Elite Training Tip – Split Squats

Elite Performance Academy's Director of Athlete Development, Pat Woodcock, is the Head Strength Coach for SSNCanada, the Sports Streaming Network.  SSN is Canada's Home for University Sport, drawing upwards of 1 million website hits a month with live streams of  CIS sports and on-air reporting.

Coach Woodcock provides viewers with an Elite Training Tip of the Week, filmed on location at the Elite Performance Athletic Complex in Kanata.

This week's Elite Training Tip is the Split Squat.  The Split Squat is a Unilateral (1 limb at a time) exercise that involves standing in a split position and moving up and down on the front leg without moving the feet.  Splits Squats are often confused with Lunges, the difference being that when performing Lunges the feet do not stay stationary, but move back to the start position with every rep.

At Elite Performance Academy, we use a variety of Split Squat variations in our programs in order to help our athletes achieve Structural Balance in the legs, which means that muscles are in balance with all other muscle groups.  According to world-renowned Strength Coach Charles Poliquin,

"This definition extends not just to agonist/antagonist muscle pairs (such as the hamstrings and quadriceps) but also to pairs of limbs (such as the right leg and left leg). It’s not enough just to have the appropriate strength ratio between the hamstrings and quadriceps; to achieve structural balance, the strength of the quadriceps and hamstrings on the right leg should be equal to the strength of those of the left.

Having structural imbalances between limbs is very common even among elite athletes., particularly if they come from a sport where an implement is held like in fencing, tennis, squash etc..And because imbalances increase the risk of injury to athletes, my initial workouts for new clients often include many unilateral exercises. For example, an athlete is at a greater risk of pulling a hamstring if the hamstrings on the right leg are stronger than those on the left. Further, I’ve found that beginning with a program of unilateral exercises for the legs often results in faster gains in the squat in the long term than if no unilateral exercises are performed."

To perform Split Squats:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart.
  2. Take a large step forward with your non-dominant leg. (Starting with the weaker limb first helps to correct muscle imbalances faster)
  3. Push the front knee as far forward as possible, and then begin lowering the hips.
  4. Keep a tall chest and straight back as you lower the body under control, trying to cover the calves of the front leg with the hamstrings.
  5. Make sure the knee is traveling Forward AND Down at the same time. (Think about being on an escalator, not an elevator)
  6. To come back to the starting position, keep the front foot flat on the floor and push the hips Up AND Back, maintaining your tall upper body posture.
  7. Perform all the reps on one leg before switching the feet and working the other leg.

Split Squats can be loaded with a low-cable pulley, dumbells, barbells, even a weighted vest.  You can also try raising either the front foot or the back foot to provide variation to your training.

Here is our Elite Training Tip Video clip, with EPA athlete Amanda Ieradi, an Elite hockey player for the Ottawa Lady Sens Bantam AA team.

To read more of Coach Poliquin's thoughts on Split Squats, read The Value of Split Squats.

References: Poliquin, Charles.  2010.  Tip 157: The Value of Split Squats. CharlesPoliquin.com, 7/16/2010.


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