October 02, 2023 7 min read
Split lunges, aka split squats, are effective lower-body exercises that can benefit everyone. From athletes who want to improve agility, lower body power, and balance, to strength training enthusiasts looking for a compound exercise to target their quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.
Split lunges are also great for addressing muscle imbalances and for people recovering from injuries. This is because split lunges are unilateral and work each leg independently.
In this article, we'll explore the steps to performing split lunges with proper form, the muscles they work, and the benefits they offer. We'll also describe the common mistakes people make when performing split lunges.
It might be worth mentioning the difference between standard lunges and split lunges.
Split lunges are static movements that require both your feet to be planted securely while your knees and ankles work to move your body up and down. In contrast, the standard forward lunge is a dynamic movement performed in motion.
Whether you’re doing forward lunges, reverse lunges, or lateral lunges, they all start each movement with the feet together before stepping forward, backward, or sideways, lowering the body into a squat, and then returning to the starting position or proceeding in a walking motion if you’re doing walking lunges.
A split lunge or split squat is precisely what it says. It is performed with your legs split into a staggered stance to do a single-leg lunge.
Think of a split lunge as a stationary lunge. The front leg is isolated as the working leg, while the back leg is the anchor that helps you maintain your balance.
Although you do have both feet on the floor, it’s a unilateral, or single-leg exercise.
Split lunges are stationary lunges that target mainly the lower body muscles, primarily the leg and glute muscles. However, muscle activation is not limited to the lower body, as you’ll see in the list below:
1. Quadriceps: The quadriceps are located on the front of your thighs. The quads are the primary muscles engaged during split lunges. They stabilize your knee and help you straighten your leg every time you return to the starting position as you push off the ground after lowering into the squat,
2. Gluteus Maximus: The gluteus maximus is the largest muscle in your buttocks. Its contribution is essential in split lunges as it aids the quads by extending the hip when you rise from the lunge position and return to the upright position.
3. Hamstrings: The hamstrings are at the back of your thighs where they work as stabilizers and help maintain balance and control during the split lunge. The hamstrings also assist in the forward movement when you first step into the lunge position.
4. Gastrocnemius and Soleus: These are your calf muscles that stabilize your ankle joint and provide balance as you step forward and back during the split lunge.
5. Hip Adductors: The hip adductors are located on the inner thigh where they help stabilize the hip joint. The hip adductors also assist in maintaining proper form during the split lunge movement.
6. Core Muscles: Your torso needs stabilizing, and your abdominals, obliques, and other core muscles play that role. They help you maintain an upright posture during the split lunge, preventing excessive forward or lateral lean.
7. Erector Spinae: These lower-back muscles help support your spine, and they keep your back straight during the split lunge exercise.
8. Iliopsoas: These are the hip flexors that are engaged as you lower yourself into the lunge position to assist in hip flexion.
Split lunges can be done as a bodyweight exercise, or you may choose to add weights. If you use dumbbells or kettlebells, your arms, shoulders, and upper back muscles will play a role in allowing you to support weights in your hands during the exercise. Strength builders and lifters often include barbell split squats in their weightlifting workouts.
Overall, split lunges are an excellent choice as a compound exercise that is versatile enough to be incorporated into various workout routines to improve overall fitness and build lower body strength. Split lunges target multiple muscle groups in the lower body and core, while they also help improve leg strength, balance, and stability.
Once you’ve gone through a proper pre-workout warm up routine, here’s the step-by-step guide to performing bodyweight split lunges. If you’re using weights, grab them before getting into the starting position.
Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart, directly under your hips, your spine should be neutral, and your arms straight down by your sides.
With your right leg, take a big step forward and plant your right foot on the floor with your toes pointing slightly out for balance.
Here's how to do it:
Inhale and brace your core as you bend your knees and lower your body without leaning your torso forward.
Keep the heel of your front foot anchored on the floor, and push the toes of your back foot firmly onto the floor to anchor you.
Descend until your rear leg's knee is about two inches from the floor, keeping your front knee in line with your toes.
