The split squat is one of my favourite exercises for anyone of any athletic background, or lack thereof. I use this exercise as one of the foundations for all of my structural balance periodisation, provided the client/athlete can meet the positional demands of the lift. If the client/athlete can do split squats, they are doing split squats.
For the purpose of this article I will focus on the benefits of the split squat for fight athletes, because in my humble opinion all fight athletes should include this magnificent exercise as part of their training program. The split squat will provide a tremendous amount of value for all fight athletes, both strikers and grapplers; those who neglect training the lower body are ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face’ (see last week’s article for more on this).
One of the main reasons I love the split squat so much is because it can be used to train the athlete through the entire strength curve/range of motion of the squat pattern, as well as eliciting increases in mobility and flexibility. When the athlete is in the very bottom position of the split squat, where the knee has progressed fully over the foot, the athlete is unknowingly being trained into the bottom position for a full “knee break”, “ass-to-grass” Olympic style squat. While most trainees struggle to get into this bottom position initially, the full range split squat helps increase ankle and hip mobility so they can achieve that full ass-to-grass position.
Let it be known, ass-to-grass style squatting is not for everyone, I am certainly not arguing that, but the full range split squat is the next best thing for most trainees. It will engage far more motor units and lower body musculature than the traditional 90 degree single leg squat taught in most certificate 3 & 4 fitness courses. Specifically grapplers and MMA fighters, for example, need to push your opponent off you with your legs at full knee flexion while on your back, therefore you need to develop force production through the entire strength curve and lower body range of motion. This is one of the main functions of the split squat.
For strikers, especially kickers, the more force development you can achieve through your lower body, the better off you will be. The more stability and ‘robustness’ you can build through your legs, the more durable they will be heading into the later minutes of the final rounds. For punchers, the force development of your punches begins through your feet, driving up through the rotation of the hips, and is expressed through the arm & fist. Lower body force development is paramount and inseparable from punching power. Again, this is one of the main functions of the split squat.
Some might argue that lower body strength training makes strikers’ footwork slower, if this is the case I am yet to see a valid example or study to back up this argument. If you consider the potential benefits of including split squats into your training program, they far outweigh the compromise of a very slight potential decrease in footwork speed. Consider this, the fastest footwork on the planet is displayed by track athletes, and do you think they utilise lower body strength training? You bet your ass they do.
Finally, the split squat is a relatively low-impact exercise which will greatly increase injury prevention by strengthening a large amount of lower body musculature and connective tissue. Staying healthy and injury-free is one of my highest values in all of my coaching and programming for fight athletes.
There are several progressions and regressions for the split squat, including front foot elevated, rear foot elevated or “Bulgarian” split squats, 1 ¼ rep splits squats, dumbbell by your side split squats, barbell on your back, and barbell in front rack position. I would recommend the following progression for beginners & intermediates, this list is in order from least demanding to most demanding:
* Front foot elevated, dumbbells by your sides
* Feet on the floor, dumbbells by your sides, 1 ¼ reps
* Feet on the floor, barbell on your back
* Rear foot elevated, dumbbells by your sides
* Rear foot elevated, barbell on your back
* Rear foot elevated, barbell in front rack position
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