Monday, May 30, 2011

Low Cable Split Squat: Target Your Quads Without Stressing Your Knees

Hope everyone is having a great holiday!  Gotta love a three day weekend!

Today, I want to introduce you to an awesome exercise that builds single leg strength and stability, while also improving core stabilization.  This exercise is the low cable split squat. 
I was first introduced to this exercise by Bill Hartman a couple of years ago and have continued to use it since.  As some of you may know, I have had knee problems in the past (two knee surgeries) and because of this, I like to avoid exercises that are extremely “quad-dominant”.  That is, any exercises where the knee comes over the toe and emphasizes the quads.

 Hurts my knee just looking at this!

However, after my knee surgeries I had very weak quads, and I needed some mass and strength in that area.  So, Bill programmed the low cable split squat for me.  This exercise smokes your quads (and hips) because the weight is pulling you forward and you must resist this by "pushing" your body away.  It is also knee friendly because it allows you to keep a vertical shin (if performed correctly).

How to Perform:
First, make sure you know how, and are able, to perform a split squat.  If not, check out this post by Mike Robertson, which covers the exercise in detail:
Next, set up a D-handle at the bottom of a cable machine.  Grab the handle with one hand, and set up in a split squat position facing the machine.  The handle should be in the hand opposite the lead leg.
Now, perform a split squat keeping the hips and shoulders square, front shin and back thigh vertical, and pelvis neutral.
Below is a video of me performing the exercise:
You will notice that I begin the exercise in the bottom position.  This allows me to establish a good stance width-front shin and back thigh vertical.

All of the benefits of a normal split squat PLUS:
-Targets the quads while being knee friendly. 
-Transverse hip and core stability.  The cable will act to rotate you and you must resist this rotation with your hips and core.   
-Helps reflexively put you into a more upright position.  Since the cable is pulling you forward, you are naturally more likely to resist this and put yourself in a good position.
If you feel you cannot hold the handle with the amount of weight you need to stress your legs, then you can perform a low cable split squat with a belt around your waist (OR just man up and work on your grip :) ). 
Ben Bruno also has a great post on an exercise that is similar to this one, and I really like it as well.  You can check it out here:    

I like the low cable split squat a little better because you also get the transverse core and hip stabilization aspect - you must resist the weight from rotating you.
Try it out and let me know what you think.  Be prepared for some soreness!!


  1. I was working with a strength coach who said your knee should pass over your toe. Is this true? I know witha split squat or a step up, you want the knee to pass over the toe. Isn;t an angled shin more sport specific too?

  2. @FA- If you have knee pain then I would not want your knee going over your toe. Again, this will stress the knee joint more.

    I also usually coach clients to not allow their knee over their toe during split squats and lunges because most people I see are already "quad dominant" and so I try to emphasize their glutes and hamstrings to a greater extent.

    I do not think an angled shin is more sport specific. I believe the posterior chain muscles are greater contributors to sports performance than the quad muscles.

    However, it all depends on the client at hand and what they need.

    Hope that helps! Let me know if you have more questions or if any of that does not make sense.