Master this lower-body titan to get faster and injury-proof your knees
Try the Bulgarian split squat challenge
Physio James Moore, director of sport and exercise medicine at the cutting-edge Centre for Health and Human Performance in London, has a simple test for any runners who come to him for advice – whether they’re a former world champion or a beginner looking to complete a 5K. What is it? Well, before we get to that, Moore explains why. ‘Most people don’t have the balance or stability to run without serious potential for injury. This test lets me assess where they are – and whether they’re ready to run.’
So your challenge for this month will get you ready to run, and it’s this: ten reps of the Bulgarian split squat followed by a ten-second isometric hold at the bottom position. And then you’ll go straight back into the squats. ‘If you’re able to do three sets of ten and three holds on one side and then the other, back to back – with good form – then you’re ready to run,’ says Moore. Sound easy? Prepare to be surprised.
Start in the classic Bulgarian split squat position (pictured on the opposite page) with one foot behind you, resting the instep or toes on a bench set at roughly knee height, and your front foot positioned so that your shin stays as close to vertical as possible. Squat down until your front thigh is horizontal, then come back up. Do ten reps. On the tenth, hold in the bottom position for ten seconds. Go straight into the next set. Once you’ve reached failure on one side, switch to the other with no rest. Don’t be tempted to put all your weight on your back leg – it’ll make things worse later.
Two key moves will build strength for the split squat challenge. Add both to your warm-up every time you hit the gym.
SETS REPS Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keeping your back straight, squat down until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor. Put your arms out for balance if necessary.
SETS REPS Do these weighted or unweighted, depending on your experience. Take a big step forward into a lunge, letting your rear knee brush against the floor. Stand back up and repeat on the other leg.
Not ready to take on the full challenge? Try doing it on alternate sides, which helps you work up to it by giving your aching muscles a rest between iso-holds. Here’s your four-week plan