Split Squat 101: How To, Common Mistakes, Benefits, and More

Split Squat Guide - SharpMuscle
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Split squats are sure to deliver ample benefits to your lower body including the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and even the calves. A leg day or lower body workout routine can benefit from them. You can perform them at the beginning of your lower body workout to maximize their effectiveness.

Information

Primary Muscle Worked:Quadriceps (Front Thigh Muscles), Gluteus Maximus (Buttocks)
Secondary Muscle Worked:Hamstrings (Back Thigh Muscles), Hip Flexors (Iliopsoas), Adductors (Inner Thigh Muscles), Erector Spinae (Lower Back Muscles), Abdominals (Core Muscles)
Type:Compound Exercise
Difficulty Level:Bginner to advanced
Equipment Needed:No equipment (bodyweight), Dummbell, or barbell

What is Split Squat?

Split Squat Guide - SharpMuscle

Split squats are a compound leg exercise that works a variety of lower-body muscle groups. It efficiently targets the hip flexors, hamstrings, quadriceps, and glutes when performed correctly. This squat exercise is great to build up leg strength, balance, and flexibility while also utilizing numerous lower body muscles. They involve a stationary lunge-like position where one foot is in front of the other, and you lower your body down and then back up.

Split Squats Practice Guide

A split squats workout guide emphasizes key aspects for performing this lower body exercise safely and effectively. To maximize the advantages of the exercise while limiting potential of injury, maintain proper form throughout the workout.

When executing split squats, maintaining your balance and keeping stable is very crucial. A complete range of motion with control is required to ensure proper depth without sacrificing form. Stress the importance of correct foot placement, aligning the front knee with the ankle while ensuring the back knee hovers slightly above the ground or lightly touches it. Make sure the knees and hips are aligned properly to avoid putting too much stress on the joints.

Make it clear-cut that split squats engage key muscle groups, considering the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, hip flexors, and core. Emphasize the concept of progressive overload, urging individuals to gradually increase resistance or difficulty as they become more proficient.

Make a plan that includes stretching and moving your body to get ready for split squats. Stretching and mobility exercises should be performed after a workout to improve flexibility and minimize muscular tightness. Introduce different split squat variations, such as Bulgarian split squats or deficit split squats, to challenge yourself further. Stay away from common makes mistakes, such as maintaining proper posture and avoiding excessive forward leaning, and follow instructions on how to correct them.

Tailor the frequency of split squats to your goals and fitness levels, ensuring adequate rest and recovery between sessions. In the end, note your number of repetitions, sets, and weight lifted to assess your progress over time.

Step-by-step instruction

Setup

  1. Foot Position: Begin by positioning your feet in a split stance, with one foot in front of the other. To determine your starting stride length, aim to have the front knee at approximately 90 degrees of flexion. This initial position is a solid reference point, but remember that you can later adjust your stride length based on your comfort and specific training objectives.
  2. Stride Length Adjustment: As you become more familiar with split squats and your fitness goals evolve, feel free to fine-tune your stride length to suit your needs and preferences. This flexibility in stride length allows you to tailor the exercise to your individual requirements.

Movements

  1. Descending Phase: After establishing your stance, begin the descent phase by lowering your body gradually. Initiate the movement by bending both knees simultaneously. As you descend, ensure that the back knee either lightly touches the ground or hovers just above it. This ensures that you’re achieving the full range of motion required for the exercise.
  2. Weight Distribution: Maintain a balanced weight distribution between your front and back legs, typically aiming for a 60/40 split. Many individuals tend to neglect the back leg during this exercise, but it’s important to keep some pressure on it as you lengthen the quadriceps (specifically the rectus femoris muscle) to reap the benefits of a lengthened quad.
  3. Hips Motion: When performing traditional split squats, focus on distributing your weight evenly across your front foot and imagine a smooth, elevator-like motion with your hips. This cue helps ensure that your hips move in a vertical trajectory as you perform the exercise.
  4. Elevator Hips Cue: To reinforce the proper movement pattern, think of the cue “Elevator Hips.” This cue serves as a helpful reminder that your goal is to have your hips move up and down in a controlled manner during the split squat. At the top of the movement, squeeze your legs and glutes to maximize the contraction, then repeat these steps for each subsequent repetition.
Pro-tip:
While there are various ways to sequence the split squat, especially when targeting specific muscle groups, for standard repetitions and sets with general fitness goals, it is advisable to use the “Elevator Hips” cue. This cue helps maintain a consistent and effective movement pattern throughout the exercise, ensuring that you engage the right muscles and maintain proper form for optimal results.

