By Tony Gracia, Head Coach and Co-Founder at Industrial Strength.
This series of articles will highlight fifteen of my favorite exercises that I think are awesome and do not get the appreciation they deserve. The first week of installments focused on major lower body strength developers, the second week on upper body strength movements, and this week will emphasize unilateral lower body strength exercises.
UNDERRATED EXERCISE #7 = Front Foot Elevated Split Squats
When training for lower body strength it is important to have a balance between bilateral exercises like squats and deadlifts, as well as various types of unilateral exercises such as lunges. One popular (and awesome) exercise is a Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS) which some people also call a Bulgarian Split Squat. While those are an awesome exercise, a lot of people do not know of (or have appreciation for) the version where the front foot becomes elevated instead of the rear foot; these would be Front Foot Elevated Split Squats, or FFESS.
The main reasons someone would choose a FFESS over a RFESS are a) balance, and b) any existing foot and/or knee sensitivity. The RFESS is fantastic, and at the same time not everyone has enough balance to warrant doing them. Also, some people have some sensitivity on the rear leg in their knee and/or foot during RFESS. Both of these issues are usually resolved with the FFESS.
A few reasons the FFESS are awesome include 1) increased range of motion compared to regular split squats or lunges, 2) reduced demand for balance compared to RFESS, which lets us load them really heavy and build strong legs, 3) decreased stress on the foot and knee of the back leg compared to RFESS, 4) the lifter uses their toes of the back leg rather than the top of the foot like a RFESS, thus incorporating the entire kinetic chain in an athletic way, and 5) it is easier for most people to maintain a strong, stable pelvis & lower back position with FFESS compared to bilateral squats.
HOW TO DO THEM
- Starting position
- Your right foot is on an elevated, stable surface (about 3-6 inches)
- Your left foot is behind you and pointed straight ahead, and you are on your toes (heel will never touch the floor)
- Your legs are in line and about hip-width, as if you are standing on rail road tracks
- Your body is upright and vertical, and your eyes are looking straight ahead
- Bottom position
- Your left knee should be gently touching the floor at a position directly under the hip (not in front of or behind the pelvis)
- Your right foot remains flat on the elevated surface while the left foot continues to be only on the toes
- Each knee is tracking the toes of its respective foot – do not let your knee point a different direction than your toes
- The torso continues to be upright and the eyes straight ahead
- Other tips
- Pay attention to your position as you descend and be sure to not drift forward – the exercise should look like you are going up and down an elevator, not down and forward at an angle like an escalator
- Descend slowly and make sure you do not whack your knee hard on the floor
- Make sure the shoulders and hips move up and down together as a unit, rather than one before the other – the best way to do this is make sure the hips say right under (or mostly right under) the shoulders at all times during the set
- Many people feel stronger and more stable when they “spread the floor” throughout the set – do this by imagining you are sliding two carpet tiles away from each other (front foot forward, read foot backward) but do not actually let your feet move