Split squats are critical for building single leg strength, but some knees just don’t seem to like them.
Oftentimes, a few quick, simple tweaks in technique are enough to clear up knee discomfort.
And if they AREN’T enough, stick around because I’ve got a gift for you at the end.
Mistake #1: Losing Foot Contact
If you’ve seen my novel on the split squat, you probably know where we’re going to begin.
We’ll start with the simplest fix that returns the biggest bang for your buck.
Keep your foot flat!
If the heel rises up, too much weight is shifting into the front of the knee.
If the foot rolls outward, ankle and hip mobility are limited.
If the foot collapses inward, the ACL takes on extra stress.
So simply: keep the front foot flat!
Mistake #2: Knee Collapse
When descending into the split squat, the hip needs to internally rotate to load the glutes.
If, however, this happens too quickly, it’s often impossible to recover. And we can see this happening when the knee collapses inward.
Throughout the split squat, aim to keep the knee inline with the hip and ankle.
Mistake #3: Too Much Weight on Trailing Leg
If pain tends to be worse on the trailing leg, it’s being overloaded.
Now we shouldn’t expect to completely unload the trailing leg, but it’s helpful to emphasize the leading leg.
Before desending into the first rep, lean forward slightly so that ~80% of the body’s weight is on the front leg.
Make sure to maintain this at the bottom.
This cue drastically increases the difficulty of the split squat, so lower the weight as needed.
If bodyweight is too heavy, unload the body weight by pulling down on an exercise band or cable that is anchored overhead.
Mistake #4: Floppy Spine
When mobility is limited, people often round the back on the descent of the split squat while arching it at the top. This removes load from the legs and adds it to the spine.
Lots of spine movement tends to coincide with overloading the knee joint.
It’s best to cue the torso “long” from the tail through top of head. This tends to put the spine in a nice, “neutral” position.
The added benefit is that you also get a gnarly quad stretch in the trailing leg. Just another example of how excellent technique does the body good.
Alternative: Front Foot Elevated Split Squat
Sometimes the problem isn’t just with technique, but that the muscles, tendons, and joints can’t tolerate the load of the movement.
Elevating the front foot can help shift the body back into a position that feels more comfortable, while still allowing you to train your legs hard.
To perform the front foot elevated split squat:
- Stand with one foot back and the other foot forward on a 1-2 inch box
- Exhale and tuck the tailbone beneath the butt
- Maintain this hip position while lowering the back knee to the floor
- Lightly tap the floor with the back knee and return to standing
Perfect Technique! Now What?
Alright, now that you’re a split squat PRO, hopefully your knee pain has disappeared.
Sometimes, however, no amount of cuing will eliminate the pain. In these cases, we need to look elsewhere.
The best solution is to increase your mobility.
My buddy, Zac Cupples, actually put together an article with his three top recommendations for increasing mobility with split squat knee pain.
Definitely check that out! Even if these cues fixed you up, his drills would be smart additions to your warm up routine.