How To Do Rear Foot Elevated Split Squats

split squat

I once thought heavy squats and the leg press were the keys to building strength and the best way to work the legs. Like most things, my thinking has evolved since my early years of being a personal trainer. My understanding of functional training and the desire to seek out a better way to train myself and clients has led me to a much better, safer, and practical exercise programing to not only build strength but get even greater results. When it comes to training the legs, the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat is at the top of the list in my book.

The Rear Foot Elevated split squat (RFESS) often referred to as a Bulgarian split squat, is a tremendous exercise for building up strength in both the anterior and posterior muscles of your legs. The exercise translates nicely to athletes in sports due to the single leg component which requires stability and strength from the lead leg (the rear foot is used only for stability while the purpose is to drive through the lead leg on this exercise). Plus the exercise is much safer on your low back compared to back squats which makes this a more attractive option for your clients.

How To Do a Split-Squat

  1. Start off with your left knee resting on a pad or cushion on the floor (avoid knee pain from resting against the floor) in front of a bench.
  2. Lift the left foot and place on the bench resting the shoe laces on top (I recommend Perform Better which now offers an adjustable option to accommodate various heights).
  3. Keep your right foot planted in front. You want to make sure you have an adequate distance between feet; too close and your right knee will track too far over the foot, too far and you will limit hip flexion. Your knee should be aligned with the toes at the start position.
  4. Keep your torso upright, ribs down, and abs engaged.
  5. Drive your right foot (lead foot) into the floor until you are standing, maintaining a neutral spine.
  6. Slowly lower down to start and repeat.

Muscles Worked

The entire body is challenged to maintain stability. The primary muscles are the quadriceps with the gluteus maximus, soleus, and adductor magnus working to assist. The stabilizers in this exercise involves the hamstring, gastrocnemius, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.

Common Mistakes

  • Pushing off back leg
  • See-sawing motion (the movement should be vertical)
  • Set up too close or too far away
  • hyperextension of low back


Work Your Way Up

Not everyone can do this exercise right away. Master the basics and acquire the appropriate amount of stability and strength first. Split Squats (both feet on floor) should be mastered first with appropriate load used before jumping up to do rear foot elevated split squats. Once split squats are mastered, you then can progress with eccentric repetitions and then increasing load with dumbbells and weighted vests.

Get Going

The RFESS might be the exercise that takes your clients to another level of strength. For tall lifters like myself, I still back squat and front squat but more emphasis is placed on RFESS to avoid low back and knee pain due to my long femurs and torso position. I would suspect once you do a workout with the RFESS you will feel the muscles in your legs like never before.

Do you have a favorite exercise like this one? Come over to our Facebook page and share!

If you’re NFPT Certified join the community group to exchange ideas and meet other like minded professionals.


Ian Nimblett, CFSC, CSCS, NFPT-CPT and is a functional strength & conditioning coach, personal trainer, and author. He is the founder and owner of Premier Fitness Group LLC in South Salem, NY, a world-class functional training facility that provides private, semi-private, and group training.