Pause for a moment before exhaling and engaging your quads and glutes to extend your right knee as you push through your front heel to straighten the front leg to rise to the starting position.
Pause for a moment again, inhale, and descend into the next squat.
Do the required number of reps, then step back to stand with your feet together.
Repeat the same movement and form with the left foot in front. Unless you are doing single-leg squats to address muscle imbalances, do the same number of reps per leg.
It's essential to perform split lunges with proper form to prevent injury. Beginners should use the guidance of personal trainers to ensure they use the proper form. Furthermore, it's always best to master the basics and proper technique using body weight before adding heavier weights. The same squat form applies when doing some of the other split squat variations like the Bulgarian split squat.
—Stance: Proper stance is one of the most important aspects of performing split lunges effectively. Once you've stepped forward, your feet should be slightly staggered to make sure your stance doesn't look like you're about to walk on a tightrope.
Also, your front and rear feet should not be too far apart. A good guide is that when you descend, your front shin should be relatively vertical, making sure your front knee is still behind your toes.
Although 80% of your weight should be on your front leg, leaning too far forward will put undue stress on your front knee.
—Pushing up: To avoid injury when moving back up from the squat, push through the heel of your front foot and engage your quadriceps to maintain balance as you rise. Your rear leg should only be used to anchor you, and not to help you lift yourself up from the squat position.
—Breathing: The muscles need enough oxygen to maintain the rigidity of the torso during split squats. Therefore, proper breathing techniques are crucial. You should breathe in deeply before you descend, and exhale as you push yourself up on each repetition.
Although the split lunge is a compound exercise that activates multiple muscle groups, it is unilateral as it works one side at a time. It allows for balanced development, more stability, and a good mind-muscle connection.
Incorporating split lunges into a fitness routine can bring many benefits, including:
The leg muscles are the primary targets of split lunges. Regular split lunges can help build strong quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, ultimately leading to more powerful and defined legs.
Because split lunges build muscle in one leg at a time, they require you to actively work on maintaining balance. This enhances overall balance, not only for working out but in your day-to-day activities. Balance is vital for hypertrophy and strength.
The movements made when performing split lunges mimic many of the functional movements, like climbing stairs and walking. Therefore, they can help you perform everyday activities with ease.
Better posture relies on better core strength, which is enhanced by working the core muscles as you do when performing split lunges.
Including split lunges in circuit-style training can increase your heart rate enough to provide a healthy cardio workout along with the strength training benefits they bring.
As mentioned, proper form when doing split lunges can maximize the mentioned benefits as they provide variety to your workouts, and you can do them anywhere because you can use body weight only.
Mistakes when performing split lunges can lead to poor results and raise the risk of injury. Here are some common mistakes to look out for from day one:
Incorrect foot placement is a mistake often made by beginners. Lunging too far forward can jeopardize maintaining balance and prevent effective loading of the quadriceps.
On the other hand, placing the front foot too close will limit the range of motion, and typically make the knee move too far forward, putting excessive stress on the knee joint.
Another stance mistake involves placing the feet in line with each other as if you are tightrope walking. Staggering the feet slightly will make maintaining balance much easier.
Failing to go through the full range of motion in split lunges can reduce their effectiveness. This happens when you don't squat deep enough.
Ensure that you lower your body down until both knees are bent at approximately 90-degree angles.
The error is more common when people do split lunges with too heavy weights. It is important to lower yourself until the back knee almost touches the floor to ensure sufficient loading on the front leg.
However, don't go too far down until the rear knee touches the ground, which is also an error often made by beginners.
Rushing through the split lunge reps increases the risk of losing balance and getting injured. Controlled movement patterns, with a focus on form, are crucial for optimal benefits.
In conclusion, mastering the technique of split lunges enhances your lower body strength and improves balance and stability. By understanding the correct form and the muscles worked during this exercise, you can ensure an effective and safe workout.
Whether you're an athlete looking to boost performance or a fitness enthusiast seeking a challenging lower-body workout, split lunges are a valuable addition to your training regimen.
So, step into the lunge, engage those quads, glutes, hamstrings, and more, and stride confidently toward a fitter, stronger you.