People often don’t realize, there is potential risk for injury in EVERY exercise we perform. You can easily move the wrong way, not pay attention, or not be ready for a specific lift. This plus more than a plethora of other reasons make it SUPER easy to vilify an exercise, even those that we often tout as those you should do MORE of!
That is why I was so intrigued when the Bulgarian Split Squat (also known as Rear Foot Elevated Squat) was seemingly getting bashed on. Really? This exercise? The one that often humbles even the strongest of individuals?
Well, as I get older, I do at least TRY to be wiser and follow my own advice of listening before I speak (it doesn’t always work;). What I found out was the argument had a lot to do with the fact that people when performing the Bulgarian Split Squat were going into a lot of what is called lumbar extension. Think of this simply as almost leaning back in your lower back. This rarely is a good thing as it does some nasty things to your spine and discs. This can be especially true if you are already prone to low back problems.
You can see in this picture that the young lady can’t keep her hips underneath her pelvis and go into that lumbar extension.
As fitness often goes, it was debated if the Bulgarian Split Squat was therefore a bad exercise to choose. Even top coaches that I have a tremendous respect for were looking at modifying the exercise to address this issue.
You might guess, I saw something very different.
If DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training has taught me anything, it is to go back to the movement, forget the exercise. In this case something as simple as a split squat which is a lunge that just goes up and down.
The question really becomes is this a bad exercise or are you not ready to perform it OR the way we are performing it may need to be revisited.
Why do I care so much about this exercise? It isn’t the specific exercise per se, but rather the way we do this to a lot of different exercises and if we can use this as an example of how to fix a lot of issues, I think you will find a whole new respect for the exercises you are performing.
Okay, back to my original point. Why do we go into lumbar extension with something like the Bulgarian Split Squat? A few reasons. One, you simply may have VERY tight hip flexors, the muscles that run in front of your hip, torso, and through some of the front of your thigh. If very tight whenever they go into a stretch, you won’t be able to get very far so you go through the low back to make up for it. A very high possibility in many people. That is why I suggest you try a split squat on the ground and see if it happens as well. If it doesn’t, then either you have limited mobility as you elevate the rear foot, or very likely as well, you aren’t engaging your core correctly.
A few days ago, I had Jessica write a blog post on the value of using the big toe (you can read it here), I actually did so with THIS blog post in mind. I wanted an introduction to the concept and value that the big toe has one a lot of our natural motions. When we perform exercises in a split position, using the back ball of foot and toes allows us to engage the leg and more importantly the hamstrings, glutes, and core muscles. Try it for a movement, assume a split squat position and just kinda relax the rear foot, try to squat down a bit and just “feel” how the movement is to your body. Now, actively push into the ball of foot in the rear foot and even without moving what do you feel? Can you get a sense of your hamstrings, glutes, and even core firing? Yea, it is kinda a big deal.
What really we are trying to do is is help “lock” the pelvis in place so that we don’t try to move through the low back, but keep the torso stable and actually move through the hip. Just like at the top of a deadlift, by locking the pelvis into place you take a lot of unnecessary movement and stress away from the low back. For a lot of people, they actually need to use both feet for some time. I say this because I know it is popular to relax the back leg on the top of the foot and place more work through the lead leg. Is this good? Sure, as long as you the strength to control the movement of your pelvis and the mobility in your hips. Let’s face it though, a lot of us are going to need to work through using the back foot for quite some time.
At the end of the day, what I HOPE you are getting from this is really two things when you look at an exercise….
1. Am I really ready to perform this drill?
2. Do I understand all the details of the exercise to perform it well and get what I want from it?
The reality is we are dealing with a culture of a lesser attention span than ever and quickly will jump from one movement to another rather than really breaking down the essence of the movement. I hope with today’s DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training post you will see exercise in general a bit differently as well as how we can use DVRT Ultimate Sandbag Training progressions to build really great movement and workouts that make you feel good!