Split Squat: How to Perform, Benefits, & Helpful Tips 

a vector image of people doing the split squat as well as a variety of other exercises

The split squat is an extraordinary exercise that can build leg muscle, fix imbalances, and prevent injury, and there is a good reason why they are one of the most popular exercises. 

However, many people get the split squat wrong by performing them incorrectly or including them in a routine at the wrong point, and this can reduce the effectiveness of this exercise tenfold.  

We are here to change that. 

Let’s take a look at proper form for the split squat, benefits that come from performing the split squat, as well as some helpful tips.  

What Is a Split Squat? 

A split squat is a lower-body exercise that targets the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and core.  

Like most variations of squats, you do not need any equipment to perform a split squat (with the exception of barbells or dumbbells if you want to use weight).  

While split squats might not be the most popular exercise in the world, they are used by bodybuilders and strength athletes to correct muscle imbalances and build muscle.  

This is because split squats target one leg at a time, meaning the other is not able to take over and do more of the work to make up for the lacking leg.  

This is just the split squat at a glance – there is so much more to the split squat than this.  

Split Squat Video Guide 

Link: How to do the perfect SPLIT SQUAT: technique and common mistakes – YouTube 

How to Do the Split Squat 

Step 1 — Find Your Split Stance 

The first step to proper split squat form is to find your stance. 

As a general rule of thumb, your feet should be around hip-width apart and 2-4 feet away from each other vertically.  

Take some time to experiment to find out and see what works for you – everyone’s ideal split squat stance is a little different.  

Step 2 — Align the Torso and Descend 

After finding your stance, it’s time to align the torso and descend.  

Your torso should be kept relatively straight and follow your hips throughout the entire movement.  

Do not, however, try to keep your torso completely upright at all times. 

This is a common mistake that most people make with the split squat.  

Step 3 — Contract and Stand Up 

Once you are at the bottom portion of the movement, you really want to try and feel your quads and glutes being worked.  

This is done by holding the position for a brief 1-2 second pause and also feeling where the tension is to develop a good mind-muscle connection.  

After this, begin to ascend and return to the starting position.  

Congratulations! You have just done your very first split squat.  

Benefits of the Split Squat 

Address Muscular and Movement Asymmetries 

One of the most noticeable split squat benefits is that they can help correct muscle imbalances.  

Split squats are a unilateral exercise, meaning they work one leg at a time. 

By isolating each leg and working them independently, you can identify and correct any imbalances in strength or flexibility that may be present.  

This can lead to improved overall performance, as well as a reduced risk of injury due to compensation patterns or overuse of one side. 

Unilateral Hypertrophy and Strength 

Because split squats work each leg independently, they can also be helpful for developing unilateral hypertrophy and strength.  

This means that each leg can be trained to its fullest potential, rather than relying on the stronger leg to compensate for the weaker one.  

This can result in greater overall strength and power, as well as a more balanced physique. 

Application to Sport and Human Movement 

Split squats can be a highly effective exercise for athletes and individuals involved in various sports and human movement activities.  

This is because they require stability and control, as well as strength and power, all of which are important components of athletic performance. 

Additionally, split squats can help to improve balance, coordination, and proprioception which are important for overall movement quality and injury prevention. 

Single-Leg Power, Strength, and Size 

As you may expect, split squats are great for developing single-leg power, strength, and size.  

By working each leg independently, you can focus on developing explosive power and strength in each leg, which can translate to improved performance in sports and other physical activities.  

On top of this, split squats can help to increase the size and definition of the leg muscles, including the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, leading to a more aesthetic physique. 

Muscles Worked by the Split Squat 

Gluteals 

One of the primary split squat muscles worked is the gluteals.  

The gluteal muscles, which are located in the buttocks, are one of the primary muscles worked during split squats.  

Specifically, the gluteus maximus, which is the largest muscle in the buttocks, is heavily involved in this exercise.  

During a split squat, the gluteals are engaged as you lower your body and push back up, helping to extend the hip and move the leg backwards. 

The glutes are one of the largest muscle groups in the entire body, meaning developing them is going to play a huge role on overall lower body strength.  

Quadriceps 

The quadriceps, which are a group of muscles located on the front of the thigh, are another group that is heavily targeted during split squats.  

Specifically, the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius all work together to help extend the knee and lift the body back up during this exercise. 

Hamstrings 

The hamstrings, which are a group of muscles located on the back of the thigh, are also worked during split squats, although to a lesser extent than the glutes and quads.  

The hamstrings help to bend the knee and control the movement of the leg as you lower your body down during a split squat. 

