How to Master the Split Squat for Mobility and Strength

Lexi Lutz
Reading Time: 10 minutes
split squat
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Eager to become proficient at the split squat? 

If you’re looking to improve your lower body mobility and strength, the split squat is an move you won’t want to miss. Not only does it challenge your balance and stability, but it also targets key muscles in your glutes, quads, hamstrings, and core!

In this article, I’ll introduce you to the benefits of the split squat exercise and provide a step-by-step guide on how to perform the split squat correctly, so you can get the most out of this powerful exercise.

But first, let’s talk about why the split squat is such a great exercise for improving mobility and strength.

The split squat is a compound exercise that works several muscles in your lower body, including your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. By targeting these key muscle groups, the split squat can help improve your overall lower body strength and power.

Another awesome thing about this exercise is that it challenges your stability and balance, which can translate to better performance in everyday activities and overall lifestyle.

So, are you ready to learn how to perform the split squat with proper form and technique?

What is a Split Squat?

What the heck even is it?

A split squat is a lower body exercise that involves stepping forward with one foot and lowering the body towards the floor by bending both knees. It’s a unilateral exercise, meaning it targets one side of the body at a time, and can be done with or without weights.

When performing a split squat, the front leg does most of the work, with the back leg providing support and balance. This exercise primarily targets the quadriceps and glutes, but also engages other muscles throughout the lower body, including the hamstrings, calves, and core.

Both the split squat and regular squat are both compound exercises. But because the split squat is  a unilateral move, it challenges (and improves) your body in different ways. 

For example, split squats allow for greater range of motion and can help improve balance and stability by working each leg independently. Additionally, by isolating one leg at a time, split squats can help correct muscle imbalances and prevent injury.

Proper Form and Variations of the Split Squat

Like all exercises, proper form of split squat moves can make or break the effect it has on your body. 

1. To execute this exercise properly, start with your feet hip-width apart and take a step forward, keeping your feet parallel. 

2. Lower your back knee to the ground while keeping your front knee over your ankle. 

3. Push through your front foot to return to the starting position. 

4. Repeat on the other side. 

5. Focus on keeping your core engaged and your chest lifted throughout the movement. 

For a visual representation of the proper form, see the image below:

Proper form of split squat

As you become comfortable with the standard split squat, consider incorporating some variations of split squat exercises to add variety and challenge to your workout. 

  • One option is the front foot elevated split squat, which involves placing your front foot on a box or step to increase the range of motion and target the quads. 
  • Another option is the rear foot elevated split squat, also known as the Bulgarian split squat, which places your back foot on a bench or step and targets the glutes and hamstrings. 
  • Finally, you can also try performing the split squat with weights, using dumbbells or a barbell to increase resistance and develop overall strength.

Remember, regardless of the variation you choose, proper form is crucial. Take time to master the split squat with correct form before progressing to more challenging variations.

Benefits of the Split Squat

The split squat is a highly effective exercise that offers numerous benefits for anyone looking to improve their lower body strength and stability (so…everybody). Here are some of the key advantages of incorporating the split squat into your workout routine:

  • Improved Lower Body Strength: Split squats activate key muscle groups in the lower body, such as the glutes, quads, and hamstrings, leading to increased overall strength and power.
  • Enhanced Balance and Stability: Since split squats require you to maintain balance on one leg, they help improve your lower body stability and coordination.
  • Less Strain on Your Back: Unlike traditional squats, split squats place less pressure on your lower back, making them a great alternative for people with back pain.
  • Increased Muscle Activation: Studies show that split squats activate your muscles to a greater extent than other lower body exercises, making them an efficient way to maximize muscle growth and development.
Muscle activation in split squat

Split Squat vs. Other Lower Body Exercises

While other lower body exercises like squats and lunges are effective for building strength and size, the split squat offers distinct advantages that make it a valuable addition to any lower body training program.

One of the biggest benefits of the split squat is that it can be easier on the lower back than traditional squats. *Remembering to engage your core will also aid in protecting the lower back*.

By keeping one foot forward, you can maintain a more upright posture and reduce stress on the lower back. Split squats are also excellent for improving overall balance and stability, as they require activation of the core and hip muscles.

Split squats are highly effective with specifically targeting the glutes, hamstrings, and quads. In fact, research has shown that split squats actually elicit more activation in the glutes than traditional squats.

