Strength training: the split squat workout
The split squat is particularly beneficial for those in search of greater leg strength and power
Joint motion: hip extension, knee extension
Sports applicability: all sports, with particular relevance to running
- General. The split squat is basically a single-leg squat. It can be performed by athletes with varying degrees of strength, although it becomes a more advanced exercise when heavy weights are used and should be performed only by the well- conditioned.
- Sport specific. The exercise is particularly beneficial for those in search of greater sport specific leg strength and power. This is because it works only one leg at a time and requires a degree of balance to perform – both key aspects of sports performance.
- Support the weight across the top of your shoulders on the fleshy part, using a padded bar or towel for cushioning. Use an over-grasp grip and space your hands wide enough for stability;
- Keep your back in neutral alignment, ie not arched or rounded;
- Maintain the weight centrally across your shoulders, ie at the top of an imaginary line drawn through the middle of your shoulders and hips;
- Focus on maintaining the loading of the exercise on your front leg.
Action (see below)
- Take a big step forward with one leg, placing foot flat on floor, supporting weight on toes of rear foot, rear knee slightly bent (action 1);
- Bend your knees and hips, dropping your buttocks towards the ground to lower the weight (action 2);
- Keep going until you reach a 60-90° angle of knee flexion with the front leg;
- Extend the knee and hip of your front leg to push yourself back up to the start position.
Action Steps 1 & 2
Maintain neutral posture and a balanced elevated chest position throughout the exercise. When lowering the weight, ensure that the knee of your front leg remains behind its ankle and does not wobble either side of it, as this could place strain on the ankle joint.
If using a heavy weight, perform the exercise from under a squat rack.
Sport specific exercise progression
Split squat jump: This variation adds real dynamic power to the exercise and enhances its relevance to similarly dynamic sports. Assume the same starting position described above, but this time, after lowering your body, drive up powerfully with your front leg to lift your body into the air. While airborne, swap the position of your legs, land in the split squat position then immediately leap into another jump (without undue yielding of the front thigh). Continue in this fashion until you have completed 4 x 10 jumps, with 90 seconds’ recovery between sets.
Always land ‘light’ on your feet, towards the forefoot area and on the toes of your rear leg. Use your arms to add momentum to the jump by swinging them first back and then through and in front of your hips as you strike the ground. At the highest point of the jump your arms should be held straight up on either side of your head. As with the static weight training variant, keep your chest elevated throughout the exercise.
You will require a good level of base power to perform this jump with a wide stance landing. If you are new to this exercise, you can reduce the strength requirement (and increase the speed component) by landing and jumping from a narrower stance. Note that the narrow landing split squat jump is an exercise in its own right and should not be seen as one for beginners. Try combining both variants into your workouts.
Weights can be added to these dynamic exercise variants, although supporting a barbell across your shoulders is best avoided because of the strain it can place on your lower back and knees. Holding dumbbells at arms’ length by your sides is a safer alternative, but you should be careful to hold these relatively still to maintain the integrity of the exercise. Some arm movement is inevitable, but as long as this is minimal it could actually prove beneficial by increasing the spatial awareness and balance requirements of the exercise.
John Shepherd MA is a specialist health, sport and fitness writer and a former international long jumper
Illustrations by Viv Mullett
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