Is the rear foot elevated split squat as good as the back squat?

Is the rear foot elevated split squat as good as the back squat?

What’s better for training & developing leg strength?, the rear foot elevated split squat or the traditional back squat? I personally utilize both of these movements in most of my trainee’s programs, as well as for my own training. The vast research has proven that lower body unilateral & bilateral training are equally important and beneficial, whether your a professional athlete or anyone training for overall strength & conditioning. Today’s post comes from The Strength & Conditioning Research Team. I hope you enjoy it! – FR

Is the rear foot elevated split squat as good as the back squat?



You have no doubt come across the conflict between the strength coaches who prefer the traditional back squat and those who prefer the rear foot elevated split squat or RFESS (also called the Bulgarian split squat). Whether it is really necessary to choose between these two perfectly good exercises, of course, is a different matter. Anyway, most proponents of the RFESS argue that the same improvements in leg strength and transfer to sports performance can be achieved in athletes when using the RFESS and the back squat. On the other hand, the detractors point out that this claim has never really been demonstrated by research. Until now, of course.

The study

Unilateral vs Bilateral Squat training for Strength, Sprints and Agility in Academy Rugby Players, by Speirs, Bennett, Finn, & Turner, in Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research (2015)

What did the researchers do?

The researchers compared the effects of two resistance training programs (one using the back squat and one using the RFESS) on measures of strength, sprint running ability and agility (change of direction speed) in rugby athletes.

Here are the key details:
  • Population: 18 academy rugby players, aged 18 ± 1 years
  • Intervention: All subjects trained for 5 weeks, using either the back squat or the RFESS
  • Comparison: The two groups were compared with each other and with baseline measures
  • Outcomes: 1RM back squat, 1RM RFESS, 10m sprint, 40m sprint, pro agility test

What did the researchers find?

Both the RFESS and back squat groups improved most measures similarly and there were no differences between them.
Effect of resistance training on 1RM back squat and 1RM RFESS
Surprisingly, the researchers found that the RFESS and back squat groups improved back squat 1RM almost identically, by 5.7 ± 3.8% and 5.0 ± 3.7% respectively. There was no difference between the groups. Similarly, they found that the RFESS and back squat groups improved RFESS 1RM identically, by 9.2 ± 2.1% and 10.5 ± 3.2%, respectively.
Effect of resistance training on sprint running ability
The researchers found that neither group improved 10m sprint times, but both the RFESS and back squat groups improved 40m sprint times similarly. The RFESS group trended towards a slightly larger increase (1.7% vs. 1.1%) but this did not reach significance.

Effect of resistance training on agility

The researchers found that both the RFESS and back squat groups improved pro agility times by almost identical amounts (1.7% vs. 1.5%) and there was no difference between these changes.

Barbell Back Squat

What are the practical implications?

This study is a big step forward for strength and conditioning, as it demonstrates that traditional, heavily – researched exercises such as the bilateral squat are not irreplaceable in athlete development programs. Other, more modern exercises can be equally effective in some cases. And yet, coaches should not discard the traditional bilateral squat, as there is an enormous amount of research that has been carried out in this exercise. Such research can be used to alter technique to optimum effect, select appropriate squat variations to stress different muscle groups, and identify the best variations or techniques to develop power or rate of force development.


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