Hip Strength & Stability Week 6 - The Split Squat
By David Drinks
Have you been working on your hip strength & stability recently? I hope that you have!
If you’ve been following along with this series and working on each of the exercises, then you ought to be gaining some good hip strength and stability already. Now that we’ve set that baseline, it’s time to move on to some more functional and challenging hip exercises.
In this week’s video, we start to increase the challenge to your hips by not only moving onto the feet but also moving right into a split stance. This set up really forces the hip muscles to work overtime to both stabilize and drive movement.
For starters, anytime you are in either a split stance or a single leg stance, you need to use more hip muscles to stabilize in a less stable environment. When you are in a bilateral stance (i.e. feet parallel to one another), you inherently have more stability and so you don’t have to work as hard to stay balanced.
However, when you split your stance or take one leg away entirely in a single leg stance, then you really have to work hard to stabilize and maintain balance. This requires that you use more of the muscles around the hip to not only drive movement but also to control unwanted movement.
Utilizing the smaller stabilizing muscles around the hip to control unwanted movement and maintain balance while moving is a concept that we’ve been talking about already in this series, and it really comes into play in this week’s exercise.
On top of the need for more stability, you also demand more of each hip muscle to drive you back out of the bottom of the split squat. As we saw in the single-leg bridge earlier on in the series, one of the best ways to challenge your hip muscles is to take away one leg from the equation.
In this case, rather than both hips working equally to push you back out of the bottom of a squat - as in a normal bilateral stance squat - in the split squat, almost all of the work falls to the hip muscles on the front leg.
So, the split stance set up exponentially increases the challenge to your hips both to stabilize and create movement. Thus, it is an excellent option for our hip strength and stability series.
The Split Squat with Band RNT (Reactive Neuromuscular Training)
The second part of the video above highlights the split squat with a band around the front knee. We call this “Reactive Neuromuscular Training.”
That may sound pretty fancy, but it’s just a way to say that we’re teaching your neuromuscular system (which is made up of nerves and muscles!) to reactively stabilize against an outside force.
This reactive method of training the hip muscles to stabilize is often more effective than just telling yourself to keep the knee centered over the foot when doing the movement. It’s also more effective than simply focusing on maintaining good alignment.
Why? Because the language of movement lies in what we feel, not in what we hear or even consciously think about.
That means that it’s much easier for us to master a movement technique or alter a movement pattern if we first feel the right muscles kicking in at the right time to properly stabilize and move the body.
In the case of the split squat, a common technique flaw is an inability to maintain alignment of the knee over the middle of the foot on the front leg. Instead, often due to a lack of hip stability on the front leg, the knee dives inside of the foot.
This medial knee glide (also known as a valgus angle at the knee) is a very unstable position and can lead to excessive wear and tear on the knee, hip, and other joints up and down the kinetic chain.
So, to correct this and provide you with more stability at the hip and knee, I could just tell you to keep your knee centered over your foot. Sometimes that works, and sometimes it doesn’t. However, it almost always works to put a band around your knee and ask you to not let the band pull your knee in while you perform the split squat – and it works very quickly!
Your body feels what it’s like to stabilize against the band and it now knows how to properly recruit the hip muscles to create a stable leg during the movement.
This variation of the exercise is a great option, then, if you find it difficult to control the knee position as you drop into a split squat. It can be a great teaching tool to first get you into the proper position while doing the movement.
After that, you can add weights in your hands or on your shoulders to really train the strength of the hips. But first, you must be able to stabilize. Only then can you move on to safely build strength in the hips!
Now that we have progressed to a more challenging exercise in the split squat, it’s time to back down how much and how often you’re performing it.
Many of the other exercises that we’ve performed so far in this series were at a low enough level that it likely wouldn’t cause any problem to perform them as often as daily.
However, with the split squat, it’s wise to break it up to two or maybe three times per week. This gives you plenty of frequency to work on building strength and stability in the hips without overdoing it.
I also prefer to keep the reps a little lower on this exercise, usually opting for 6-8 reps per set. This is usually a good range to build strength without giving your form a chance to break down.
Working on 1-3 sets of 6-8 reps with only bodyweight is a good place to start. Once you’ve mastered bodyweight, you can then progress to holding weights in your hands or even a barbell on your shoulders!
So, give the split squat a try along with the banded split squat, and take your hip strength and stability to the next level!
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