3 Split Squat Variations For Stronger Quads

Dreading your split squats? Switch things up.

Split squats falls in the category of those things you don’t want to do but need to do. Like brushing your teeth, getting regular checkups and going to bed early. They’re all good for you, even though you slightly dread them.

I’m right there with you. Every time I see split squats in my program, I swear under my breath a little. But you need to do them; here are three reasons why.

Reduce muscle imbalances

During bilateral exercises, your dominant side can pick up the slack for the weaker side. Have you ever seen a lifter struggle to lock out one side over the other during a barbell bench press? Or leaning to one side coming up from a squat?

Improving your “weaker” side will reduce your injury risk and help increase overall lifting numbers. 

kettlebell front rack

Improved muscle recruitment

Unilateral training makes you work harder and recruit more muscle fibers to perform the same movement, like the split squat. 

Taking one leg out of the equation forces your abductors and core to stabilize your pelvis while performing the split squat. In life and on the sporting area, you often find yourself working from a single leg stance, so it pays to train it in the gym.

Core work without crunches

When training unilaterally, you automatically throw your body off-balance, forcing your midsection muscles to engage to keep yourself balanced and not falling over on your face.

If you have traditional splits squats nailed down, take these 3 variations out for a test drive for extra quad gains.

1. Front Racked Kettlebell Bulgarian Split Squat

Hardcore lifters knows that hip mobility, upper back strength and leg drive are essential elements for pulling heavy, and this exercise covers all those bases. 

Furthermore, with the weight being anterior loaded (held in the front rack), core strength becomes a huge factor here too. Perform this move for higher reps after your big strength move for the day.

Pairing this with a single arm row variation hammers the upper back muscles.  For example,

  • 1A. Front racked kettlebell elevated split squat – 12 reps on each leg
  • 1B. 3-point dumbbell row– 12 reps on each arm

Form considerations

Perform a bodyweight elevated split squat and notice where your big toe is, and then place a weight plate in front of it. This will give you a reference point and shorten your set up time between sets.

Keep a nice tall chest and your wrists in neutral during this entire movement, and smile through the pain.

[Related: Split Squat vs. Bulgarian Split Squat: Which Is Best for You?]

2. Hand Supported Split Squat

Here you’re using one hand for support while holding a weight in the other hand.

Holding on to the squat rack provides more stability, so your body can focus on the bigger muscles of the quads and glutes and less on the muscles that keep you upright.

So, don’t be afraid to load up on this one and do it for higher reps in the 12-15 rep range. Pair with a half kneeling exercise for hip mobility and recovery purposes. For example,

1A. Hand supported split squat 12-15 reps
1B. Half kneeling Pallof press 10 reps

Form considerations

Use a weight you typically use for suitcase carries.

The working leg needs to be the one next to the squat rack. Grip the rack lightly with fingers and thumbs — no need for a death grip. Slowly descend until either the weight or your knee touches the floor while maintaining a slight forward lean.

3. Front Racked Pin Stop Split Squat

Here you’re starting out in the bottom position with the barbell sitting on the safety pins right at the height your front rack is at the bottom of your split squat. This takes the stretch reflex out of the equation and focuses on leg drive. Hello, quads.  

This exercise will test your balance and upper back strength because of the front racked position, so start on the lighter side and less repetitions until you get the hang of it.  

Pair with a hip mobility exercise for recovery and improved mobility because this exercise will smoke you. For example,

1A. Pin stop split squat 6- 8 reps on each side
1B. Leg abducted rocking 8 reps each side

Form considerations

The key to this exercise is the set-up, to get the front racked and half kneeling position right for you. Lower with control because no one likes the sound of a barbell crashing into metal.

[Related: 5 Drills to Improve Your Front Rack Position]

Wrapping Up

Traditional splits squats, although great, can get dull in a hurry. Spicing it up with the way it’s loaded and changing the starting position will help your quads get bigger and stronger.

And after doing them,  you’ll want to go to bed early.

Shane McLean

Shane McLean

Shane McLean is a Certified Personal Trainer who’s worked with a wide variety of clients, from the general population client all the way to ex-Navy seals and college athletes.

Shane is a big believer in seeing exercise as a gift for the body and never a punishment — exercise should be as enjoyable as possible and never just a “work” out.

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