Making the Split Squat Work for You

Jun 22, 2022

(originally posted in Oct. 2017)
In recent presentations Dr McGill and others have expressed concern about  the use of the split squat, particularly as it relates to pelvic torsion. The split squat is discussed here within this framework.
Every exercise is a tool to reach a training objective. Proper coaching cues, form, and training volume can make an exercise beneficial, yet on the other hand inappropriate form and volume may lead to musculoskeletal disorders. In recent presentations Dr McGill has expressed concern about  the use of the split squat. 
McGill: Over the last couple of years I have seen more patients with pelvic ring dysfunction. The sacrum posteriorly and the two iliums form the pelvic ring. These bones join one another at the sacroiliac joints in the back and pubic symphysis in the front. The strength athlete needs a tight pelvic ring. When I review the training history of athlete or patients with low back and pelvic pain, a number of them were associated with split squats that were excessive. They used far too much load, far too much depth, and excessive volume. 
The split squat, when pushed with longer foot split stances, and when pushed to excessive depth, may cause one ilium to rotate forward and the other side to rotate in the opposite direction. Over time the SI joints may be stressed  to the point of pain, joint laxity, and loss in training tolerance. 
A case example: a tennis coach realized that lunges are important for tennis but prescribed far too excessive a depth and volume of split squats with a barbell on the shoulders. The coach caused the dysfunction – it was a good exercise but poor technique. Follow the coaching cues outlined by Coach Boyle below to enhance safety and benefit from the split squat.   
Boyle: Split Squat coaching cues to optimize training objectives and minimize poor outcome:

1- We use a relatively short stance. This will reduce torsion in the pelvic ring. A lot of the videos I've seen have the rear leg quite extended. We start just a few degrees past a 90/90 position.
2-  We rarely do more than 30 reps per week per leg. A big volume week for us would be three sets of 10 repetitions.
3- We never put the bar in a back or front squat position. Positioning the bar this way causes a great deal of lumbar extension which could increase back stress and anterior hip stress. We always use dumbbells of kettle bells.

Boyle and McGill: The split squat is a wonderful training tool when appropriately coached. Maximum benefit is achieved with appropriate form and cues.