I’m a little biased when it comes to strength training and tend to lean on the side of “lift (heavy) stuff and good things will happen”.
I love training to get stronger, and I love helping people achieve that for themselves. Whether it’s psyching myself (or my client) up for a big squat (relatively big…not Kirk Karwoski big) or doing dumbbell push-ups with chains wrapped around my neck (more so because I think it looks cool rather than the performance benefits), I love it all.
Actually, that’s a lie. There’s one aspect of strength training that I absofuckinglutely hate.
When I see it in my program, I cry.
When I see it in my clients’ programs, it brightens up my day and makes me all feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Bulgarian split squats.
They’re the best worst exercise out there. Even more so than burpees, mainly because I don’t do them.
In case you’re late to the party, Bulgarian split squats are a lower body movement where you essentially perform a lunge with your back foot elevated. This increases the range of motion of the lunge and puts more demand on your front leg.
If you’ve done them before, you know just how brutally awful they can be…especially when you’re doing them right. The thing is – not everyone does them right. Not even close.
Let’s fix that now.
Note: You’ll still cry alone in the corner when you see split squats in your program. But at least now you’ll be doing them right. That’s gotta count for something?
MISTAKE 1: FRONT FOOT POSITIONING
Jamming your foot too close to the bench (or whatever platform you’re using) is the first common mistake you’ll run into. When your front foot (the one that’s on the ground) is too close to the bench, your heel is probably going to raise off the floor when you drop your back knee since the demand is higher on your front ankle mobility.
Your front ankle has to be able to bend to a certain degree of dorsiflexion (think flexing your foot back, so your toes meet your shin) during the split squat. The closer your front foot is pulled in, the greater degree of flexion your ankle has to go through in order to get to the bottom of your split squat.
The problem is that most people have really crappy ankle mobility (myself included; it’s getting better but still kinda sucks). So if your ankle isn’t able to go through that degree of dorsiflexion as you try to drop your back knee, your body tries to compensate by pushing your knee forward excessively and elevating your heel.
You need to drive through the floor with your heel. If it raises off the floor, you have no lift and put unneeded stress on your knee.
How to fix it…
Have your front foot positioned out far enough so you’re able to keep it “rooted” to the floor throughout the entire movement. Your shin doesn’t need to be completely vertical (that’s a myth), but your front foot must remain flat on the floor. This will allow you to use those glorious glute muscles you want to grow.
MISTAKE 2: HYPER-EXTENDING YOUR LOWER BACK
This happens a lot when athletes try to extend their hip back in a stride or lunge position. Instead of extending the hip back and keeping the lower back in a neutral position, a lot of us will end up pushing our lower back forward excessively.
If you feel pain or discomfort in your lower back when you do split squats, try warming up your hips with mobility work beforehand (obviously) and throughout the day. You can also try this quick little fix.
How to fix it…
It’s not a mistake or bad thing to stay upright during lunges or split squats, but when you do so, you’ll usually tend to extend the lower back forward. So to stop this from happening, try tilting forward slightly at the hip, with your chest positioned above your front knee.
By tilting forward slightly, you will:
- avoid hyper-extending your lower back and maintain a strong, neutral position
- improve your balance/coordination by putting more weight/pressure in your front leg
- increase muscle tension in your lead leg
MISTAKE 3: FORWARD/BACK MOTION
Take the squat and the deadlift for example.
When you squat, your hips travel in a vertical plane (they go up and down). When you deadlift, your hips travel in a horizontal plane (they go back and forth).
When you do split squats, you go straight down and straight up. But, you’ll notice a lot of people make the mistake of pushing their weight forward and back. This offsets your balance and puts unneeded pressure on your front knee.
How to fix it…
Use your imagination for a second. Remember when you acted like a dumbass in school and your teacher told you to stand in the corner and face the wall? Did they happen to you too? Please say yes…
Picture you’re standing facing the wall with your nose smack against it. When you’re doing your split squats, obviously, you want to avoid hitting the wall, so your job is to go straight up and down (instead of lunging forward and pushing yourself back).
To do that, just focus on dropping your back knee to the floor. That’s it. It’s that simple. Put the emphasis on bending your back knee and you will be ten times better at split squats with that one simple cue.
- Strength training is the shit
- Bulgarian split squats suck
- But they’re also awesome
- Keep your front foot flat or “rooted” to the floor so you can drive through your heel
- Tilt forward slightly with your chest above your lead knee to keep your lower back neutral
- Go straight down and up, not forward and back