If we were to poll the members to find the most hated exercise in our programming, it’d be no contest. Sure, there are other exercises that garner their fair share of eye rolls and curse words, but not like this one. Heck, this one even received an award at our virtual holiday party.
In case you missed the picture…
We’re talking about the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (AKA RFESS, AKA Bulgarian Split Squat, AKA Spassov Squat, AKA “Is that the one where I put my back foot on the bench?”).
I’m here today to defend not just the RFESS, but single leg training as a whole, and why it is so important in any training program.
Every so often, a
frustrated curious member will demand to know inquire about why there are always variations of step ups, lunges, and split squats in their training program. It usually goes something like this:
UA Member: “Did I do something to offend you in a past life? Why do I have these in my program AGAIN?
Me: “It’s an important pattern to build strength and stability in, most of your life happens on one leg”
UA Member: *Confused look while they think about how rarely they hop around one foot at work*
To illustrate my point, let’s look at how you got to the gym for your last session. First, your walk to the car. Walking is a cyclical gait pattern consisting of a stance phase and a swing phase, those phases break down even further to include things like heel-strike, toe-off, support, and leg lift phases. Each of those requires the muscles that serve as prime movers and stabilizers around your hips, knees, and ankles to propel you forward through what is essentially a series of split stances. Running, which includes a flight phase and an unsupported single leg stance, places an even higher demand on the musculature.
Now, how about when you got in the car? Did you turn to the side and perform your very best bilateral (read: two-legged) squat pattern to get down into the seat? I’m guessing not, you probably flexed and abducted your right hip to get your foot in the car, then used your gluteus medius, adductors, and QL (among other things) to stabilize on one leg, while your glute max, quads, and hamstrings did the bulk of the work to lower you down into the seat. Take away the car in this scenario and this looks an awful lot like a lateral lunge huh?
Next, you drive to the gym, guzzling coffee and jamming to the Cobra Kai soundtrack. No? Just me? Meh – neither here nor there…
Anywho, you get out of your car (I hope). That’s single leg work.
You walk through the parking lot. Single leg work.
Run down the stairs and into the gym. You guessed it…
…Single leg work…
Why does this matter? If you can already walk to and from the car just fine, why do we need more proficiency in those patterns? Fair question, but this very tame example of how often we’re on one leg is just the tip of the iceberg. Now consider all the other, and less predictable, scenarios where the ability to stabilize and absorb or produce force on one leg could come in handy. In sports, strong stabilizers and synergists can help prevent injuries after an awkward landing or misstep. Don’t play sports? How about your weekend jog around the neighborhood or the games you play with the kids?
We’re not naive enough to believe that this short examination of human movement patterns will suddenly have everyone requesting more rear foot elevated split squats or lateral split squats, but maybe, just maybe, next time you see the single leg exercises in your training program, you’ll think “they love me. They really love me!” Or at least you’ll realize they serve a purpose and we include them because we think they’re important to your daily life and will benefit you…
…Not to torment you and hear your creative expletives. That part’s just a bonus 😉
Written By Coach Clay Hinson