Common Mistakes

Common mistakes in the split squat can lead to poor form, reduced effectiveness, and even potential injury. So, avoid following common mistakes, start with a focus on proper form, gradually increase the intensity, and pay attention to cues like the “Elevator Hips”.

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1. Incomplete Range of Motion (ROM)

Some individuals may not descend low enough during the split squat, preventing their back knee from reaching the ground or hovering just above it.

Incomplete ROM limits the engagement of the quadriceps and glutes, reducing the exercise’s effectiveness. It can also lead to muscle imbalances and limit mobility gains.

2. Front Knee Overextension

Allowing the front knee to extend beyond the toes during the descent. This places excessive stress on the knee joint, potentially leading to discomfort or injury. It also shifts the weight distribution forward, diminishing the effectiveness of the exercise on the intended muscle groups.

3. Excessive Forward Lean

Leaning too far forward during the split squat, tilting the upper body excessively. Excessive forward lean shifts the focus away from the quadriceps and glutes and places more strain on the lower back. It can also compromise balance, making it difficult to maintain proper form.

4. Inconsistent Weight Distribution

Failing to maintain the recommended 60/40 weight distribution between the front and back legs. An uneven weight distribution can result in an imbalanced workout, causing some muscles to work harder than others. This can lead to muscle imbalances and potentially hinder progress.

5. Neglecting the Back Leg

Not actively engaging the back leg during the split squat. Neglecting the back leg reduces the effectiveness of the exercise and may prevent you from fully engaging the rectus femoris (quadriceps) of that leg. This can lead to asymmetrical muscle development.

6. Rushing the Movement

Performing split squats too quickly without proper control. Rushing through the exercise reduces time under tension and decreases muscle engagement. It also increases the risk of losing balance and potentially falling.

7. Lack of Hip Control

Allowing the hips to sway or tilt during the movement. Poor hip control can result in an unstable movement pattern, increasing the risk of injury and reducing the effectiveness of the exercise. It also shifts the emphasis away from the targeted muscle groups.

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8. Inadequate Core Engagement

Failing to engage the core muscles to stabilize the torso. Without proper core engagement, stability is compromised, and the risk of injury to the lower back increases. A strong core is essential for maintaining proper form during split squats.

9. Using Excessive Weight Too Soon

Attempting to lift heavy weights without mastering the proper form. Using excessive weight before mastering the technique can increase the risk of injury and make it difficult to maintain proper form. It’s important to prioritize form and gradually increase weight over time.

Incorporating Split Squat

Incorporating split squats into your workout routine, the key to a well-rounded workout routine is balance and variety, can be highly beneficial for building lower body strength, improving balance, and enhancing mobility. The timing and frequency of including split squats in your routine depend on your goals and the structure of your workout plan.

How to and when to incorporate

Here are the explanation to how to and when:

Leg Day or Lower Body Workout

Split squats are a valuable addition to your leg day or lower body workout. You can include them as one of the primary exercises in your routine.

Start your lower body workout with this squat when your energy levels are high. They engage multiple muscle groups and are effective for building leg strength. You can use various equipment such as dumbbells, barbells, or a Smith machine to add resistance.

Strength and Muscle Building

If your primary goal is to build strength and muscle in your lower body, split squats should be a consistent part of your routine.

Use heavier weights and lower repetitions (e.g., 3–5 sets of 6–10 reps) to promote muscle growth. Progressive overload is key; gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable with the exercise.

Functional Fitness and Balance

Consider incorporating this squat when you want to improve functional fitness, stability, and balance. You can include split squats in a functional fitness workout that simulates everyday movements. Focus on control and balance rather than heavy weights. Perform them with proper form and stability to challenge your core and improve balance.

As an Assistance Exercise

After your primary compound lifts (e.g., squats or deadlifts), you can use split squats as an assistance exercise. Use them to target specific muscle groups or address muscle imbalances. For example, if you feel your quadriceps need extra work, incorporate split squats into your routine to isolate and strengthen them.

Active Recovery or Mobility Work

On active recovery days or during mobility-focused workouts, you can include this squat. Perform bodyweight split squats or use light resistance to enhance hip flexibility and mobility. Focus on controlled movements and deep stretches to improve your range of motion.

Variation and Periodization

To keep your workouts fresh and avoid plateaus, consider rotating exercises. Alternate between split squats and other lower body exercises like lunges, step-ups, or Bulgarian split squats. This variation can challenge your muscles differently and keep your workouts interesting.

