Barbell Split Squat Exercise Form Guide with Video & Pictures

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By Alex
Last updated on
Exercise NameBarbell Split Squat
Primary MusclesQuadriceps
Secondary MusclesCalvesGlutesHamstringsHip AdductorsSpinal Erectors
Required EquipmentBarbell, Power Rack
Rep Range5-12
VariationsDumbbell Split Squat, Bulgarian Split Squat
AlternativesLungeStep Up, Pistol, Unilateral Leg Press

Barbell Split Squat Instructions

Note: Pictures coming soon!

1. Starting Position

  • Position bar on upper traps and grasp using a wide grip.
  • Unrack bar and step into open area.
  • Stand with feet a hip-width apart.
  • Take a big step forward with one foot; leading foot planted and trailing heel off floor.
  • Bend leading knee slightly so shin is perpendicular to floor; trailing knee straight but not locked.
  • Keep chest up, eyes forward and spine neutral.

2. Eccentric Repetition

  • Flex knees and leading hip to squat down until trailing knee is just above floor.

3. Midpoint

  • Don’t pause at the bottom of the repetition. Go right into the concentric rep.

4. Concentric Repetition

  • Extend knees and leading hip to squat up until returning to the starting position.

5. Repeat

  • Repeat for the desired number of repetitions. Then switch sides, and perform the same number of reps with the same amount of weight. You only complete one full set after performing the movement on both sides.
  • I recommend the 5-12 rep range for the split squat. Lifting too heavy/low reps can interfere with balance, and therefore form.

Common Barbell Split Squat Errors to Avoid

Leaning torso forwardKeep your torso upright throughout the entire motion. Tense your abs and keep your hips in a neutral position (i.e. under your torso).
Excissive lower back archingAn excessive lower back arch is likely the result of compensating for an anterior pelvic tilt (i.e. butt out, pelvis facing down) to make your torso upright. Avoid this by tucking your hips into a neutral position by flexing the lower abs and tensing the glutes.
Knee too far forwardIdeally, your knee should be directly above the front of your foot, at the bottom of the motion. If you’re trying to hit the quads more, then it’s okay for the knee to go a couple inches past the toes. But going any further puts to much stress on the knee joint. Make sure there’s enough distance between your leading and trailing leg.
Knee buckling inwardYour leading knee point the same way as your leading foot (straight ahead). Keep your hips pointed straight ahead, too; don’t let your leading hip turn to the inside.
Stance too wide or narrowYour feet should be a hip width apart. Any narrower, you lose balance. Any wider, your trailing knee gets twisted.

Barbell Split Squat Tips

  1. Warm up with hip flexor stretches to ensure you have the mobility and flexibilty required to perform the full range of motion with safe and technically correct form.
  2. Use a high bar position to hold the barbell on your trapezius. That is, the bar should rest on the uppermost part of the upper traps, just below the neck (and not pressing against bone). A high bar position is necessary for keeping your torso as upright as possible.
  3. Both of your knees should be about 90° at the bottom of the rep. If they are much less than 90°, then increase the distance between your trailing and leading foot. If both knees form angles much wider than 90°, then decrease the gap between your trailing and leading foot.
  4. Drive through your leading heel; push the ball of your trailing foot against the floor to stabilize your body and extend your trailing knee. Your hips should travel in a straight line, up and slightly back.
  5. Emphasize your quads or glutes more by changing your leg position at the bottom of the rep.
    • Balanced emphasis: The traditional position is to position your leading knee over your toes.
    • Quadriceps Emphasis: Position your knee over the floor, just beyond your toes.
    • Glutes Emphasis: Position your knee over the middle of your foot.
  6. Take a short 30 second rest before switching sides (if necessary) to catch your breath.
  7. Put a towel under your trailing knee to prevent you from accidentally bumping it into the hard floor.
  8. Try split squats with dumbbells instead of a barbell. Dumbbell split squats minimize spinal loading and make balancing easier, while barbell split squats generally allow you to lift heavier weight and train your core better. Use chalk or lifting straps if you’re doing split squats with heavy dumbbells.

Is This Exercise Right for You?

The barbell split squat can be great for all lifters.

For beginners, the split squat serves to improve balance and encourage symmetrical leg development…

…That said, beginners can do fine with just squats and no single-leg exercises. So if you’re a novice and want to do split squats, then make sure its secondary to traditional squats.

The barbell split squat is best for intermediate and advanced trainees who seek to:

  • Build bigger and stronger legs
  • Correct a left/right muscular imbalance
  • Minimize spinal compression while still hitting the legs hard
  • Break a squat plateau

You may need to avoid the barbell split squat if you have extremely tight hip flexors or knee issues.

Alex from King of the Gym
Hey! My name is Alex and I'm the founder and author of King of the Gym. I've been lifting weights seriously since 2005 in high school when I started a home gym in my parents' basement. I started writing about fitness in 2009. Then, in 2014, I got into writing home gym equipment reviews and I haven't looked back. My current home gym is in my own house and it's constantly growing and evolving. My goal is to help you build the home gym of your dreams! Read more about me here.

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