Coaching Gym Movement Patterns
THE SPLIT SQUAT
How to Perform the Split Squat
WHY IS THE SPLIT SQUAT IMPORTANT?
The split squat is different to the squat, as it involves the application of force at a distance to an athlete's centre of mass, whereas the squat involves the application of force directly below an athletes centre of mass. In the below video, note how both feet are not "under" the athlete's centre, but rather applying force at a distance.
The split squat is another quad dominant pattern, with minimal difference from a prime mover point of view compared to the squat, however there are differences in the movements these patterns transfer to sport/function. The key difference in muscle recruitment relates to the rear leg, where generally speaking there is a requirement for hip flexion which can then bias the rectus femoris quite heavily, as well as recruiting through other hip flexors as stabilisers. Training a split squat pattern transfers to sport-specific movements where force needs to be applied at a distance from the centre of mass, such as during a deceleration and change of direction.
KEY TECHNICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF A SUCCESSFUL SPLIT SQUAT:
1. Hips move straight up and down
- Encourages equal loading through front and back leg
2. Knees track over toes, shins vertical
- Ensures hip/knee stabilisers active
- Vertical shins ensure movement is not a squat and feet are not under centre of mass
3. Vertical torso
- Ensures athlete isn't cheating and hinging, assists with vertical movement of hips
MOST COMMON SPLIT SQUAT EXERCISE VARIATIONS:
- Walking lunges
- Wall sit
- Side squat
COMMON TECHNICAL ISSUES IN THE SPLIT SQUAT AND HOW TO FIX THEM:
Weight shifting forward
- Very common mistake, look for athlete's knees tracking forward past toes and putting all their weight through the front foot
- Usually due to athletes not wanting to load the rear leg. Hence often fixed by cuing them to "load the back leg" or "keep weight 50/50 each leg". Alternatively you can simply cue them to lift their front toes up, and keep them off the ground, which will discourage them from loading the front foot too much and limit excess forward knee movement
- If cuing fails to work, then you can use constraints or external targets to assist. An easy method is to "block" their front knee using your hands or knee, which will force them to load the back leg. Often once they've completed a few reps and "felt" how the movement should feel they can then complete the movement properly without assistance.
- Other techniques are to put a foam square below their back knee so they then have a reference point the hips/back knee can aim for to encourage a straight up and down movement.
Bending over forward as they lunge
- Another sneaky way of loading the front leg more by shifting their centre of mass forward
- Easily fixed by drawing the athletes attention to it, or cuing them to "keep tall"
- Can otherwise by fixed by forcing them to hold a weight overhead, as this will encourage them to reduce work through shoulders/core/arms by keeping the weight straight up overhead. If they bend forward, their arms and the weight will also bend forward, and this will be a more challenging position to hold
- Young athletes, or clinical populations, may have issues with balance whilst executing this exercise. With a few simple modifications to the task, this is easily addressed
- Ensure that the athlete's feet are shoulder width, and they're not "balancing on a tight rope"
- Give them some light assistance with balance by letting them use a dowel for balance
- Restrict the range of the movement to allow them to get comfortable/stable during the easier parts of the movement, and then slowly progress range