The squat is regarded as the king of all exercises and a very good exercise. It is a compound movement (ie. an exercise that uses two or more different joints to engage muscle groups) that trains the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings, core and can produce (in conjunction with diet) rapid strength and body composition improvements in both men and women. It is a highly functional movement that can assist with a range of daily activities.
However not everyone can perform a squat whilst ensuring our joints are in the correct position to get the most out of the squat.
As we get older, a lot of us lose our ability to squat the way we did when we were younger. Visualise a healthy toddler picking something off the ground – they squat down with pretty much perfect form. As we get older, work, injuries and sometimes laziness means we’ll bend at the hips to pick things up off the ground (unless it’s heavy when we may bend our legs).
Modern day lifestyle can also contribute to our inability to squat. Working in jobs where we are in a seated position for 8+ hours a day shortens the hip flexor muscles and lengthens the glutes. This makes the glutes weak and usually results in an anterior (forward) rotation of the hip. When the hip is in this position, tightness in the hips is usually the result which restricts hip mobility when attempting to squat.
The type of footwear we regularly wear has an influence on the range in the ankle. The soleus muscle which sits below the gastrocnemius (large calf muscle) and just above the achilles can also tighten up with years of neglect to the type of footwear worn.
So, what if we have a situation where we have tight hips and restricted ankle joints but still want to get the benefits of a squat?
A split squat could be the answer.
This is a fantastic exercise that targets the same muscle groups and is one that is easier to get into the correct position than the squat. The split squat is also a unilateral movement which means it is performed by one limb at a time. This allows you to easily identify strength imbalances between the right and left side.
There are a number of variations – both feet can be on the ground but for those who are a little more advanced, elevating either the front or back foot on a step or block will take this exercise to a new level. You can use your own body weight, a barbell or dumbbells.
The split squat is also an excellent alternative to a traditional squat for those who have back or spine issues. When doing a split squat, you use lighter weights than what you would use when performing a traditional squat. This means less spinal compression from the weight.
Use the split squat as your go-to exercise to build and train your legs whilst continuing to work on the issues preventing you from performing a normal squat using just your bodyweight such as hip and ankle mobility.
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