Another week means another edition of MotW. Today we’re featuring a popular but often dreaded single-leg exercise, as well as Dan looking awkwardly into the camera. Enjoy!
THE MOVE: Goblet Rear-foot Elevated Split-squat (RFESS)
MOVEMENT PATTERN AND MUSCLES WORKED: Lunge pattern: quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
WHY DO IT: We featured the Front-rack Reverse Lunge in a previous edition of MotW, and discussed how renowned strength coach, Mike Boyle, favors deadlifts and single-leg exercises over squats. This wasn’t because squats are inherently bad; he just found that single-leg exercises worked better for his athletes, making them a better investment of their training time.
The rear-foot elevated split-squat (RFESS), also popularized by Boyle, is another single-leg exercise that we like to utilize, and there are some key differences between these and reverse lunges. As you can see above, in the RFESS your feet are set throughout the duration of the exercise. In the lunge; you are constantly moving back and forth, so there is a deceleration component in the lunge that isn’t present in the RFESS.
Because your feet are set, there is greater focus on single-leg strength (in the front) in order to perform the RFESS effectively. The rear-foot on the bench is merely there for balance and support. Some, like me, find the RFESS better for building single-leg strength than the lunge; there is less technical demand because you aren’t constantly lunging back and forth, but you still can’t cheat technique on the RFESS or else you’ll lose your balance. It’s also why so many of us love this exercise, but absolutely dread doing it!
The goblet position of the weight serves as a reflexive counterbalance. It will also help you stay out of lumbar hyperextension during the exercise. In fact, a slight lean forward of the torso is okay here, just like Dan is doing in the video above. This will still be a challenging exercise no matter what, but absolutely fantastic for building single-leg strength and core stability.
HOW TO DO IT: Set up in front of a bench while holding a kettlebell or dumbbell in the goblet position. Reach behind you with the non-working leg, and place the front side of that foot down on the bench (it should be entirely relaxed). Stand in a tall one-legged stance by bracing your core, keeping the ribs down, and pressing into the floor with your front foot. Descend into the split-squat by sitting back into your hips, stopping when your hips are at parallel or below. Push through the entire front foot to return to the starting position, and repeat.
In this exercise, you want to set up far enough away from the bench such that you aren’t crowding yourself in the split-squat. If you make this mistake, you will feel like you are gliding forward instead of sitting back. Using Dan as an example, although he leans slightly forward as a counterbalance throughout the set, the angle of his torso matches his front shin. Furthermore, at the bottom of every rep he has a straight line from his back knee to his shoulder. This is ideal. Unfortunately, he almost lost his balance in the beginning because he was camera-shy, but we’ll give him a pass on that one.
The Goblet RFESS fits well in the latter half of a training session, in which case I would use it for 3-4 sets of 6 reps/side. Those who are inexperienced or lacking in technique may want to do these in the beginning to really hammer down the technical side of this exercise before moving into their heavy lifting, and that’s completely okay, too. In this instance I would keep the weight very light, as the focus would be on proficiency rather than strength.
by Jeremy Lau
Jeremy Lau is a Senior Staff Coach at Halevy Life.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a BSc. in Biomedical Engineering and is currently pursuing his M.Ed. in Exercise Physiology at Columbia University. In addition to his academic accolades, Jeremy is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
Prior to joining the team at Halevy Life, Jeremy completed a coaching internship at Cressey Sports Performance, where he coached both amateur and professional athletes, among whom were many professional MLB baseball players.
As an athlete, Jeremy has played baseball competitively for most of his life.