A few things to consider about the split squat
Written by Mark Coles - Follow on Google+ | Facebook | Twitter
Without doubt, the split squat is a great exercise, and one that I include in many of the programmes that I write. Done correctly it will greatly improve flexibility, and will dramatically improve strength through the hamstrings, glutes and quads. Done incorrectly it has the potential to cause quite a few injuries.
Many people who add in the split squat to beginner programmes, have little regard for how hard this exercise actually is. It's not a lunge, and it's certainly not a case of simply going up and down.
Done right you should allow your knee to track over your toe, you should keep the weight through the centre of your front foot (not onto your toes), you should be upright with your elbows under the bar, you should be aiming to have your back leg as straight as possible, and when in the bottom position your hamstring should be close to toughing your calf.
Where many coaches go wrong when giving this exercise to inexperienced lifters or lifters with poor flexibility, is a complete disregard for how weak some people are. I see the split squat added in to the beginning of many workouts, and the person trying to do it simply isn't strong enough. On the way down, most people aren't flexible enough for one (perfect opportunity to injure something), secondly their hamstrings and glutes are so much weaker than their quads, and lastly they're often encouraged to add too much load before they can even do the exercise correctly.
It can take people quite a few weeks before they can even accomplish full range. Loading the exercise up too much even before full range has been achieved, will just be making the already dominant muscle groups even stronger and even more dominant.
If you're the type of person who goes onto your toes (front leg) on the way down, you lean foreword, you feel the exercise purely in your quads, and you have a very limited range, you need to be doing this exercise as part of your warm up and not as a strength exercise. Remember I'm talking about the early stages of this exercise, there are more advanced versions that can be added in further down the line.
Doing exercises incorrectly especially as a beginner, is just reinforcing poor technique to your nervous system. You need to be teaching your nervous system correct technique to see improvements in the right muscles, and from an optimal movement perspective.
How I like to start people if they're very weak, is strengthening up the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors (back muscles). Alongside these I get them to warm up with correct technique body weight split squats, until they're strong enough and stable enough to get maximum benefit from doing them loaded.
Because the split squat is a great exercise for developing quad, glute and hamstring hypertrophy and strength, doesn't mean that you or your clients are ready for it on day one.
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