Simple Single-Leg Progressions For Anyone And Everyone. Part 1: The Split Squat
Catchy title, eh?* (It was Canada Day recently, no mocking on the “eh” front!)
To be more specific, the following progressions are more towards the knee/quad dominant end of the spectrum. I’ll tackle hip/glute and hamstring dominant at another time. If you know me or my lifting style, you’ll know I believe everyone should get brilliant at the basics. I don’t care about fancy and exciting exercises just for the sake of it, and the 4 exercises I’m highlighting in this series are basic variations that I use with general population clients, athletes (more specifically hockey players and rowers), and powerlifters. The limiting factors of these exercises are things like overall strength, balance, or stability. Things we actually WANT to improve, versus limiting factors that just frustrate you and mess up your ability to actually train weaknesses.
*Let’s not get too picky about title choice – these exercises can’t be a fit for EVERYONE but they’re great for a very wide range of populations.
All of these exercises are great for a variety of things:
– core control
– hip stability
– working on the bilateral deficit, which is a fancy way of saying left to right strength imbalances
– getting jacked and strong
I use them for multiple goals, it just depends on how. Depending on your abilities and what you want from your program, you can adjust for:
– sets and reps, and overall volume
– implement you use to add weight (if at all)
– how you hold that implement
So let’s get started. While this is the first exercise of the progressions, it doesn’t mean anyone is too good for it:
Today’s animal: The split squat
I don’t really care who it is, I like to work the split squat. It’s great for a beginner because it’s easy in that feet stay stationary the whole time, and it also has great bang for your buck in developing strength, balance, and hip stability. It’s great for athletes that participate in a sport that involves running, jumping, cutting, and change of direction for the above reasons as well as power production, speed, and injury prevention. And finally, I like it for powerlifters because it’s a friendly exercise that takes us out of the classic squat and deadlift stances.
Set up and basic execution:
– get into a half kneeling position, which means one leg straight out in front with the foot firmly planted, knee directly over the ankle. It should be at 90 degrees. The other knee is on the ground, hip directly over the knee, with your foot going straight behind you, also at 90 degrees. So you shouldn’t be super elongated, nor should you be compressed.
– dig your back toe into the ground
– stand up with your feet staying where you set them up at the bottom
– keep the front foot flat on the ground the whole time, so the heel doesn’t pop off the ground
– lower under control towards the ground, and keep that front knee more or less at 90 degrees – it’s OK if your knee goes in front of your toes, but not at the expense of the heel coming off the ground
– stand back up by driving through your whole front foot
– wash, rinse, repeat.
Specific advice for beginners:
– start with just your bodyweight
– you can settle on the ground at the bottom of every rep if you’re still developing the strength to just reverse the movement
– you can also start with an “iso hold”, meaning you just hover a couple inches off the ground for an extended period of time. Stay tight and engaged, driving that front foot into the floor the whole time
– have everything move up together, so hips and/or shoulders don’t move without the other, and keep your front knee from caving inwards. Stay tall but don’t lean back, and think about a strong foundation pushing into the floor
– aim for 3-4 sets of 6-10/leg, and get really confident at one progression before progress
Ways to make it harder:
– adding weight: I like goblet position the best, meaning you hold a dumbbell or kettlebell at your chest. You can also hold a dumbbell in one or both hands at your side. There’s multiple other ways to hold weight, we’re keeping it simple today. You’ll likely be able to hold more overall weight if you do 1 dumbbell in each hand at your sides, but a goblet style split squat will get your core going like crazy in order to keep you balanced and upright
– tempo: slow down your descent (called the eccentric portion of the exercise) to 3-5 seconds, add a pause for 3-5 seconds at the bottom, and if you’re feeling sassy then do this with added weight
– more reps, more sets, or both
For intermediate or advanced lifters:
– try a single or double racked kettlebell position to add weight, or even go overhead with 1 or 2 kettlebells (just make sure to not hyper-extend the low back on that one)
– now throw in pauses and slow eccentrics, and you’re cookin!
Here’s yours truly doing the bodyweight version:
This stuff doesn’t necessarily make for a sexy instagram video, but if you’re literally anyone who likes to exercise or needs to train for your sport, these are a great place to start, and a great variation to go back to to test yourself.
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