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The 90-90 Split-Squat

Half-kneeling and split-stance exercises are beneficial for numerous athletes and trainees.  Whether your goal is to soothe knee and lower back pain, or to improve your performance on big lifts like squats and deadlifts, half-kneeling and split-stance exercises can be a fantastic addition to your program.

The video above gives you a brief introduction to the 90/90 split-squat.  And while you may quickly assume that you “already know how to lunge,” I would implore you to take 5 minutes out of your day to watch the video.  If you follow along and try the techniques I outline, I think you’ll find that the devil really is in the details.

If you picked up a tip or two along the way, please take a quick moment to help spread the word – whether it’s on Digg, Twitter, Facebook, or simply forwarding the link on to a friend, every little bit helps!

Finally, if you have any follow-up questions you’d like me to answer, just leave them in the “Comments” section below and I’ll get to them as soon as I can. Thanks!

All the best

Mike

P.S. – If this video has been helpful and you’d like to learn more about single-leg training, I would definitely recommend picking up a copy of the Single-Leg Solution.  This DVD and manual detail all of my single-leg progressions, along with technique and coaching cues.

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  • Chuck Fountaine

    Hi Mike,
    You have a real gift for breaking exercises down and explaining the relevant cues, I really appreciate your attention to detail.

    When you coach the 90-90 split squat, what do you need to see in order for you to start loading?

    Thanks,
    Chuck Fountaine

    • Mike Robertson

      Chuck –

      The big things for me are:

      1 – Neutral pelvis
      2 – Ability to keep hips extended (i.e. core and glutes turned on)
      3 – Minimal dorsiflexion on the lead angle

      Now keep in mind, all of these things aren’t necessarily BAD. If someone dorsiflexes to get more quad development, I get that.

      What I DON’T want, however, is to start loading someone who has faulty or aberrant movement patterns or dysfunctions. I want them to move my way first, demonstrating control and stability in the appropriate areas.

      Once they can do that, it’s go time :)

      Hope that helps!
      MR

  • DJ

    I can’t tell you how good the Single Leg Solution is. I bought it because it was from ‘Mike Robertson’. And I put it aside for about 6 weeks while I read other resources. I mean how much can you learn from single leg movements thats not already out there. But I can tell you it blew me away. The most important part of your lower body programming. Actually overall programming. HIPS. It filled in so many blanks that I didn’t even know I had. I am a much more confident trainer because of it. Cheers Mike.

    • Mike Robertson

      DJ –

      Thanks a ton for the kind words!

      I understand where you’re coming from, though. It’s a difficult product ot market and sell, because people assume they know a lot about this stuff. I can tell you I’ve learned a ton in the process, though, and I know I’m a better coach as a result.

      Overall, I feel like SLS is one (if not my most) complete products. Guys like you remind me it’s not a bust just because it isn’t my biggest seller!

      Thanks again
      MR

  • Allen

    Beautiful cinematography.

    • Mike Robertson

      Hey broski, you not only got a shout out, but a mention in the credits as well. You’re moving way up in the fitness world LOL

  • Ronell Smith

    Mike,

    I’m a former Cressey Performance client (now a lifetime advocate for Eric and CP) who loves your insight and opinions. (Sadly, I have read every one of your articles on tnation.com, though I am much healthier for it :/.)
    Where does the split squat fit into programming for you? For whatever reason, I seldom see it programmed and wondered why.
    Please keep up the excellent work and realize that so many of us, especially myself, are much, much, much more functional because of you.

    R. Smith

    • Mike Robertson

      Ronnell –

      I think it’s a lack of understanding of proper performance that leads to this.

      People don’t know the intricacies of the movement pattern, and therefore, progress too quickly through the progressions. After all, if you’re not focusing on the cues I gave above (stay tall, core tight, rear-leg glute tight, etc.) it’s easy to assume “hey, I can keep my balance – time for reverse lunges!”

      When people start to understand the level of precision necessary to properly execute split-squats, then it becomes a lot better option in their programming.

