How to Perform Rear Foot Elevated Split-Squats

rear foot elevated split-squat

I’ll be honest: For several years, I was not a huge fan of rear foot elevated split-squats (RFESS)/Bulgarian split-squats/whatever the cool kids are calling them these days.

My biggest issue with the exercise was the execution: If you you do a Google search for the exercise, you’ll see pictures of athletes crushing their lumbar spines, or blowing out the ligaments on the front of their hip.

This past winter, I decided to give them a shot again with our off-season soccer players and make sure our coaching was on point.

Not only did the guys enjoy them, but I feel like we were getting a ton out of the exercise as well. Here’s how we coach the lift at IFAST.

A few take home points:

  • Once set-up, exhale to feel the abs and lengthen the hip flexors on the back leg.
  • Feel the whole foot throughout the lift – both on the way down and use it to “push” back up.
  • Allow the torso to lean, if necessary. The ideal goal would be to have the torso and the thigh of the back leg in-line. If the hip flexors are stiff that may not be possible, but definitely do not substitute with excessive lumbar or hip extension.

While these things may be subtle, I guarantee it makes all the difference in the world.

Give our technique a shot and let me know what you think!

All the best

MR

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11 Comments

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  1. First of all, thank you for all your research. I am a follower of yours, I like your work and I enjoy reading your blog.

    I would like talk to you about one thing. When you say that the main problem in this exercise is the hyperextended lumbar position, the lack abs and the hip flexors stiffness, I couldn’t avoid to think about Janda’s “Lower Crossed Pattern Syndrome”.

    I mean, the problem is, the stress on lumbar extensors and hip flexors destroy our neutral spine position. The solution, as you say, is tight our abs and “feel the whole foot” that is, activate our gluteus. All these things follow the Janda’s principle.

    https://athleticmedicine.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/jandasyndromes.jpg

    Am I right or wrong?

    Thank you very much for your work (again), and sorry for my English.

    Best regards,

    Roberto

    • Roberto – Check out the work of the Postural Restoration Institute. I think you’ll enjoy their work.

      Janda’s approach isn’t necessarily “wrong,” it’s just a big simplistic in nature (at least by today’s standards – it was the gold standard for quite a while!)

      • Sorry a lot, I’m afraid I didn’t want to mean Janda’s approach is wrong. Nothing farther from what I wanted to say.

        I wanted to mean that, Janda’s approach says we have to activate our glutes and abs to avoid stiff heap flexors and hyperextended lumbar extensors. This is the same advice you said us for performing in a right way this exercise:

        – feel the whole foot -> gluteus activation
        – tight abs

        Thank you very much for telling me about Postural Restoration Institute and for your good job.

        (Sorry for my English)

        Keep it up!

  2. Mike, thanks great stuff. I did notice you had a forward lean and wondered if that would become problematic one you dumbbells or a bar. Thoughts?

    • We typically coach with dumbbells, so it’s not a big issue. However if you use a barbell (front or back loaded) you’ll need to stay a bit more upright.

  3. Excellent coaching demo, Mike.

    What are your thoughts on elevating the front foot onto a riser, so that the trail leg can sink deeper, and thus increase the ROM on the working leg? (i.e. effectively turning it into a Bulgarian “Full” Split Squat, instead of a Bulgarian “Half” Split Squat as it is normally coached/performed.)

    I rarely see it performed this way! We will emphasize below parallel on a bilateral squat, but for some reason limit the depth on a BSS based solely on the length of the femur which will hit the ground and thus limit range.

    • Derrick – As long as the client/athlete is not sacrificing postural integrity for greater range of motion, I’m all for it.

  4. I do this in front of a power rack with a bar in front of me. That way, there is a guide so I don’t go forward.

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