How to do Split Squat

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The Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS) has gained a ton of popularity over the last few years. In our program at Absolute Performance we’ve adopted the RFESS as our main squat movement – replacing back squats.

We also train the front squat and single leg squats, but the RFESS is the squat movement where we really try to push the loading. For one, we can increase load in a much safer manner with the RFESS than with bilateral squatting. Also, we can coach someone into a great looking split squat on their first day where it may take some people several months to be able to back squat with acceptable technique.

I’ve outlined other reasons we prefer the RFESS to back squatting in my article Why We Don’t Back Squat a few years ago so I won’t go back through it here. But just because we train the RFESS with all of our clients and athletes, it doesn’t mean they are doing it on their first day. Like anything, proper progression is key from both a learning standpoint and an injury prevention standpoint. Here’s how we progress it with our clients and athletes.

Split Squat

The split squat is the first step to master on the road to a good RFESS.

Key Coaching Points

  1. Set up is key. Make sure you always start in the “down” position, with one knee on the floor. Also, make sure both knees are at ~90 degrees – or what we call the 90/90 position.
  2. Keep most of your weight on the front foot during the set – you don’t want to be pushing too much with the back leg.
  3. Front knee should track your middle toe. Don’t let your knee cave inward.
  4. Upper body stays tall. You shouldn’t be leaning or hunching over during the set.

Single Kettlebell Reverse Lunge

After you’ve built a solid split squat we then progress to the single kettlebell reverse lunge.

Key Coaching Points

  1. Same general pattern as the split squat.
  2. Clean a kettlebell into the rack position. If you’re holding the kettlebell in the right hand then the right leg is going to be stepping back.
  3. Step far enough back so that you’re close to that same 90/90 bottom position that you learned with the split squat.
  4. Front knee tracks middle toe.
  5. Upper body stays tall.

Double Kettlebell Reverse Lunge

The next progression is the double kettlebell reverse lunge. The goal here is to load you up so that you can build some tissue capacity for when you progress to the RFESS. The coaching points are the same as the single kettlebell version.

Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

Finally, you’re ready to perform the rear foot elevated split squat.

Key Coaching Points

  1. Set up in the “down” position. The “down” knee should be directly under your hips with your “down” thigh vertical. Front leg is at the 90 degree knee angle.
  2. Drive through the front heel on the way up, the back leg should have very little weight on it.
  3. Front knee tracks middle toe.
  4. Upper body stays tall.

The RFESS is one of my favorite exercises for building stronger legs. However, it is an advanced exercise and shouldn’t be something you just jump into tomorrow. Follow these progressions and build a stronger, more powerful lower body without getting hurt in the process.