#PTonICE Daily Show – Friday, March 22nd, 2024 – Split squat science

In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Fitness Athlete faculty member Guillermo Contreras dives into all things split squats and shares its utility for improving lower extremity strength asymmetry. Also discussed: progressions for the most novice up to the most advanced of athletes and clients in the clinic and gym

Whether for the quads, glutes, hamstrings, the split squat is one of the exercises we “love to hate” most

Take a listen to the episode or check out the show notes at www.ptonice.com/blog

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

GUILLERMO CONTRERAS
Here we go, gang. Thank you so much. Sorry for the little bit of a delay. Had some technical difficulties all morning for myself dealing with some stuff here on the back end. But happy to be with you here on the PT on ICE Daily Show on the best day of the week, Fitness Athlete Friday, the day where we talk all things fitness athlete, loading progressions, getting strong, getting fit, all the good stuff. We are today talking about split squat science. And it’s more of the applicability of the science of the split squat more than going into the deep, deep nitty gritty about the split squat. And the reason for this topic today is many times in the courses of the fitness athlete, whether it be the L1, L2, or even in the live courses, when we are breaking down movements like the back squat, like the front squat, movements that we tend to use in the CrossFit realm more than anything else, movements that we really preferentially push towards to get maximum loading of bony tissue for bony adaptations, muscle tissue for strength gains. The squat is how we’re going to do it. However, when we’re breaking down the movement pattern for the individuals in our courses, or the individuals in front of us, or our athletes and clients, many times we’re going to see some deficits. We’re going to see some asymmetries, whether one leg is just not pushing as much as the other, one leg caves in, whether one quad or hamstring or glute or whatever it may be is more developed than the other due to a previous history of injury. as well as also just when someone tends to shift and put more weight into one side versus the other. There can be a myriad of reasons for it. We don’t know what’s going on. That’s why we want to assess things and not just assume anything. But once we get through that assessment phase, Bam! That’s when we can see the benefits of some single leg work to improve leg strength deficiencies or asymmetries. And this topic is brought on by a recent study in 2023 that came out looking at leg strength asymmetry in basketball players. So strength asymmetries as well as the ability to kind of change direction quickly. And what they did in that study is they found that a three-to-one non-dominant-to-dominant strength training program was optimal, I could say, or they worked really, really well to improve that asymmetry in one leg versus the other. And one of the movements that they used in order to load individuals as well as kind of uncover where the weaknesses were was the loaded Bulgarian split squat. For those unfamiliar with the Bulgarian split squat, I am simply in a lunge position here. I’m away from a surface I can put my foot on behind me. So I step up as I’m going to do a lunge. My foot goes up on a bench or a box or something elevated behind me. I then hold a barbell or dumbbells or kettlebells, whatever it may be, on my back. And I simply go down, tap the knee, and then drive back up. It’s a fantastic movement for doing unilateral loading of the quad, hamstring, glute, And depending on your foot position, you can actually preferentially load one tissue over the other. For example, if I want to really hit that quad for an athlete who really needs it, and they have adequate ankle mobility to be able to do this, what we do is we narrow that step so we don’t make it as far of a step out, and we encourage that athlete to really dive straight down into that split squat with that knee going over that toe just slightly more, and then drive back up. You will feel a massive quad pump when you are through a set with a slightly more narrow stance. If you want to preferentially hit the glute hamstring, we go a little bit further, and we allow that individual to bring their torso, to tilt their torso forward a little bit more. So as they go down, their torso can tip forward, thinking like a low bar back squat or something like that, and you get a lot more of a stretch pulled on the glute and the hamstring, as opposed to that really upright torso. You’re thinking when you would use that further one for more glute hamstring, high hamstring strains, really getting that deep end range of hip flexion towards the bottom there, your quadripatellar tendinopathy for that more narrow stance, we’re trying to load that up and build strength there. In the study, they used 65, 75, and 85% of 100 max, and they were doing I believe 10, eight, and six reps at that heavy weight for that single leg. With that said, right now we’re really familiar with the Bulgarian split squat, and if you’ve done it before, you know that you hate it, like you love to hate it. It feels awful to do, it’s difficult, but it’s a really, really beneficial movement, really beneficial strength exercise. Truth is, the majority of our clients, if we’re dealing in general population, not just fitness athletes, we wanna be able to use this same exercise, but we wanna be able to bring it down to the lowest common denominator.

