Split Squat

How To Do A Kettlebell Split Squat
By Alli McKeeFebruary 19, 2016

Kettlebell Split Squat Exercise

The kettlebell split squat is a great exercise for strengthening the muscles in the lower body, most notably, the quads, hamstrings, and glutes. It also strengthens the core muscles. If you are holding onto one or two kettlebells, it also strengthens the upper body.

Equipment needed:

One or two kettlebells should be used for this exercise. You can hold one kettlebell at your chest in a Goblet style position, you can hold one kettlebell at either side, or you can hold one or two kettlebells in the rack position by your shoulders.

Ability level:


In some instances, the kettlebell split squat might be too advanced for women who are just beginning to strength train. If this is the case, beginners might prefer to perform bodyweight split squats until they develop the technical ability, strength and stability to progress to the kettlebell variation. Beginners might perform 1-3 sets of 6-10 reps per leg.


The kettlebell split squat is a great option for the intermediate lifter. You can perform this exercise on its own, you can pair it with another upper body pushing or pulling exercise as part of a superset, or can you even make it part of a metabolic conditioning circuit. However, if you are planning on using heavy resistance, it should be done towards the beginning of the workout when your body is fresh. Intermediate lifters might perform 2-4 sets of 6-12 reps/leg of the kettlebell split squat.


Women who are comfortable with the kettlebell split squat can choose to perform rear foot elevated or deficit kettlebell split squats. You can also perform barbell split squats, and can add chain or band resistance to the barbell. You can perform negative kettlebell split squats where the lowering phase is increased to 3-5 seconds. This trains the muscles eccentrically. You can increase the weight/resistance for multiple sets (2-4+) of fewer repetitions (3-6).

Benefits of Kettlebell Split Squats:

There are many kettlebell split squat benefits. How a woman chooses to use the kettlebell split squat is highly dependent on her overall technical ability and experience, how much weight is being used, the set/rep scheme used, where the exercise falls in the workout, what it’s paired with, and what the rest periods are. In general, the kettlebell split squat can be used to do any or all of the following:

  • increasing lower body strength, primarily in the quads, glutes, and hamstrings
  • increasing core strength, particularly the anterior core
  • increasing upper body strength
  • building muscle
  • fat loss (if your diet and exercise routines are conducive to fat loss)
  • increasing conditioning (if used as part of conditioning circuits)
  • improving sports specific performance
  • evening out muscular imbalances and asymmetries

How to perform a Kettlebell Split Squat:

  • You can hold one kettlebell at your chest in a Goblet style position, you can hold one kettlebell at either side, or you can hold one or two kettlebells in the rack position by your shoulders. If you choose to hold the kettlebells in the rack position, clean them up into the starting position. If you are not comfortable doing this, have somebody pass them to you.
  • Set your feet so they are about hip width apart. Your front foot should be a good stride length ahead of the back foot. The distance between feet should be as such that you can comfortably bend the knee of your front leg to 90 degrees. Your back knee can be bent to 90 degrees, or at a slightly greater angle.
  • You should be on the toes of your back foot and your sole should be in a vertical position.
  • Make sure that your weight remains on the mid-back portion of your front foot, but keep your toes down, particularly your big and baby toes. This will improve your stability and strength, and ability to perform the exercise.
  • Before you descend into the split squat, take a deep breath in through your nose (360 degrees of air around the spine), brace your core (imagine that you’re about to block a soccer ball with your stomach), and lightly tuck your rib cage down towards your hips (close the space in your midsection).
  • While maintaining muscular control and the same tempo the entire time, and while keeping as close to 100% of your weight as possible on your front leg, bend both knees and move towards the floor.
  • Your body should travel in a vertical plane. It is common for many people to push backwards and transfer their weight to the back foot as this makes the exercise easier, but is essentially cheating and reduces the effectiveness of the exercise.
  • It is absolutely vital that you maintain muscular tension the entire time. Failing to do so will place you at a greater risk of injuring yourself
  • Do not sacrifice form for depth. Go to whatever depth allows you to maintain proper form. Sometimes, it might mean using less weight. At the very least, aim to reach a depth where the quad of your front leg is parallel to the ground.
  • Stand up by driving your body away from the floor with your front/working leg and squeezing your quads, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • Lock out at the top position by squeezing your glutes, quads and hamstrings, bracing your core, and keeping your rib cage down (closing the space in your midsection) as this will prevent your lower back from arching and will help you maintain proper alignment.
  • As for your torso, you should have a slight forward lean, but keep your chest up, and do not tip forward.
  • Maintain a neutral spine for the duration of the exercise.
  • Do not allow your knee to collapse in or fall outside of your feet.
  • Pause for a brief count at the top and reset before performing the next rep, and repeat for the desired number of reps.
  • Make your first set your warm-up set and just use bodyweight, and only add more weight when you have good form.

Video Transcription: 

Once you mastered doing the split squat with just your bodyweight it's time to add some load.  A kettlebell is the perfect way of doing that. Now some people like to hold the kettlebell right down by their side and that's totally fine.  Other people find it gets in the way of their leg a little bit and they like to hold it in the rack position up by their shoulder.  If you're not comfortable with a kettlebell clean you can do a cheek clean? where you pick it up and keep the elbow close and roll it around your body.  You will notice my wrist is nice and straight, my forearm is nice and straight.  I am going to hold it in the same side as my front leg.  You are welcome to hold it in the opposite side if you like, this is just what I find more comfortable.  Some clients have told me that it's harder on the same side, some say it's easier on the same side just do whatever feels more comfortable for you.

I am going to start with my feet in line with my hips bones, I am going to step straight back, square my hips, tuck my pelvis under, and I am going to drop straight down. You are going to control that front knee don't let it cave in.  I am going to show you how it looks from the side.  Railroad track steps, step straight back - it’s going to take you a little while to find out how far you step back exactly to make sure your function is vertical and that your back leg is in line with your body just play around with it a little bit. Square those hip bone, tuck that pelvis under, get nice and tall drop straight down.  And that's how you make your split squat more challenging.


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About the author:  Alli McKee

Alli is a certified strength and conditioning specialist. She's contributed to and modeled for a number of major publications including Oxygen magazine and the New Rules of Lifting: Supercharged. You can find out more about Alli on her personal blog at www.allimckee.com.

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