It’s actually really simple, it means opposite of the body, so for a split squat exercise, the weight is being held with the opposite side of the working leg. For example, if you are doing split squats and the right leg is in the front doing the work, you will hold the weight with your left arm down by your side. This will continue to challenge your legs, but also your core, shoulder stability, and hand grip. You can progress with this exercise by loading weight, when you can no longer add weight because your grip gives out, you can progress by a weight in each hand down by your side. 


    This next step will be more challenging for the front leg, before you could split the weight distribution between legs. With the rear foot elevated, the front leg is now doing all the work while the back leg is there for support. Personally, this is my favorite variation, I feel my strongest with this one. For this exercise you can find a box or a bench that you can put your back foot on, or if your gym has one, an actual stand for this exercise, it has foam rollers and adjustable heights. You want to be 3 steps away from the support and with a slight lean forward from the hip you will lower yourself as far down you can while keeping a neutral spine. Depending on what you use, you might not be able to go down to the ground, that’s okay. Like the previous steps, keep the front foot flat and push through the heel back to that starting position. You can load this exercise in many ways: dumbbells/kettlebells in each hand, barbell, squat safety bar, goblet style contralateral. Many ways to load it, just depends on your goals, training history, and what you prefer. You can get really strong with this exercise, but once you feel really stable and strong you can try the next step. 


Alright now that you have built some strength and stability, we make the split squat more dynamic. This next progression we are starting in a standing position, then we will take a step back and you will lunge down and come back to your starting position. The lunge down will be very similar to the split squat, the difference is now you are stepping back and coming back to a standing position. Start with bodyweight only and see how that feels, if it feels and looks good, move forward with weights down by your side. If your bodyweight reverse lunge feels wobbly, try the small weight with the reach like you did in step 2 and progress from there. 


    I won’t lie, these are my least favorite variations, whether I do them with bodyweight or weights, these burn, specifically the walking lunges. These are the last of the progressions for your split stance squats. These are challenging because the forward motion forces you to decelerate your body, this puts a lot of force into the joints and muscles. If you lack the necessary strength, stability, and mobility, the knee will usually feel it and not in a good way. 

    With the forward lunge, you will start with a standing position like with the reverse lunge. This time, you will step forward and lunge down. Common mistakes with this variation is the foot position of the front leg, people will stay on the balls of the feet and toes, which will put most of the stress into the knee joint, you don’t want that. When you take that step forward, be sure the foot is flat and lowering your body with the weight in your heel. Same thing when you come back to the standing position, push your weight into your heel and step back to the standing position. 

    Walking lunges are the progression from forward lunges, and they are very similar. The difference is obvious, you are doing forward lunges but instead of coming back to the standing position, you’re moving forward with another lunge with the opposite leg. The form should be the same, and watch out for weight being on the forefoot, keep it flat and push with the heel. Both exercises are best loaded with a weight in each hand. 

    There you go, a progression from assisted split squats all the way to walking lunges. Incorporate these into your training, and as you progress, watch how much more stable you feel, leg growth, and overall strength. If you are not sure how to put this into your program, or you don’t have a program that you are following, check these options for training here. 

Quick video showing the progressions of the split squat.

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