Specific Training Goals

If you have specific goals like improving sprinting speed, jumping ability, or single-leg strength, incorporate this squat more frequently. Customize your split squat workouts to align with your goals. For example, you can perform explosive split squats to enhance power or focus on slow and controlled reps for muscle endurance.

Individual Preferences

Your personal preferences and enjoyment matter in your workout routine. If you find this squat enjoyable and effective, don’t hesitate to include them more often. Enjoyment can motivate consistency in your workouts.

Recovery and Avoiding Overuse

Ensure proper recovery time between split squat workouts. Listen to your body, especially if you’re using heavy weights or experiencing any discomfort. Overuse can lead to injury or burnout. Alternate this squat workouts with other exercises and focus on recovery strategies like stretching and foam rolling.

What are the benefits of Split Squats?

Split squats provide an extensive variety of blessings for individuals, whether or not you are a newbie or a skilled lifter, they may be tailored to fit your precise wishes and health goals.

  • Leg Strength and Power: Split squats are an efficient exercise for building up the legs, primarily the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. Utilizing the controlled movements and resistance helps in the development of steady lower body muscles.
  • Muscle Hypertrophy: By adding resistance, such as dumbbells or a barbell, split squats become an effective muscle-building exercise. Higher-repetition sets with proper resistance may boost muscle growth, ultimately with improved muscular definition and size.
  • Balance and Stability: Split squats are a unilateral exercise, meaning they work one leg at a time. Also, your stabilizer muscles around your ankles and knees are put under extra stress because it makes it harder to balance. Developed balance and stability can boost sports performance while decreasing the likelihood of falls and injuries.
  • Improved Mobility and Flexibility: The deep range of motion required for split squats can enhance hip, knee, and ankle mobility. 1 Gaining flexibility around these regions can be specially profitable for exercises like squatting, lunging, or running.
  • Functional Fitness: Split squats replicate real-world movements like climbing stairs, lifting objects, or stepping over obstacles. This functional an aspect allows them to be helpful during normal activities, as you develop the strength and coordination required for many different tasks.
  • Core Engagement: To maintain an upright posture during this squat, your core muscles play a crucial role in stabilizing your spine and pelvis. Consistent engagement of your core during these exercises can lead to a stronger and more resilient midsection.
  • Muscle Imbalance Correction: Many people have minor muscle imbalances between their legs. Split squats can help identify and address these imbalances by allowing each leg to work independently. This can result in improved symmetry and a lower risk of injuries.
  • Injury Prevention: Strong leg muscles, as developed through split squats, can help stabilize the knee and hip joints. This increased stability can help to lessen the likelihood of common lower-body ailments, including ACL tears and IT band syndrome. 2
  • Athletic Performance Enhancement: Explosive split squat variations, where you push off the ground with force, can improve your power and explosiveness. This can be especially beneficial for athletes in sports like sprinting, jumping, or martial arts.
  • Variety and Muscle Confusion: Including this squat in your workout routine adds variety, preventing workout boredom and plateaus. Changing your exercises periodically can challenge your muscles in new ways, promoting growth and adaptation.
  • Time and Equipment Efficiency: Split squats require minimal equipment (often just a pair of dumbbells) and a small space, making them suitable for home workouts or busy gyms. This efficiency is valuable for those with time constraints.
  • Versatility and Progression: You can modify this squats in various ways, such as altering your stance, adding weights, or incorporating different variations like Bulgarian split squats. This versatility allows you to tailor the exercise to your fitness level and goals.
  • Overall Lower Body Development: These squats work multiple muscle groups in the lower body simultaneously, helping to develop well-rounded strength and tone in your legs, which can lead to a more balanced and aesthetically pleasing physique.
  • Reduced Back Strain: Unlike some other lower body exercises that load the spine, such as back squats, split squats place minimal strain on the lower back. This makes them a safer option for individuals with lower back issues.
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Sources

  1. Endo Y, Miura M, Sakamoto M. “The relationship between the deep squat movement and the hip, knee and ankle range of motion and muscle strength.” J Phys Ther Sci. 2020 Jun;32(6):391-394. doi: 10.1589/jpts.32.391. Epub 2020 Jun 2. PMID: 32581431; PMCID: PMC7276781.[]
  2. Darin A. Padua, Lindsay J. DiStefano, Timothy E. Hewett, William E. Garrett, Stephen W. Marshall, Grace M. Golden, Sandra J. Shultz, Susan M. Sigward; “National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement: Prevention of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injury.” J Athl Train 1 January 2018; 53 (1): 5–19. doi: 10.4085/1062-6050-99-16.[]

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