The split squat is a great foundational exercise for leg strength, stability, and unilateral training.
I tend to begin progress split squat training from core work in the split stance (or 1/2 kneeling position with knee resting on the ground). This is done early in training programs to develop core strength and stability using movements like chops, lifts and 1/2 kneeling single arm overhead presses.
The reason I do this is to help promote stability in as narrow of stance as possible. Think of performing these exercises on a 2 x 6 where the front foot is flat, and the back knee is directly behind with followed by the flexed toes of the back foot.
The next progression I use is the bottoms up split squat. This is performed by starting from the 1/2 kneeling position and then standing up. Beginners will start with just body weight while more advanced people can either use a goblet hold or dumbbells at the sides to add resistance.
From here the progression goes from top down to bringing the knee to just above the ground and returning to the starting position. This keeps constant tension on the muscles and increases intensity and difficulty.
There are a few things to remember about performing a split squat.
- Keep your front lower leg perpendicular to the ground. This will decrease shear forces on the knee by driving it too far over the toe.
- Maintain a tall posture with the upper body. Your down knee will be directly below your hip, shoulders and head. There can be some slight forward lean, but do not extend the lower back during any part of the execution.
- Lock the back toes into the ground. This will help give you more stability in the movement.
- Push through the heel of the front foot and toes of the back foot.
- Don't slam your knee into the ground on the descent. Control your body to either just above the ground or to a minimal touch. I like to put an Airex pad or mat underneath my client's knee to decrease the chance of hitting the knee to the ground.
Add this exercise as either a primary leg strengthening exercise or in a superset using it as strength and stability work. The exercise can also progress to a power exercise doing stationary split jumps and cycling split squat jumps.