Updated: May 27
Recently, most of us have had to convert to working out in our home gyms. For many, that includes a small open space on the floor and maybe a couple of weights- if you were able to get them before all gym equipment went out of stock. This might lead to feeling limited in your workouts, and craving more challenge. Today, we will use the split squat as an example to talk about how modifications can take your workouts up a notch.
First, let’s break down the split squat.
This exercise primarily works the quadriceps, glutes, and adductors (groin) of the front leg.
From the standing position, step forward as if you are doing a lunge. The front foot should be flat on the floor, and back foot up on the toes. If you are struggling to find your ideal stride length, try starting from a half-kneeling position on the floor with one knee down and one foot forward, both knees at 90 degrees.
Stand up from this position and this will be the top of your split squat. From here, slowly lower yourself down by shifting your weight to your front leg, until your back knee almost touches the floor. Next push off that front foot to return to standing in the split stance.
Keep your feet where they are and complete all reps on one side before switching to the next.
Once You've Got the Form Down...
Now let’s spice it up! Here are a few ways to switch it up if your split squats start to feel easy.
1. Add a Pause/ Isometric Hold
An easy way to add a challenge (if you don’t have access to weights to add resistance) is by adding a pause somewhere in the range of motion. For example, slowly descend to the bottom of your split squat, pause for 3-5 seconds, then push off the front leg to come up. Repeat this and adjust pauses length as needed.
If 3-5 second pauses aren’t doing the trick, another way to approach the exercise is by using an isometric hold. Isometric is a type of muscle contraction where the muscle fires with no visible movement taking place at the joint. This type of muscle contraction can be utilized by holding your position at the bottom or mid-range (or anywhere in between) of the split squat for a duration of time. A good place to start with these is 20-30s then work up from there.
Pro tip: If you have to hold any longer than a minute for this to be challenging, then it might be time to try one of the other modifications below!
2. Change Tempo
Something as simple as changing your tempo can change the way an exercise feels. Add a count to the exercise for example 5 (Mississippi) on the way down and 1 second (fast) on the way up. This will challenge you to demonstrate control on the way down and produce power on the way up.
3. Cluster Sets/ Myo Reps
Cluster sets (or Myo reps as they are sometimes called) are one set broken into chunks. Typically they are used with a longer set with a heavy relative weight, allowing for more work to be done at a higher intensity. Most people don’t have the luxury of heavy weights at the moment, so luckily they can apply to home training as well.
Pick a leg and do as many split squats as you can until you get very near or to failure. Rest 20 seconds and repeat the process until you’ve reached failure a total of 5 times. Congratulations, you’ve just completed a cluster set. Now repeat the same process on the opposite leg.
4. Elevate the Back Foot
A great way to make any exercise more difficult is by taking away stability. Try elevating your back leg on your couch or a chair to force that front leg to work a little harder to balance. This is called a Bulgarian split squat, or rear foot elevated split squat... but Bulgarian split squat sounds way cooler.
5. Mechanical Drop Set
First I’ll start by describing a drop set. Similar to cluster sets, when performing drop sets you will be working to failure. Instead of splitting up sets to complete at a higher resistance, the weight is dropped down consecutively after each set to allow for more work to be done in a shorter amount of time. A mechanical drop set follows the same framework but instead of changing out weights, you’re manipulating body position or leverage to make the exercise less intensive, allowing for more work to be done. An example of a mechanical drop set using the split squat is starting with Bulgarian split squats to or near failure, then immediately switching to regular standing split squats until or near failure as well.
6. Use Sliders
On a hardwood or kitchen floor, small dish towels can be used as sliders. When added to our sample exercise, we’re technically exiting the realm of the split squat and doing more of a lunge, but this is an excellent way to add challenge to an exercise/ make it a little more fun.
To perform a reverse lunge using a slider, place the towel under one foot and start in a standing position. Slide the foot with the towel under it back to lower yourself down. The bottom of your reverse lunge should look exactly like the bottom of a split squat. To come back up, push off your front leg and push your back leg into the towel to slide back up to the top.
7. Make it Plyometric
Plyometrics, or plyos, are exercises involving movements like jumps, jump lunges, or med ball throws that utilize the stretch reflex, which is a quick muscle contraction in response to stretching of the muscle, aka the “bounce” you feel at the bottom of a squat or pushup.
Generally, plyos are used when the goal is to increase muscular power, but in some circumstances are a great way to add cardio to your workout routine.
See personal trainer Sara getting her jump on to the left.
These modifications are not limited to the split squat. Most of these can be used with a whole variety of exercises. Try swapping in some of these techniques into your home routine to make things more interesting!