Split Squats: Building Leg Strength for Running

Split Squats: How to Build Leg Strength [Ep35]

Why Add Split Squats To Your Plan?

There are of course so many different exercises we could choose to build strength and stability as runners, each with a slightly different focus. When it comes to finding an exercise that provides maximum benefit, for minimum time investment, it’s hard to beat Split Squats!

In the video above, I break the exercise down step-by-step, showing you not just what to focus on when performing split squats, but also detailing some common mistakes to avoid.

Let me explain why I love this exercise…

Strength Workouts for Distance Runners >>
Free Download [PDF]

Stide Length Development

When it comes to developing an efficient running stride, there are a few factors we need to consider.

Firstly, the fact that the two legs are always working in opposing directions; when one hip is flexing, the other is extending, and vice versa. Getting runners to perform your typical bilateral squat will obviously build strength, but doesn’t mimic this action of the two hips working in opposition. The Split Squat however, achieves this brilliantly.

With some regular practice, split squats will help you improve stride length by getting you working more effectively from the hips, improving what some coaches will refer to as stride angle.

Achievable Stability Training

Another important factor is stability. When we’re running, we’re only ever, either supported on one leg, or moving through mid-air. It’s important that your exercise program should mimic this demand by incorporating exercises that challenge your ability to remain stable.

Typically runners will be given exercises like single leg squats to perform, and if you’re stable enough to do a good single leg squat, then that’s fantastic… but SO many runners simply aren’t stable enough at the hip and ankle to control their knee position as they squat up and down on one leg.

That’s where split squats provide a brilliant ‘half-way-house’ option between normal squats and a single leg squat. The asymmetrical nature of the split stance will challenge your stability in a way that should provide a challenge, while enabling you to maintain control. Once this is easy for you – you can progress to exercises like a single leg squat.

Split Squat Coaching Points

To start with, adopt a long stance, with one foot forward, and one foot back. The stance should be so long that the rear heel should be off the ground at this point.

In terms of stance width, try to maintain hip-width between your feet. The more narrow your stance becomes, the less stable your position will become!

Before we begin to drop down into the squat, I want to you engage your lower abdominals by pulling your belly-button inwards gently, and clenching your butt muscles.

Keep those muscles engaged as you then bend both knees, slowly dropping your weight straight downwards, until your rear knee is just about to touch the ground.

At that point, drive downwards through your heel of the front foot and return to the start position.

Sets and reps will vary depending on what you’re trying to achieve, but you can aim to complete 3 sets of 10 on each leg to begin with.

In terms of muscles targeted with the split squat, one of the main points to mention is the co-contraction you’ll be getting through quads, glutes and hamstrings throughout the movement of the front leg. The split squat is really effective in training many muscle groups at once, rather than being an isolation exercise.

You may well feel a strong stretch down the front of the thigh on the rear leg, as you drop your weight downwards. If you do, this is a sign that you’re perhaps tight through rectus femoris muscle at the front of the thigh. I’ve left a link to a good rec.fem. stretch in the description for this video here on YouTube.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

There are two points I want to particularly highlight here:

Firstly some runners have the tendency to arch the back and shift their body forwards through the movement, rather than moving straight downwards as you bend both knees.

Being more strict through the movement will feel like you’re limiting the range of motion, but form has to be the primary focus – range will come with practice over time.

While talking about technique, it’s important to particularly keep an eye on the position of that front knee. If you’re lacking stability at the hip and/or ankle, then you might find that your knee drifts towards the midline we don’t want this!

Performing the split squats in front of a mirror will help you work on controlling knee position practice the exercise.

As with every exercise, if something hurts – stop and seek professional advice!

Let me know how you get on in the comments.

Good luck!

Read Next >>
Try Bulgarian Split Squats for Stronger Running
Last updated on March 7th, 2021.


  1. I’m curious about this.. I have a history of 3 stress fractures, no underlying cause has been identified, EVERYTHING has been checked, so clearly it comes down to my training/form.

    I’ve therefore been looking at what I can do to try to prevent it happening yet again, and have read some sources which say SHORTENING my stride length helps to prevent SF – this seems to fly in the face of most advice which seems to be saying that longer stride always = better. Wondering what you think?