One of the most effective single-leg exercises for the lower body is the split squat. The split squat is similar to a lunge, but with the feet remaining stationary. When done correctly, the split squat allows for training most of the musculature in the lower body. This video will give you the proper form for a split squat, along with several common mistakes and alternate variations.

The split squat is one of the most effective exercises for training the lower body, and when done correctly, works most of the muscles in the lower body. Another benefit of the split squat is that it is a single leg exercise, which can be used to correct imbalances from left to right. Additionally, the split squat can help improve your flexibility and mobility. This video will cover the following:

  • The correct form/technique for a split squat.
  • Common mistakes when doing split squats.
  • Several different variations of the split squat.

Starting with the setup, position yourself in a split stance, but with your feet hip-width apart, rather than in a straight line.  The distance between the front foot and back foot will vary depending on the person.  Variables such as the tightness in the quads and hip flexors or the range of motion in the ankles will affect this. Before starting the exercise make sure the back heel is up on the toe and not flat down on the floor.

Once in the proper setup position, it’s time to start the movement. The first thing to do is start with the front leg straight and begin to move down and forward at the same time. You should go as far as to allow the front knee to come in line with the toe.  For some people, the knee can travel past the toe of the front foot, but for others the knee will stop before coming into alignment with the toe.  This can vary from person to person, but for most people, going until the knee is in line with the toe is a good/safe range of motion.

Now that you know the basic form for the split squat, here are three common mistakes to avoid when doing this exercise:

  1. Knee Buckling

The most common mistake when doing the split squat is allowing the front knee to cave inward as you go forward. Some people call it knee buckling. This is a faulty movement pattern, and repetitions in this position will cause damage to the knee.

  • Front Heel Raise

The second mistake is allowing the front heel to raise up during the movement. It’s important to keep the heel grounded because that keeps the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) engaged, and keeps you from over-using your quads.

  • Back Leg Locked Out

The final common error is allowing the back leg to be too far back or having the back leg locked out/too straight. This can push the knee too far forward over your toes or decrease the range of motion for the front leg.

Here are three variations of the split squat that can be incorporated into your training program:

  1. Front Foot Elevated

This is the easiest version of the split squat from a mobility standpoint.  People that have limited flexibility, particularly in the hip flexors, will find this type of split squat much easier to perform as well as extremely helpful in improving flexibility.  Also, anyone who needs/wants to develop the muscles of the posterior chain, such as the glutes and hamstrings, will benefit a lot from doing the split squat with the front foot elevated.

  • Rear Foot Elevated

This variation of the split squat is much more challenging from a mobility/range of motion standpoint and is going to target the quads much more than other variations.  Also, the height of the back foot can be adjusted depending on the individual.

  • Weight Load Variations

The final variation is to change the way that the exercise is loaded.  These are just a few options:

  1. Dumbbell Split Squat

The easiest loading variation to start with is holding dumbbells at your side. This does not increase the mobility/flexibility demands of the exercise, nor is it more challenging for core stability.

  • Goblet Hold Split Squat

Holding a dumbbell in a goblet hold is going to recruit more of the upper body musculature, and you’re going to have to work much harder to maintain spinal stability and posture control.

  • Kettlebell Front Rack Split Squat

The kettlebell front rack is similar to the goblet hold, but because it’s held on one side, opposite the front leg, there is more engagement of the core stability muscles.

  • Barbell Split Squat

This is the most advanced loading variation and should only be used with people that have high training experience.  It is recommended that you become proficient with the other loading methods before using a barbell.

Now that you know the proper form for a split squat, and you’re aware of the common errors to avoid, take some of these different variations begin including them in your workokut program!