Back squat and front squat can be tricky exercises to master. Go into flexion too much during back squat and you end up with a bad back. Don’t get your elbows high enough during front squat and the weight will end up tumbling to the floor. For those of you who may already have some structural issues (back pain, knee pain, hip pain) and can’t squat, here are a few exercises you can utilize to help get the same results. Also, I’ll give you a few ideas on how to implement them into your routine without hurting yourself (after all, we always want to try the hardest exercise first don’t we….well, maybe that’s just me).
Unilateral lower body exercise is a great way to work around structural issues or discomforts you may have with bilateral lower body movements. The important thing is knowing to always start with the basics and work up from there.
The split squat is a great place to start when first beginning unilateral training. It’s a hard exercise to mess up and gives you a bit of support with your back leg to help with stabilization. Always start with body weight and make sure your front foot and back foot are not too close together. You front knee should create a 90 degree angle at the bottom of the movement. When adding weight, starting in the offset position (which is shown in the video) will add a rotational component to the exercise. Play with holding the weight in the hand of the front leg and in the hand of the back leg to see which feels better. The goblet position is the next step, which will add an anti-flexion component. Once you can comfortably do sets of 10 with about 25% of your body weight in the goblet position, it’s time to try our next exercise.
If you ask most of our clients what their favorite exercise is, not a single one would mention Rear Foot Elevated (RFE) squats (the most effective exercises are generally the ones you hate doing). This exercise takes the support from your back leg on the split squat and puts it up on a bench, allowing the front leg to do (much) more of the work. Again, you want to make sure your front knee is at 90 degrees at the bottom of the movement and that your back knee is not jammed in behind you. Start with body weight and move to the goblet or offset position. From there we’ll go to a farmer’s walk position with weight in each hand. Finally we can do the front squat position with a barbell if you’re comfortable. Once you can do sets of 10 with 25% of your weight in a goblet position, it’s time to try our final movement.
The true single leg squat is done with the off leg in an unsupported position. This means the working leg does all of the work. This may sound counter-intuitive, but starting with weight will actually make performing this exercise easier because it will work as a counter balance as you go through the movement. Start with farmer’s carry style (weight in both hands) and extend your arms out in front of you as you come down. Return them to your side as you come back up. Moving to the goblet position will make things a little more difficult, so work with two weights for a while.
Good luck putting these in to your program. Remember, start with the split squat and move up from there. No reason to get ahead of yourself and go straight for the single leg squats and hurt yourself. Start with 3 sets of 8, moving to sets of 10 after 3 weeks.