SCALING THE SPLIT SQUAT
How can I scale this movement down to the easiest form and make it even harder than that Bulgarian split squat we just did? And that’s where we’re gonna go here. First and foremost is just a standard split squat. Have the individual stand in place, one foot forward, one foot back, have them drop that knee down, tap, and then back up. It’s as simple as that. For my older adults, when I’m working with them, and they struggle with even getting to that point, I will stack, what are those, Eric’s mats, Eric’s pads, whatever it is, or handstand push-up mats, or sorry, ab mats, under their knee, and have them just get a target, right? That way they know every time they go down and tap their knee on that pad, they come right back up. And then we can progress that by removing layers of weight. Can we take one away, have them go a little deeper, take one away, have them go a little deeper, and progress that further and further. Once they are comfortable with that, can we now increase that split squat range of motion even more? If they’re tapping the ground with their knee and coming back up, can we now create a deficit? Because we know with the squat we want that below parallel depth. But with a split squat, we are never hitting that below parallel depth. It could be death too, depending on how tired your legs are. So for here, we bring elevation into the game. Can we have someone stand on two elevated surfaces in that same split squat stance? Can they then drop down below parallel in a deficit and then come back up? Same movement pattern, but just increasing that range of motion. Really nice progression for increasing load and stress onto the legs. You’re also gonna get a little bit more of that high hamstring, that glute, because of the sheer depth of that, even that adductor. So if you have someone with an adductor strain, which I’ve had a handful of those in my time, that’s a really good one to try and get someone a little more comfortable with that big depth, under less load, and try and get a little bit of stress onto that adductor magnus. We can have a front foot elevated split squat, where we’re just focusing on the depth in that front leg, really tight anterior hips, rectus all the way down to the knee, front foot elevated, drop down, less stress on that back knee, more range of motion on that front leg, and then driving back up. Probably going to be in this kind of partial squat, partial bent knee at the top, unless they push themselves all the way back, kind of dealer’s choice, however you want to load that up for the individual. from that, from that deficit, we then continue just loading these things, right? We’re loading these people throughout these different variations. And then we get to the point where now we have their foot elevated on a solid surface, a stable surface, a bench, a box, something behind them, going down, going back up. And I mentioned stable because there’s a variation we can do that changes it up a lot that I’ve had a lot of success with where we use a band on either some pins or J cups, and we have that individual put their foot up across that band. Now, that band is just supporting that back leg, but they can’t push down into that band to stand up, because if they do, typically they’ll lose balance, or they’ll hit the ground and they’ll know they’re doing it wrong, or they realize, I’ve been putting a lot of work through that back leg. So having that unstable surface, that band behind them to rest their foot on, and then doing that single leg squat, which I just butchered there, boom, And boom, it shows how much more you have to work through that front leg when you have your foot on a band, something that’s not gonna allow you to push through. So a really, really good progression, really difficult progression is to put that band on something where they can no longer support themselves through that back leg. And the most difficult variation I would recommend that we do in the clinic, with our athletes, with our clients, with anyone who’s appropriate for it, is something known as a shrimp squat. A shrimp squat is simply a single leg squat. However, we are not using that back leg anywhere at all. So we can usually get some support with the hands if needed on a surface, so kind of up right here. I then pick up my back leg, I go down, I let the knee tap, and then I come back up using just that front leg. We take away the ability to push through that back leg at all, to support through that back leg at all, and then all of a sudden that front leg has to work that much harder. All of these can be used to work on strength balancing symmetries. The ones I recommend the most for my athletes, for the clients I work with, are the rear foot elevated split squat with support, because of the fact that we can actually load those really, really heavy. when we add a lot of instability, right, when I add the banded one or the shrimp squat, we can’t really load that up in the same way as we can that rear foot elevated split squat, which is why that Bulgarian split squat is king. That’s why you see it in CrossFit gyms, why you see it in bodybuilding spheres, why physique competitors and the Brett Contreras clients of the world are doing heavy Bulgarian split squats, because they can load it up and really pump the glutes, pump the quads and get the legs really big and strong. It would be, Wrong with me not to mention it, because we see it a lot more in the mainstream now, is that ATG split squat, in which an individual has something like a slam board. Here we have one from VersaLifts, the V-Stack from VersaLifts. We place that foot on top of the box or any sort of incline. You can even do like a 25 or a 10 pound plate. I keep that back leg straight. I drive my front knee forward. I place almost all of my weight on that front leg, getting as much anterior displacement of that tibia as I can, and then I drive back up. This has been made really popular online. You see it a lot in like the ATG, or like the knee rehab, or the ankle rehab, or apparently it heals everything. And it’s a very good movement. It works really well for hip mobility. You think about the fact the leg is really straight, driving to that end range of hip extension there, that deep knee flexion position where you’re exploring that full, broad range of motion of deep knee bend. But again, it’s a hard movement, it’s a more advanced movement. You can elevate the slant a little bit to make it less intense on the knee. And again, it’s hard to start loading that when you have to get really comfortable with it before you load it. So for me, that split squat, that Bulgarian split squat is my go-to. But that standard split squat, just in place, a little bit of elevation where maybe you’re just doing a two or four inch elevation behind them just to kind of encourage a little bit more load through that front leg. and then keeping in mind where is my foot, where is my torso, because that is going to change what we are loading when you’re performing it. So there is your, let’s call it split squat bro science progressions from the ground to a deficit to a rear foot elevated. to an unstable rear foot elevated, to a shrimp squat or a pistol squat you could even do as well, but all the single leg things that you can do with your clients to help fight and work on some of these symmetries they may be dealing with in their legs that are affecting their squats, front squats, back squats, overhead squats, cleans, snatches, you name it. If there’s a squatting pattern in it, there could be some issues.

