Technique Tuesday: Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats

I love rear foot elevated split squats. They’re an easily loadable, single leg exercise that’s easier on the back and knees than traditional barbell squats, help to reinforce proper lumbopelvic mechanics, yet still build big, strong wheels.

Assuming you do them right.

Unfortunately, this might be the most butchered exercise I see on a day to day basis. For some reason, most people set up too far away from the bench or pad that they’re using, so the back leg is really extended. On top of that, the toes are often in the bench, instead of a toes down approach.

Basically, it looks something like this, with various degrees of being worse:

Incorrect RFE Start Position

When performed this way, it’s impossible to get a full range of motion, you can’t load them sufficiently, your hip flexors feel like they’re going to explode, and, as Stuart McGill, the resident black belt of back mechanics talks about, can lead to “pelvic ring” disruption. Basically, he’s saying that the 2 sides of the pelvis are rotating in opposite ways here, which will piss off your SI joint and lower back.

For the record, all of those things suck.

In order to reap the benefits of RFE’s (they’re not Bulgarian’s, so cut the shit with that terminology), it’s imperative that you set up close to the bench, with the top of the back foot down on the bench or pad. The back hip and knee should make a vertical line, and the front knee and foot should be pretty close as well. I actually like to have the front foot ever so slightly behind the front knee. This ensures that you’ll be able to keep the majority of your weight on the front foot.


RFE Start Position

I really like getting set up in the bottom position before grabbing the weights because it’s a helluva lot easier to find your foot position. From there, grab the weight, however you decide to load it, and drive hard through your front foot to come up to standing. Descend under control, rinse and repeat. It should look like this:

Joint friendly and effective-it doesn’t get much better than that. I’ve seen many big, strong dudes who have built their lower body with these as their primary lower body lift, so they’re definitely not some wussy exercise like some meatheads try to make them out to be. (I know this as fact because I wrote their programs.)

Just like anything else, if you do them half assed, you get half assed results. Shorten your stance, load ’em up, and get after it. I like to stick in the 5-8 rep range, but will often throw them in for higher reps with just bodyweight at the end of a session as a finisher.

However you decide to utilize them, do them like I outlined and not only will they be more effective, but they’ll feel a lot better too. That’s the definition of a win-win.




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