Hamstrings are noy always targeted very well by most lower body movements, so the fact that split squats incorporate them to a significant level is yet another positive for this exercise.  

Core 

The core muscles, which include the abs, obliques, and lower back muscles, are also engaged during split squats to help stabilize the body and maintain proper form.  

While the split squat is not primarily a core exercise, it can develop strong and muscular abs over a long enough period of time.  

Who Should Do the Split Squat? 

Strength and Power Athletes 

The split squat is an ideal exercise for strength and power athletes.  

Split squats can help correct muscle imbalances that can arise from exercises like the squat or deadlift, and they can also help strength athletes push through plateaus by bringing up their weaknesses.  

If you want to get a better squat, split squats are the way to go.  

General Population & Fitness Athletes 

The most significant demographics who do split squats are the general population and fitness athletes. 

Split squats are great for getting that extra bit of hypertrophy after a tough set of squats, and they can also help correct any muscle imbalances you may have developed from compound movements.  

Whether you just want to exercise for health or are just concerned with aesthetics, including split squats in your routine is a must.  

Runners, Cyclists, and Endurance Athletes 

Another group that can benefit from performing split squats is endurance athletes.  

Endurance athletes like runners and cyclists need to have strong and powerful legs to carry them such long distances, and split squats are a great way of building muscle and strength.  

They also target each leg independently, meaning any muscle imbalances will quickly be taken out of the equation.  

Split Squat Sets, Reps, and Programming Recommendations 

To Gain Muscle 

To gain muscle with split squats, you should aim to do 4-5 sets of 8-12 reps.  

Make sure you include the split squat after your main compound movements such as deadlifts or squats – the split squat should only be used as an accessory movement to increase hypertrophy and fix muscle imbalances.  

To Gain Strength 

If your main goal is strength, then you will want to aim to do 3-5 sets of 1-5 reps. 

Once again, you should do split squats after all of your main movements are out of the way as you could exhaust yourself and see slower progress on compound movements if you do them first. 

To Improve Muscle Endurance 

For muscular endurance, aim to do 5 sets of 12-20 reps.  

If you are following a weightlifting routine, then you should do split squats after your primary movements. 

However, if you just exercise for fun and to improve muscle endurance, then feel free to incorporate them however you want.  

Split Squat Variations 

Front Rack Split Squat 

This exercise is a variation of the traditional split squat that involves holding a barbell or other weight in the “front rack” position, which means resting the barbell across the front of your shoulders with your elbows up and pointed forward.  

To perform a front rack split squat, you start with one foot in front of the other and the weight in the front rack position.  

You then lower your body until your back knee nearly touches the ground, keeping your front knee in line with your toes. 

TRX/Suspension Split Squat 

This exercise is a variation of the split squat that uses a TRX suspension trainer or other similar equipment for added stability and resistance.  

To perform a TRX/suspension split squat, you start with one foot in front of the other and hold the TRX handles or straps with your hands.  

You then lower your body until your back knee nearly touches the ground, keeping your front knee in line with your toes and using the TRX for support and balance.  

Dumbbell Split Squat Variations 

Bulgarian Split Squat 

If you are looking for a good dumbbell split squat variation, look no further than the Bulgarian split squat.  

Instead of lunging using your feet, with the Bulgarian split squat, you put your back foot on a chair to increase the tension on the other leg. 

Known for being one of the most painful exercises on the planet, the Bulgarian split squat will be sure to give you a good workout.  

Step Up  

Another good split squat variation is the dumbbell step up.  

This exercise simply involves stepping up and onto something above ground height with a weight and repeating for both legs.  

It might sound easy, but you would be surprised at how much you will feel this one in your glutes and quads.  

Split Squat Alternatives 

Front-Foot-Elevated Reverse Lunge 

This exercise is a variation of the traditional lunge that involves elevating the front foot on a platform, such as a bench or step.  

To perform a reverse lunge, you start with both feet together and step backwards with one foot while keeping the other foot planted on the elevated surface.  

This exercise targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, and can help improve balance and stability. 

Walking Lunge 

This exercise is similar to the reverse lunge, but instead of stepping backwards, you step forward with one foot and lower your body until both knees are bent at 90-degree angles.  

You then repeat the movement with the opposite leg, alternating legs as you move forward.  

This exercise also targets the quads, glutes, and hamstrings, as well as the calves and core muscles. 

Dumbbell Split Squat Mistakes to Avoid 

Feet Placed Too Narrow 

Perhaps the most common mistake we see is incorrect foot placement.  

You should make sure your feet are around hip width apart horizontally, and 2-4 feet vertically.  

If you do not have your feet placed far enough away from one another, you reduce the tension and stress put on your muscles.  

