The Beginner’s Guide to the Split Squat

By Brittany Risher |

Add this one movement to your routine to improve balance, reduce risk of falls, and alleviate back pain.

The split squat is an excellent two-for-one exercise: It strengthens one leg while stretching the other, creating balance in the body by allowing each leg to work independently.

“By putting one leg in front of the other, the split squat works the quads, glutes, and hamstrings of the front leg while stretching the quad and hip flexors of the back leg,” explains fitness expert David Jack. “This helps balance the pelvis and open up the back, so it’s really great for posture and pain relief.”

Ready to give it a try? Follow this step-by-step guide. As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Step #1: Take a Tall Half-Kneel

Set a pad, mat, or folded towel on the floor. Kneel with your back knee on the pad, and tuck your back toes so you’re on the ball of the foot. This helps with balance.

Your front foot should be planted flat on the floor with your knee directly above your ankle, so your front shin is perpendicular to the floor. Keep your eyes up and chest forward.

Step #2: Stand Up

From your tall half-kneel position, push through your feet and into the floor to drive your body up, coming to stand with your front leg as close to straight as possible. You can stand next to a chair or wall to help you balance if needed.

Step #3: Lower Down

Pause at the top of the movement, then bend your knees and lower down with control to the starting position. Your back knee can tap the ground, or you can lower all the way and reset before driving up again.

Step #4: Make It Your Own

If you have trouble getting down on the ground, stand with a chair by your side. Hold the chair with one hand and stand with your legs in split squat stance, one foot in front of the other. Keep your chest and hips facing forward. Bend down as far as is comfortable, then push up. Keep your front heel on the ground and your front knee over the ankle (not caving in or out) throughout the movement.

Another way to make it easier: Widen your stance from side to side. This will reduce the balance challenge.

Want to make it harder? Narrow your stance so that your back foot is almost in line behind your front foot.

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Another option: Add weight. You can hold one dumbbell with both hands, a dumbbell in each hand, or a dumbbell in only one hand for added core work. You can also hold a medicine ball in both hands.

Finally, go slower. Take about 3 seconds to lower down, then pause for 2 seconds at the bottom before driving up to stand.

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