One of the most dreaded words in the gym is the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat (RFESS). Just mentioning it on the gym floor elicits dirty looks from fellow gymgoers and horror stories of struggling to climb stairs after a day of RFESS. It’s best to speak of this exercise in hushed tones or else be prepared for the consequences.
Every time it’s included in my workout routine, a cold shiver runs down my spine and through my glutes and quads.
The RFESS is a deceptively challenging exercise. The first few reps might seem manageable, but after six or more, you’ll be tempted to call for help. It’s a brutal exercise, but there’s a reason to endure the agony: it leads to muscular gains and improved performance both in and out of the gym. In case you’ve forgotten about the RFESS, let’s reintroduce you to one of the most feared exercises in the gym.
What is the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat?
The regular split squat is a squat performed in a split stance, where the back foot acts as a support or kickstand, with most of the load on the front foot. The RFESS takes this up a notch. By elevating the rear foot, it reduces stability even further, increases the range of motion, and puts more demand on hip mobility. In short, it is more challenging than the regular split squat.
How to Perform the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
- Place your back flat on a bench or another elevated surface behind you.
- Get your front foot in a comfortable position, grip the floor, and find your balance.
- Lower your back knee to the floor while keeping your chest up, shoulders down, and slightly leaning your torso forward.
- Once you reach the full range of motion, push through your front foot and return to the starting position.
- Reset and repeat for the desired number of reps.
Muscles Worked By the RFESS Exercise
The RFESS primarily targets the lower body, with the upper body playing a supporting role in maintaining good posture and holding weights. Here are the major muscles trained by the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat.
Glutes: If you struggle to feel your glutes during exercises, the RFESS is the solution. The extended range of motion requires your glutes to contract forcefully to lift you out of the bottom position.
Adductors: The adductors are often neglected in bilateral squats, but you’ll definitely feel them during the RFESS. They assist with hip flexion and extension, helping to keep your knee in the correct position and preventing you from falling forward.
Quads: Your quads are responsible for extending your knee in all squat variations. However, if you allow your knee to come forward during the RFESS, you’ll experience increased quad engagement, making it even harder to climb stairs.
Core: The RFESS’s offset nature engages your anterior and posterior core muscles to keep you upright, allowing the lower body muscles to perform their function.
Benefits of Performing the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
The main reason to include RFESS in your workouts is to improve the size and strength of your glutes and quads. However, it’s important to remember that there are other benefits to be gained, even when your muscles are burning. Here are some additional benefits:
Improved Performance in Bilateral Squats and Deadlifts: Leg drive is crucial when rising from the squat hole or initiating the pull in deadlifts. Strengthening your quadriceps is key to improving leg drive, and the RFESS is the exercise that targets those muscles. Consider it a gold star-worthy exercise for improving your squat and deadlift performance.
Addressing Muscle Imbalances: Bilateral lower body exercises can allow your dominant side to compensate for the weaker side. By performing the RFESS, you can identify and address any imbalances in strength or mobility, reducing the risk of injury and improving overall lifting performance. The RFESS exposes potential imbalances rather brutally.
Increased Muscle Recruitment: The RFESS requires more effort and recruits more muscle fibers compared to the same squat movement performed bilaterally. By performing a squat on one leg, you engage your abductors and core muscles to stabilize your pelvis. This means less weight but more muscle activation.
Improved Core Strength: Training unilaterally challenges your body’s balance, prompting your anterior and posterior core muscles to engage in order to maintain stability and prevent falls. The RFESS strengthens your lower body, legs, and core while simultaneously improving hip mobility.
Common Mistakes in Performing the Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat
In addition to losing balance and using excessive weight, which are common mistakes, here are a few other errors that prevent you from getting the most out of this exercise.
Elevated Surface Too High: The RFESS can be performed using various tools, including weight benches. However, if you’re unable to achieve parallel with the working leg or if the back leg cannot drop low enough, the elevated surface may be too high for your hip mobility. In that case, try performing the exercise from a lower surface and work on improving hip mobility.
Staying Too Upright: While a vertical torso is not a bad thing during squats, there is a tendency to force an upright posture during the RFESS. This may cause discomfort in the knees and back. It’s important not to force an upright torso and to lean forward if it feels more natural, regardless of what the form police might say.
Not Staying Grounded: Losing balance and hopping around while performing the RFESS is common, but there’s a simple technique to improve stability. Ground your working foot by either gripping the floor with your toes or screwing your foot into the ground. This tension will enhance balance and muscle engagement.
Programming and Loading Suggestions
There are various methods and tools to load the RFESS, including dumbbells, kettlebells, and barbells. Generally, the further the load is from your legs, the more challenging the exercise becomes. Dumbbells and kettlebells can be held by your sides, in a goblet position, or in a front racked position. The most challenging barbell variation is best performed with either a high or low back squat grip. Choose your preferred level of difficulty wisely.
Here are some programming suggestions based on your goals:
- Improved Strength: Aim for three to six reps and perform four to six sets. The barbell variation is particularly effective for strength development.
- Improved Balance: Perform three to four sets of 10 to 15 reps using either dumbbells or kettlebells.
- Improved Hypertrophy: Aim for three to four sets of 8 to 15 reps with a moderate load. The double-racked kettlebell variation mentioned earlier is effective for hypertrophy and strength development.