As promised in last week’s article on lunges, here is the follow up piece looking at the split squat. If you missed part one, you can find it here.
Starting with the standard split squat there are similarities with the positioning of the lunge. Split your feet far enough that you can reach the floor with your rear knee while maintaining a vertical front shin. Aim to keep your feet facing forwards and use a full range of motion to get the most out of these, focussing on the rear knee travelling up and down in a straight, vertical line. As with the lunge, these are probably best loaded with weights held by your side, suitcase style.
A favourite variation of mine is the FFESS, or front foot elevated split squat. These are performed in much the same way, except the front foot is located safely on a low box, or flat plate, ideally around 10-12cm high. This allows for the rear knee to travel further down, increasing the amount of flexion at the hip and working a more challenging range. These can be performed as a lunge too, but due to the risk of catching your toe on the box they are usually safer when performed as a split squat.
Similarly, we can also split squat with an elevated rear foot. These tend to be done in one of two ways, either an RFESS or a Bulgarian Split Squat. Many people think these to be the same thing, but here’s why I believe they are not.
The rear foot elevated split squat, RFESS, should be performed with you rear foot on a box or bench slightly lower than knee height. They can also be set up with a padded bar set up in a rack to hook your ankle over. The key point of these is that the rear foot should be pointing away, with the top of the foot supporting the rear leg (toenails down). This keeps the emphasis on the front leg doing the work, as force production in the rear leg is minimised.
When we look at the Bulgarian Split Squat it is likely that this version was developed to improve the strength and mechanics of the split jerk. It’s for this reason that we want a far more active rear leg, looking to dig the toes and ball of the foot into the surface of the box. This will lead to an increase in the amount of stability and strength being provided by the rear leg, an important consideration for effective weightlifting.
If you are a weightlifter looking to improve your split jerk strength you should opt for a BSS, but if you are looking to generally improve your unilateral performance the RFESS is a great option. From experience as both an athlete and a coach, whichever version you choose it is unlikely that you’ll enjoy them!