While lunges definitely have their place in a lower body workout routine, split squats can be a better option for those with knee pain as they place less stress on the joints. Additionally, split squats allow for greater variety in training as there are several different variations that can be performed, such as the Bulgarian split squat, which targets the quads even more.

Check out this table for some key comparisons for the split squat vs. other exercises for the lower body:

ExerciseMuscles TargetedBenefitsPotential Drawbacks
Split SquatGlutes, hamstrings, quads, core, hip musclesEasier on the lower back, improves balance and stability, allows for greater variety in trainingMay require more core and hip muscle activation, can be challenging to learn proper form
Traditional SquatGlutes, hamstrings, quads, coreEffective for building overall lower body strength, can be easy to learn with proper formMay place stress on lower back, hips, and knees, requires more mobility and flexibility
LungeGlutes, hamstrings, quads, coreHelps improve balance and coordination, can target specific muscles when performed correctlyMay be challenging for those with knee or ankle pain, may require more mobility and balance

Split Squat Workout Routine and Common Mistakes

Now that you understand the benefits of the split squat and have mastered the proper form, it’s time to incorporate it into a workout routine. Here’s a sample split squat workout routine just for you:

  • Warm up with 5-10 minutes of light cardio
  • Perform 3 sets of 8-12 reps of split squats on each leg
  • Rest for 60-90 seconds between sets
  • Include other lower body exercises, such as deadlifts and calf raises, to target different muscle groups
  • Cool down with stretching exercises

While split squats are an effective exercise, they can also lead to common mistakes that may hinder your progress. Here are some mistakes to avoid:

  • Leaning too far forward, which places too much stress on the knees and lower back
  • Not keeping the back straight, which can lead to poor posture and possible injuries
  • Not engaging the glutes, which reduces the exercise’s effectiveness
  • Using too much weight, which can cause strain and injury

To prevent these mistakes, focus on maintaining proper form throughout the exercise, engage your core and glutes, start with lighter weights, and gradually increase the weight as you become more comfortable and confident.

By following a split squat workout routine and avoiding common mistakes, you can reap the benefits of this exercise and achieve your lower body strength and mobility goals!

FAQ

What is a split squat?

The split squat is a lower body exercise that targets the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles. It involves a forward lunge-like movement with one leg lunging forward and the other leg positioned behind. This exercise helps to improve lower body strength and stability.

What muscles does the split squat work?

The split squat primarily targets the quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh. It also engages the glutes, hamstrings, calves, and core muscles for stability. Additionally, the split squat promotes hip mobility and activates the stabilizer muscles in the hip and knee joints.

How do I perform a split squat with proper form?

To perform the split squat correctly, start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Take a big step forward with one foot, keeping your torso upright and core engaged. Lower your body by bending both knees, ensuring that your front knee stays directly above your ankle and your back knee hovers just above the ground. Push through your front heel to return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.

What are some variations of the split squat?

There are several variations of the split squat that can add variety and challenge to your workout routine. These include the front foot elevated split squat, where the front foot is elevated on a platform, the rear foot elevated split squat, where the back foot is elevated on a platform, and the Bulgarian split squat, where the rear foot is resting on a bench or step.

What are the benefits of incorporating the split squat into my workout routine?

The split squat offers numerous benefits, including improved lower body strength, enhanced balance and stability, increased hip and ankle mobility, and activation of key muscles such as the glutes, quads, and hamstrings. It is also a functional exercise that translates well to daily activities and sports performance.

How does the split squat compare to other lower body exercises like lunges and traditional squats?

While lunges and traditional squats are great lower body exercises, the split squat offers some unique advantages. The split squat targets the muscles in a different way, providing a deeper lunge-like stretch and increased activation of stabilizer muscles. It also allows for greater emphasis on each leg individually, which can help correct muscle imbalances and improve overall balance and stability.

What are some common mistakes to avoid when performing split squats?

Some common mistakes people make when performing split squats include: – Allowing the front knee to track too far past the toes, which can place excessive strain on the knee joint. – Not maintaining proper alignment of the hips, leading to an uneven distribution of weight and potential imbalance. – Leaning too far forward or rounding the back, which can compromise form and increase the risk of injury. – Failing to engage the core and stabilize the torso, which can affect balance and overall effectiveness of the exercise. To avoid these mistakes, focus on maintaining proper form, engaging the correct muscles, and listening to your body.

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