It seems like every week I make an Instagram post extolling the benefits of split-stance leg exercises.
(Note: Split-stance exercises refers to exercises where the legs are ‘split’ apart or staggered, such as lunges, reverse lunges, split-squats themselves (current favourite), Bulgarian split-squats etc. They do not refer to the ‘pistol squats’ shown in the picture below).
Along with deadlifts, split-squats are my favourite exercise right now, so it only makes sense to write a long blog post about them.
I rarely see split-stance exercises done by the average gym go-er. When they are, they’re usually performed pretty badly, with lots of lower back arching and quarter reps.
Plus they burn, alot.
The acid build-up in the quads can become excruciating, especially in high rep sets (the Bulgarian split squat is possibly the worst offender of all).
So why would you submit yourself to this torture?
Well first, “only a sucker does not train his legs” according to legendary heavyweight Charles Martin.
Second, see the benefits below:
- Great for fat loss
- Easy on the lower back
- Fantastic carryover to sports
- Improved mobility
Great for fat loss
Doing 10 reps of a split squat on one leg is hard. But doing another 10 on the other leg is even harder.
Effectively, you end up doing double the work you would for a 2-legged exercise like the squat (although yes, the squat would most likely be heavier).
This jacks up your heart rate and gets the blood pumping like crazy, making the exercise very metabolic in nature. Doing it for high reps (8-15 per side) boosts this effect even more.
Plus it’s a bodyweight exercise, much superior to sitting down on a machine when it comes to fat loss.
Easy on the lower back
Both back squats and front squats done heavy enough bother my lower back. I’ve scrapped both from my training.
The weight you can lift with split-squats is obviously lower than you can with a back squat, so there isn’t as much stress on the joints (even when using a barbell on your back).
I only do split-squats now, and the size and strength of my legs are increasing while my lower back still feels great. W all round.
Fantastic carryover to sports
Split-stance exercises are fantastic for sports. We have to remember that most sports are pretty much played in a split-stance (i.e. during running).
Because the legs are split apart, split-squats variations hugely challenge your balance and co-ordination.
Instead of wasting time on Bosu ball squats, spend time getting better and stronger better at split squats. I promise you your balance co-ordination will improvement exponentially. That’s where the real improvements in athleticism come.
Most athletes neglect split-stance exercises for heavy squats, and while heavy squats are brilliant, the benefits they offer in terms of co-ordination are not exactly the same.
More resilient to injury
Many people have tight, short hip flexors (the muscles at the front of your hip on the top of your thighs).
This can be partly due to a sedentary lifestyle and sitting all day (i.e. in the office, on the couch). Since the body is an inter-connected chain, tightness in the hip flexors can lead to injuries elsewhere.
Split-squat variations are great for stretching the hip flexor of the back leg while strengthening the muscles in the front thigh, making it a great ‘bang for your buck’ exercise.
Split-squats also work the small stabilising muscles in the hips much more than conventional squats. The glute stabilisers in particular are very important for staying healthy – weakness here can lead to problems elsewhere, i.e. the lower back or knees.
Not only this, but imbalances between legs are very common. Big differences in strength between legs can often predict future injuries – so split-stance exercises are an excellent way to address this difference.
(Pro tip: always start your set on your weaker side first).
Here are some common split stance leg exercises you can try out. I always advise mastering form before trying to go too heavy. Form always comes before weight!
Hope this helps guys, contact me on Instagram @jumpliftsprint or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Will be releasing a mini-programme for athletes soon too.