      I hope that makes sense. Thanks for the comments!

      MR

  • SeanG

    Ronnel,

    While I’m not Mike, I can give my insights as a client of Mike’s/Bill’s @ IFAST.

    Split squats challenge my hip stability and help me relearn core engagement through hip flexion/extension. It is a great option for me as I have reoccurring back injuries (which coincide with hip instability), it gives me an option for lower body work without loading the lumbar spine, and can be a good progression into lunges or heavier barbell movements.

    • Mike Robertson

      IFAST – where our clients are smarter than most average trainers :)

      Thanks for chiming in Sean – now don’t you have some single-leg work to do?????

      MR

  • Israel

    Hi Mike,

    Thank you for the excellent video.

    I was under the impression that a vertical trunk would turn the lunge into a quad dominant one, therefore I ask for a slightly flexed trunk to make the lunge more posterior chain dominant.
    Would you mind commenting on this thought process?

    Thanks,
    Israel

    • Mike

      Israel –

      I, too, use quad and hip dominant thought-processes in my programming. But the trunk is just one thing to consider.

      You also need to consider the following:

      – The amount of dorsiflexion at the ankle
      – The amount of knee flexion
      – Where the center of gravity is

      In the case of the above example, the vertical shin (i.e. minimal dorsiflexion) helps with load sharing – you’re going to get quads, glutes and hamstrings all in one.

      Along those same lines, by loosening up the hip flexors, you’re now going to get more posterior chain recruitment across ALL your exercises, not just the one you’re performing.

      I hope that helps a bit :)

      MR

  • http://trainrogue.com Jonathan Pope

    Mike,
    I love all the new video content; it really helps cement things for me.
    Keep the great content coming!

  • Eddy

    Cool.

    – I feel concentrating on keeping the back neutral and vertical really activates the tensor fasciae latae (very much!) and all the thigh muscles. If followed by a wide-stance squat, (keeping the lowest safest position depending on the subject of course), it’s indeed an incredible stretch!!!

    – Nice and easy way to “move around”even in a very tight place (e.g. office, sitting all day).

    Out topic: your series on shoulders and low back “health” is fantastic. The “start from the scapulae” clue in rows makes a difference.

  • Sergey

    Dear Mike,

    Is wider stance split squat (keeping forward shin vertical) a progression with respect to the 90-90 one, just a variation, shifts focus where? Is it at all recommended? Any thoughts, please.

    • Mike

      If you’re in a true 90/90, the forward shin should already be vertical.

      You can go wider front-to-back, but many are going to have issues controlling the position of the pelvis/hip on the trailing leg.

      Good luck!
      MR

  • Ernie O’Malley

    Hey Coach,

    great video!
    How long should one be able to hold the kneeling position, the isometric position and how many reps on the split squat to skip to the next “level”?

    Thank you!

    Ernie

    • Mike

      I don’t really judge it based off time – if they can get in the appropriate position and maintain for 20-30 seconds (the length of an average set) they should be fine.

      If you progress them and they lose technique, consider regressing them back a bit.

      MR

  • JP

    Hi Mike,

    Another great video! I had a question regarding proper positioning for another progression – the Bulgarian Split Squat. Of course, as I’m sitting here thinking about how to word the question properly, I think I have just answered it for myself!

    Most of the demos/pictures I have seen have the rear leg very extended, to the point where the torso is leaning forward (because maximum hip extension has already been reached), presumably to try and unload the rear foot as much as possible. This has always seemed unnecessarily awkward to me, and after watching your video on the 90/90 split squat, I am also thinking that it might be functionally incorrect.

    Am I correct in thinking that it is more important to maintain proper posture and keep the torso upright, therefore using less extension of the rear leg? Logically, that makes more sense to me, particularly when you think about progressing the exercise further by adding either dumbbell or barbell loads.

