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The Squat People Love to Hate!

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As I am well past my 40’s (going to be 43 this year, what happened?!) I am more aware of friends of mine, my age keep saying. Of course I have a good group of friends that are REALLY into fitness, it’s funny to hear so many of the same things. Like….

“Oh that was really great when I was younger, but now I focus on this….”

“Yea, that exercise is for the kids.”

and so on!

Man, we can sound REALLY old sometimes! What are we really saying though? People like to say that “getting old sucks”. Well, we aren’t what we use to be, that is just fact. However, I don’t believe that is the MAJOR issue we face as we age. In reality, I think getting older holds us to all the stupid things we did with our body when we were younger. Trust me when I say I’ve done ALL the stupid things!

A great example is the squat. We hear all the time how important it is to build up strength in your squat. To a point it is true. Well, what we want to have is the movement skill of a good squat, but no one has really ever ventured to put out what having “strength” in the squat.

For me, I don’t think there is one answer. It depends on your goals and so forth, but I do think people over focus on the squat and its carry over. Why though do people say that you have to have a strong squat to be strong in life and sport? It stems from the fact of what is called ground reaction forces (GRF). These are forces we apply into the ground and there are plenty of studies showing higher GRFs relate to better speed and power.

Okay, that makes sense, but what about the squat? There are a good number of studies showing that a strong squat can cause high GRFs. Cool, soooooooo? While that is true, we also know that a lot of people develop low back issues from the more familiar (I hate traditional because it is less than 70 years old) barbell back squat. In fact, I often show people how after the back squat their hip mobility decreases from the spinal compression!

Anyways, how do we balance the need for high GRFs and moving well and feeling our best. I do believe all of us have a history of doing exercises like the back squat that we thought were what we had to get strong and we were just never shown a better way.

When I came across this study (you can read HERE) I was highly intrigued. GRFs and rate of force development are qualities that every strength coach wants to build for their athletes, but they also have to consider the health of their athletes as well. What is fascinating is how step-ups and lunges compared VERY well to both squats and deadlifts that carried DOUBLE the load in these areas. Making us wonder if the squat we really should be focusing more on is the one people love to hate!


I am talking about the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS) or the Bulgarian Split Squat (whichever you prefer to call it). This is an exercise that people love to hate for many reasons. For one, it is really difficult, second it is really difficult, and third that means most people struggle to be able to perform them.

I get it, if you can’t get people to be successful how effective of an exercise is it?! A lot of the success or not of the Bulgarian split squat goes to how we progress like everything else! Trust me, I know how challenging it can be, as someone who has not recovered full use of his right leg, this can be a tough squat for me! However, it is also one of the best squats I can do due to this issue.

Below, Jessica and I break down some important foundations including using the back foot and how the big toe is connected to your core. Say what?! Watch and keeping reading below.


As you can see in the image below, there is a fascial connection of the big toe to your whole body! Especially to your core and that is why we always coach being strong from the ground up.

One of the first things we should notice is how the Bulgarian split squat isn’t truly a one legged exercise. We need and should use that stability from the back leg to help stabilize the core and help avoid excessive shear upon the lumbar spine that can irritate a lot of people. As we move to some of the split squat stands (I use the Perform Better adjustable one HERE and you can save 15% with code USB15 if you are interested) you become more one legged because we aren’t purposefully using the big toe. However, we still want to create some pressure in the back leg by pressing into the roller (one of the reasons I like this model).

Scroll through some of these great DVRT variations! 

So, what should we focus on the Bulgarian split squat to make it more accessible?

-Be aware of using both feet.

-Don’t set the back foot too high (start with both feet on the ground and VERY incrementally lift the back leg).

-Integrate the core through how we create tension against the loads we are using.


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The last point is really important because if we create the stability of the core, the hips move better and people feel more stable. In the series below our DVRT Japan Master, Taizo Omuro, shows how we change the load position of the Ultimate Sandbag to alter intensity and focus we can place on mobility and stability as well as strength.

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