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The Squat People Love to Hate!

ultimate sandbag

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.

1 Superficial Back Line 1 1 174x300 - The Squat People Love to Hate!

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).

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When we think of powerful #squats drills like Bulgarian spilt squats aren’t usually at the top of many #strengthtraining lists but they probably should be! From the ability to build stability, mobility, balance, and strength from the ground up makes this #squat big time! ———- 💪🏻 Probably why most people don’t like Bulgarian split squats is they expose weaknesses that can hide in more classic squats but making these weaknesses into strengths we can see our results skyrocket! That’s why in our #DVRT system we give so many options to progress this great #functionaltraining exercise. ————- 💪🏻 @jared_dyem shows how we use our Ultimate #Sandbag in MAX front loaded position to challenge these split squats in all 3 planes of motion with @perform_better stand. Learning to resist and produce movement at the same time really builds strength and connection from the foot, #glutes , core, and upper body. A moving #plank unlike anything else. #strengthandconditioning coach @joelgun10 shows another way we challenge these goals with an Ultimate Sandbag on Shoulder and one moving means we need more reactive strength especially in the frontal plane which helps the knees and low backs! ———— 💪🏻 @ultimate_lady_badass shows how we can start to build this lateral strength by introducing an Arc Press that challenges the hip and core not just up and down but side to aids too! Renown fitness experts @rachcosgrove and @alwyncosgrove show how we can change variables like holding and body positions to make this great exercise easier or harder, focus on more load or more stability. It isn’t about right or wrong but making the exercise work for you than trying to squeeze you into a cookie cutter program!

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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.

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 I demonstrate the way I progress from foundational and creating that stability to using more load but also challenging my body to stabilize at the same time. There is never a time I run out of weight with THESE progressions and tools (scroll through all of them to see).

Excited to get strong going into 2020? Don’t wait, take advantage of our DVRT Fall sale with 30% off EVERYTHING (excluding live events) at DVRT with code “fall” HERE.

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After having my 25 year old disc injury collapse 4 years ago, I lost complete use of my right leg. No, not a little use, not it just hurt, it was COMPLETELY gone to where I went in for emergency surgery not to restore my leg, but to not let things become worse(like losing control of my bowels). So you could imagine being able to do more single leg based exercises was not something I knew I was going to be able to do again, but was determined to do so! . It was some time before doing anything like a #bulgariansplitsquats would be possible but the small victories started to add up and I knew I could do it. I had to start with just patterning the movement and due to my surgeries I realized how MUCH the trunk muscles are connected to the #glutes and lower leg. So, I started trying to find ways to connect the trunk better with the hips and that’s what led me to drills like the @perform_better lever bell press outs and Ultimate #Sandbag lift/chops. . I started to re-think what strength meant and realized that challenging my body to keep its posture and position was key in rebuilding my strength and movement. What you see in the following progressions aren’t just novel ways to load my body, but ways that stressed specific attributes of my #functionalfitness . My journey wasn’t fun and with neuropathy in my right leg today, it isn’t always easy. Yet, it has made me a better #fitnesspro in ways I would never imagine!

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