    Of course, I’m sure you have probably already answered this in the SLS… ;)

    • Mike

      Okay first off, yes, I answer this in the SLS :)

      But you are correct. People pitch so far forward because they are moving AROUND the stiffness in their rectus femoris. I’d rather see someone stay tall, tense the oblique/glute, and move INTO the stiffness.

      RF can be a bugger, and really inhibit glute function. Why not loosen it up?

      Otherwise, I think people miss out on the biggest benefit of this exercise. Great question!
      MR

  • http://humbleobserver.net Christopher

    Great stuff as always Mike!

    Not as much about the 90-90 split-squat, but about lunges in general. When the pelvis shifts laterally, my understanding is that this is a glute med “weakness,” is that correct? What would your progression of exercises be to correct this?

    Thanks for your time.

    • Mike

      Try a cue to “push” back into the hip first.

      If that doesn’t work, try using an RNT method with a band. Pull them further into the adduction, so they have to ABduct the hip to correct.

      Good luck!
      MR

  • SLL

    Woah!, perfect timing, as i’m really trying to focus on single leg work and i’ve already seen from this video two things i’m doing wrong.

    I noticed the dude in the video is wearing shoes (Nike Frees), do you recommend some type of flat shoe as opposed to barefoot?, or are shoes in this video for health and safety purposes?.

    • Mike

      Anything flat is fine – Frees, barefoot, Chuck’s, Vibram’s, etc.

  • Louise

    Wow! The things I never knew! Your website is a treasure trove of quality information, thanks for sharing.

  • Tony Ricci

    Absolute gold. I watched this thinking (sigh, simple looking) but following my goal of being open-minded, I tried the move. I was stunned at the activation I felt in my hip flexors!!!! This especially since I routinely work on mobility of the hip to the point where my knee pain is a thing of the past. When I did the move alone I thought I was “good.” I had a friend observe and he nuked me stating I had a compensatory forward lean. Revenge was sweet as I had him–a chronic knee pain guy–try the move and he was almost unable to even assume the position. I wound up showing him the knee/hip mobility drill Eric Cressey shows in his MM DVD and I do believe we’ve found a source of his “knee” problem. My friend is a flight nurse (I’m a flight paramedic) and was lamenting his inability to work out anymore due to his knee problems, and I do believe he’ll find that he workout days are truly within reach by executing these simple maneuvers. Thanks for the good intel Mike & all those of you who’re cutting edge in this fitness world!

    • Mike

      My pleasure Tony – glad it helped!

      MR

  • http://starfactoryfitness.com Conor

    Mike,
    Love the videos and the breakdowns you give. I’m now a better trainer for spending 5 minutes watching this video. Thanks,
    Conor

  • bart

    What do you think about one leg squat training against regular barbel squat? Can one build muscles with one leg squat? I see people doing barbell squats, but when you ask them to do one leg squat they all fail.

  • Keith Baker

    Mike,
    Love the series on knee pain. I’m trying to implement single leg traing, but I am having trouble with balance. Especialy in the 90/90 split squat. What can I do?
    Thank you,
    Keith

    • Mike

      Keith –

      Consider taking your feet out a bit wider, laterally, to begin with.

      If that doesn’t work, you may need to regress and simply working on some chopping/lifting in half-kneeling first, before splits-squatting.

      Hope that helps!
      MR

  • HG

    Love the thorough explanation in the video. When I get into the 90/90 position with my left leg/foot in front and right leg back (right knee on ground) I have issues. When I get straight and tall in core, put hand behind my head and active my right glute, this causes right anterior knee discomfort and right mid to upper thigh feeling very tight. Also have more difficulty on this side trying to really activate the right glute. I am trying to start the progression you mention and just hold this position for 20/30 seconds before thinking about doing the motion, but this discomfort and tightness in knee/thigh, dont allow very long of a hold yet. When I have right leg forward/left leg back, then no knee issue or problem activating left glute. Thoughts/ideas for the right knee, thigh, glute description?

  • Ronell Smith

    Thanks very much, guys.
    Mike, please keep giving us great video demonstrations like this.