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The split squat is an exercise that primarily targets the hips and legs. Using a barbell, a pair of dumbbells or just your own body weight, you lunge forward on one leg, then push through your thighs and backside to return to a standing position. Several major muscle groups are worked out by this exercise, but the primary muscle targeted is the quadriceps.
The Split Squat
The split squat or lunge is an exercise designed to work out your legs and hips. Using a barbell, dumbbells or just the weight of your body, you begin with one foot forward and the other behind. You then lunge forward by bending your front knee until your shin and knee move beyond your foot. Your trailing leg's heel should raise up off the floor, with your trailing knee coming close to the floor without touching it. Lunge forward until you reach your limit, then push through your leading leg to stand up and return to your original position. Repeat as necessary, with an equal number of repetitions for the opposite leg.
The split squat works several muscles in your hips, backside and legs, but the primary muscle group targeted is your quadriceps. Your quadriceps, or quads, are the large muscles running down the front of your thigh and are responsible for extending your knee and hip flexion. The quads are crucial for physical activities such as walking, running or jumping. The lunging motion of the split squat puts tremendous pressure on your quads, with your body weight and the weight of the barbell or dumbbells as resistance.
Other Muscles Worked
The split squat is not an isolation exercise that targets just your quads. Because more than one joint is moving during the exercise, several other muscle groups in your legs and midsection are also targeted. Your hamstrings, glutes and calf muscles all work to stabilize your body during the exercise, and you push through your glutes and hamstrings when you return to a standing position from the lunge. Additional muscles in your upper body may be worked depending on your choice of weights. Barbells draped across your shoulders will work out your trapezius muscles and spinal erectors, while holding a pair of dumbbells will work out your shoulder and arm muscles.
Proper form is important. Having your feet too far apart or too close together may throw you off balance, and allowing your back knee to touch the ground will shift a great deal of the resistance away from your quadriceps and give you less of a workout. The further apart your feet are during the lunge, the less resistance your quads will have to push against, as a wider stance puts more pressure on your glutes. One popular variation of the split squat that provides even more of a workout for your quads is the Bulgarian split squat. In this exercise, your back leg is elevated on a bench, placing more of your body weight on the targeted lunging leg.