SUMMARY
If you wanna learn more, if you wanna see these live, and actually if you wanna practice these in person, we have a number of live courses coming up. Number one, this very weekend, so you’re probably already headed to it if you’re not already headed to it. We’re in Meridian, Idaho this weekend, March 23rd and 24th. In April, we got two courses, one in Renton, Washington, and the other in Midwest City, Oklahoma. Both of those are on April 13th and 14th. And then in May, we are in Proctor, Minnesota and Bozeman, Montana. And both of those are on the same weekend as well, May, 18th and 19th. So this weekend, March 23rd, 24th, head to the course, sign up right now, I don’t even know if you can at this point, for a boat for Meridian, Idaho in April, April 13th, 14th, and Renton, Washington, and Midwest City, Oklahoma. And then May 18th and 19th, we’re in Proctor, Minnesota and Bozeman, Montana, both on the same weekend. head to ptiknice.com, check out those courses, sign up. We hope to see you on the road. If you’re looking to take an online course, CMFA Level 1, where we learn all things squat, back squat, front squat, deadlift, push press, strict press, pull up, kipping pull up, overhead squat, how to program, how to do EMOMs, and what a METCON means, the science behind METCONs. That is Level 1. We hope to see you there. Next cohort starts April 29th. We are finishing up the current cohort right now. Super great group, hope to see you online there. And then level two. If you’re looking to finish up the CMFA cert, or if you just want to learn a little bit more into programming, Olympic weightlifting, high level gymnastics, that is not kicking off until September 3rd. So two cohorts a year getting through one. I think they just finished one. They’re just finishing one right now. And then the other cohort will be in September of this year. So what is that? May, June, July, August, about five and a half months away or so. No, five months away. Can’t do math. Five months away from today. Gang, thank you so much for putting up with me. Thanks for being on the call with me. Hopefully you practiced some of those split squats today. Hopefully one of those was new to you. You’re like, oh, holy cow, I never thought about that, never worked on that. But try it with your athletes. Try it with yourself. Make sure you practice these, play with these to know what they feel like so that your clients know what to expect because you know what it feels like as well. Have a wonderful weekend. Thanks for tuning in. Big weekend for Wisconsin basketball, Wisconsin Badgers and Marquette both playing in the tournament. So make sure to turn those guys on for me as well. Take care, gang. Have a wonderful weekend.

OUTRO
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