Raising Your Front Heel 

Raising your front heel can just feel like the natural thing to do when doing the split squat – but you should avoid doing this at all costs. 

Raising your front heel reduces the effectiveness of the movement drastically, and it also gives you less of a stable base to push from.  

Torso Stays Too Upright 

One of the main mistakes we see being made with the dumbbell split squat is keeping the torso too upright. 

While you shouldn’t necessarily bend your back, you should follow the movement through and do what feels the most natural and comfortable.  

If you try to keep an upright posture throughout the entire movement, you could end up injuring your back.  

How to Progress the Dumbbell Split Squat 

Tempo or Rep Speed 

The best way to easily alter the difficulty of the dumbbell split squat is to change how fast you do each rep. 

If you increase the tempo, you will give each leg less time to rest and increase time under tension. 

If you slow the tempo of each rep, you will drastically increase time under tension and create more muscular stress throughout the entire movement.  

Adjusted Range of Motion 

If you are looking to progress the split squat without adding more weight, one of the best options would be to adjust your range of motion.  

If you stand with your feet further apart or go deeper at the ending of the movement, you can make the exercise much more difficult.  

Added Instability 

Another way to progress the dumbbell split squat is to throw a bit of instability into the mix.  

By standing with one leg on a platform or standing with one leg on an uneven piece of ground, you can put more tension on the other leg and increase the difficulty of the exercise exponentially.  

How to Program the Dumbbell Split Squat 

After Bilateral Exercises 

The best way to program a split squat with dumbbells is to include it after you have done all of your bilateral exercises, like squats and deadlifts.  

You should use the dumbbell split squat as an accessory movement to stimulate additional hypertrophy and fix any muscle imbalances, not as a primary mover to base your program around.  

Light to Moderate Weight, Moderate Repetition 

When doing the split squat with weight, you do not want to go too heavy.  

As a general rule of thumb, you should stick to around 8-12 repetitions, preferably aiming for the higher side to focus on technique as well as mind-muscle connection.  

Split squats are not an exercise that you should be going heavy with – you will see much better results if you aim to lift light to moderate weight for 8-12 reps.  

Split Squat – FAQs 


What are Split Squats Good For? 

Split squats are good for increasing leg size and strength as well as fixing muscle imbalances.  

The fact that split squats require both legs to work individually makes them great for people who have one leg that is stronger than the other.  

Is a Split Squat the Same as a Lunge? 

No, a split squat is not the same as a lunge.  

While both exercises are incredibly similar, a lunge has you moving backwards and forwards, whereas a split squat is performed in the same place.  

What is the Difference Between a Split Squat and a Bulgarian Squat? 

The difference between a split squat and a Bulgarian split squat is that a Bulgarian split squat involves you putting your back leg on a chair or bench, while a regular split squat is done without any equipment apart from barbells or dumbbells. 

Why are Bulgarian Split Squats So Hard? 

Bulgarian split squats are so hard because they work some of the biggest muscles on your body, being the glutes and quads. 

They also work each leg individually, meaning you have less of a base to push from.  

What is the Difference Between a Split Squat and a Bulgarian Split Squat? 

The difference between a split squat and a Bulgarian split squat is that a Bulgarian split squat involves putting your back leg up on a chair or bench, while a regular split squat is performed on the ground.  

Split Squat vs Lunge: Which is Better?  

Neither the split squat or the lunge is better than one another.  

Both the split squat and the lunge are incredibly similar movements, and both work the same muscle groups just as effectively as the other.  

How Far Apart Should My Feet Be During the Split Squat? 

You should make sure your feet are about shoulders width apart from each other horizontally and around 2-4 feet vertically.  

Foot placement can vary quite drastically between person to person, so it’s best to do a little experimenting to see what works for you.  

Are Split Squats Bad for Knees? 

No, split squats are not bad for knees when done correctly. 

However, if you experience knee discomfort when performing split squats or have poor knee health, it’s a good idea to consult your GP before starting an exercise routine.  

What Muscles Do Split Squats Work? 

The muscles that split squats work at the glutes, quads, core, and hamstrings. 

Split Squat vs Bulgarian Split Squat: Which is Better?  

The Bulgarian split squat and the regular split squat are both equal in terms of effectiveness. 

Both are great exercises that can build overall leg muscle and strength, and both can be used to fix muscle imbalances.  

 
We hope we have been able to give you a better insight into the wonderful world of split squats! 

When done right, split squats can be an incredible exercise that can increase leg muscle strength and size greatly. 

If you would like more advice on the split squat or just more fitness advice in general, feel free to check out the rest of the content we have at MovingForwards

Have fun!