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Master This Move: Split Squat

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To understand how and why this move is so great, you first need a quick primer on mobility. It may not sound like the sexiest of fitness topics, but mobility is key to getting you gains at the gym and helping you sculpt the hot body you’re after.

Mobility often gets confused with flexibility, but the truth is the two are totally separate things. The latter has to do with your muscles while the former is all about joints. But—here’s where it gets particularly interesting—you don’t want all of your joints to be super mobile. In fact, you want some of them to be stable. For instance you want mobile ankles and hips, but stable knees. (You can learn more about why you want to stability in your lower back in Master This Move: Stir The Pot.) That’s what’s going to ward off injury, says Ethan Grossman, personal trainer at PEAK Performance in New York City, and that’s exactly what this exercise is going to help you do. In fact, it does it better than traditional squats, per Grossman.

"Our bodies were designed to function in alternating patterns, so although bilateral exercises like squats can be great for building strength and power, it's good to restore some degree of system balance by working each side individually too," says Grossman. (Plus, it also enables you to lift more weight if you're doing a weighted version of the move. More on this later.) But beyond injury prevention, shoring up mobility in the joints that need it and stability in the joints that don’t will help you move better in life—and in fitness. Case in point: Mobility, particularly hip mobility, is crucial for runners who are notorious for having tight hips. So the work you do in the weight room will help you out on the road or track. (Check out The Ultimate Strength Workout For Runners.)

You probably also want to know about the aesthetic perks—and there are plenty. Squats of any kind torch your glutes and every muscle in your legs, including quads, hamstrings, and calves. Split squats, however, present a balance challenge too, which calls to action many more muscles, including the ones in your core. Plus, the body positioning enables you to easily hold dumbbells at your sides. Work 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps (on both sides) of this move into your routine a few times a week. (And before moving in to full extension, try an isometric split squat hold, where you pause with your knee a few inches off the ground (pictured).

splitsquat

A Start kneeling with one foot on a slightly elevated platform (about 6 inches) and the opposite knee on a pad or soft surface (see above).

B The leg you’re kneeling on should be lined up vertically with your hip and shoulder and perpendicular to the floor.

C Shift your front knee back so that it's positioned over your ankle and your weight is distributed primarily through your front heel. 

D Tuck your tailbone by bringing your belt line to your belly button.

E Lift your back knee about 6 inches off the mat/floor, keeping the leg perpendicular to the ground.

F Keeping your weight primarily centered over your front heel, extend the front knee as you use the glute of the front leg to push yourself up tall.

G Return to the starting position with your front knee shifted back.

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