Performing the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
Performing the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
Yes this lower body exercise will be help you get bigger, run faster, and improve your athletic performance.
Most people I know in the game of training athletes say when it comes to programming, chances are if you hate doing something it’s what you should be doing. Why? Because most of the time the things you don’t like to do are: 1) things you suck at, or 2) things that are hard.
In both circumstances you should incorporate the exercise in your training for two reasons: 1) if you suck at it, chances are it will help you get better because what makes the movement hard is the mobility, stability and/or strength required to perform the movement that you do not possess at this time, and 2) you should want to make your weaknesses your strengths. The exercise we’re going to go over is one that I have used in the programming of my athletes for over a year, and in my own training for about two years (yes I hate them that much and suck at them that bad). This isometric exercise is the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS).
This RFESS has brought a lot of attention because there are people out there who say this exercise (not the traditional back squat) is their primary choice as a lower body strength exercise. These people feel that the squat is not actually a test of lower body strength because your lower back is the limiting factor in squatting. While I do agree that your lower back is what is going to limit you in squatting, I’m not willing to go so far as to say I won’t have my athletes squat anymore. However, every single athlete I coach does this movement. Why? Because the RFESS is a very hard isometric exercise that all the athletes initially suck at.
So let’s break this down step by step as to how we do it.
You are going to need a bench and a pad. Put the pad down on the floor so that one edge of the pad is right under the edge of the bench. Step out about 2-3 feet from the bench directly in front of the pad. Once you’re standing there, take one foot (for now let’s say your right foot) and reach backwards so that your toes are on the bench. Once you have your balance, square your hips and make sure your posture is high (meaning chest out, shoulders down and back/abs tight). Getting to this position itself requires a lot of stability, mobility and balance, so don’t be in a rush to get there. Make sure everything is in line and that you have your balance before you start to move.
Keeping your posture high, sit backwards with your weight on your heel. This will get you to push your hips back towards the bench. Lower yourself down and back until your right knee touches the pad. Your knee touches the pad. I repeat for a 3rd time: your knee touches the pad. Just because there’s a pad there doesn’t mean you have the go ahead to dive bomb your patella through the pad and blow out your knee, hip and back. The control on the decent is just as important as the concentric portion (coming back up) so please, touch the pad softly with your knee (get it yet?).
The Bottom Position:
Once you get depth you’ll probably feel one of the most intense quad/hip flexor stretches you have ever felt which will open your hips up. No one wants to hear you cry, so suck it up and get better. You’ll get stronger on your plant leg and while working mobility on your back leg. And what activity do we need strength/stability in one leg and mobility in the other? Hmmm, I don’t know, running?
Ok, you’ve hit depth and you’re feeling the stretch. Hold for a one count and stand back up. To do this, drive your heel into the ground as hard as possible to extend your hip and knee all the way up until your ankle knee and hip are all in a straight line.
There are a couple of tricks to think about with this exercise that will help you get better.
- Think “tight and tall” the whole time, and your posture will take care of itself. Think about pushing your head straight up and staying tight in your abs.
- Take your time getting down to depth. Remember you’re not in a hurry. The faster you go down, the harder it is to go up, and if you go down too fast, chances are you are going to drop your shoulders and lose your posture.
- Keep your heel down and weight back on your heel. This will help you use your hips and keep your balance throughout the movement.
- If you have an issue keeping your toe in contact with the bench use ½ of a foam roller under your foot on the bench to help. This will enable you to keep your foot from flopping all over the place. If you don’t have access to a ½ foam roller, roll up a towel, it will get the job done.
We typically use the RFESS in our program for strength, starting with 3 sets of 12 reps per leg working down to 3 sets of 6 per leg and will run each “level” for 3-4 weeks. In the last week we want it to be almost impossible for you to finish the 3rd set. So to map this out, we’d go like this:
Weeks 1-3: 3x12
Weeks 4-6: 3x10
Weeks 7-9: 3x8
Weeks 10-12: 3x6
I think you get the point here. Give this a whirl and you’ll see how it works. Just take it step by step, and be smart.
If you’re looking to mix this up though, feel free to load the RFESS in 2 different ways. We use dumbbells but also load it with a barbell in a front squat stance. If you think this exercise is tough with dumbbells, try it with a bar. Bring a fork and some water to eat the humble pie with it though, because it will be a lot harder than you think. I love this approach because if you drop your shoulders forward you are going to drop the bar on your leg. If you drop the weight you’ll learn to keep the upright position pretty quickly, and no exercise is better than one that corrects itself.
Single leg strength, in my opinion, is the most over looked aspect in training athletes, and this exercise is by far and away one of the biggest bang for your buck exercises you could ever put in a program. It sucks and it’s hard, and that’s why you need to swallow your pride and start doing it. This exercise will improve your hip mobility and single leg strength which mean's you'll get bigger, run faster, and improve your athletic performance.
To maximize your muscle and strength gains after performing the RFESS, 1R would recommend the following supplements:
- Optimum Nutrition 2:1:1 Recovery - The carbs and protein will help you recover and build lean muscle faster after tough workouts
- Cytosport Creatine - By increasing your body's ATP production creatine will help you become more explosive, more powerful, and more athletic when taken before or after lifts
- Cytosport L-Glutamine - Needed for immune system support, energy production, and the building and protection of the lean muscle mass when stress is increased on the body
About the Author
Jay DeMayo has been the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for Men’s and Women’s Basketball at the University of Richmond since October 2005. Jay is a graduate of the State University of New York College at Cortland where he was a two year starter on the Men’s Soccer team. Prior to taking over the responsibilities of Men’s and Women’s Basketball at UR Jay worked with every team on campus as the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach working. During his tenure at Richmond, Coach DeMayo has worked with five All-Americans, and 10 Atlantic 10 championship teams. Presently Jay is also responsible for the dry land training for NOVA Aquatics LLC, one of the top youth swim clubs on the eastern seaboard where he has coached over twenty athlete’s whom have qualified for Olympic Trials. Coach DeMayo’s constant effort to better himself as a coach has brought him numerous certifications. Coach DeMayo has his Level I coaching certification from USA Track and Field, is certified as an American Kettlebell Club Coach, United States Weightlifting Sport Performance Coach and a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
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