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Hatfield Split Squat Guide | The Most Underutilized Single-Leg Exercise

I’m going to be honest, I don’t love programming and performing barbell back squats year-round. In fact, I find myself opting for other squat variations far more often than barbell back squats these days.

Some of this is based on my current training goals, which revolve around hybrid and “athletic” training, and some of this is based on my love for exploring new training variations for both myself and my clients.

The Hatfield split squat has been one of my favorite squat variations as of late, and for good reason. These have been phenomenal for building my legs while also mitigating some of the spinal loading [read fatigue] that traditional barbell back squats can create.

How To Hatfield Split Squat

Step 1: Nail Your Setup

As with traditional Hatfield squats, a solid Hatfield split squat rep starts with perfecting your setup.

Rack Height: Set your safety squat bar at about upper chest height. I like to always set these up a little lower than your traditional barbell back squat rack height because I never want to clip the j-hooks when re-racking.

Since we can typically push Hatfield squats and their variants hard because of the rack serving as a constraint, you’ll thank me later for this when you have to re-rack a heavy set with dead legs.

Hatfield Split Squat Bar Height and Setup

Bar and Foot Position: Get under the safety squat bar and grab the sides of the power rack. For this variation, I’d suggest not using the barbell setup for your hands since it can interfere with your knee tracking forward during reps.

If you find that your rack is too wide for your anatomy and it feels like you’re having to reach a ton and can’t perform reps with a full range of motion, then you may want to skip this variation entirely. I know it’s sad, but your equipment matters here.

Walkout: Once you’re under the bar and you’ve gripped your rack, you’ll take a step back and get into a traditional split squat position. I like to do the following:

  • Back foot steps back first.
  • Front foot steps back.
  • Micro adjust the front and back foot depending on your preferred setup.

Hatfield Split Squat Foot Position and Setup

I like to step back to a point in which my front lead foot is about a half-foot to full-foot length back from the rack.

This is a variable you’ll want to play with and it can vary from lifter to lifter based on anatomy and limb lengths. Don’t be afraid to play with different positions and setups as you acclimate to these.

Pro tip: If you can, try to find a mark on the floor where you can track each set so you get into a consistent position.

Step 2: Descend Slowly and Control Your Tempo

Once you’re set, you’ll start your eccentric or descending portion of your rep.

Since we can typically load Hatfield split squats heavier than traditional barbell split squats, you’ll want to be conscious of your tempo. I’d suggest using a 3-4 second eccentric tempo for most rep cases whether you’re training for strength or hypertrophy.

This will ensure you’re moving efficiently, loading the muscles you’re trying to train, and not using your hands too much during reps. Your hands should be active, but they shouldn’t be doing a ton, especially early on in your sets.

Think of using the hands as guides to keep your positioning and then assisting as you get deeper into sets and fatigue starts to kick in. This is when the hands can get more active as the goal is pushing past comfort zones for adaptations.

Hatfield Split Squat Descent

As you descend lightly tap your knee on the ground. Make sure you don’t divebomb this. You can also use a foam square or ab mat under where your knee is going to make contact to avoid bumping the knees hard.

I like to cue, “Think elevator, not escalator.” For your normal reps, we want the hips to travel relatively vertically versus front to back. Load the hips and front quad, and let the back leg’s quad lengthen.

Remember, you’re training the front and back leg’s quads when doing split squats and lunges. Far too often, lifters neglect to focus on the lengthening of the back leg during these exercises. Get those rectus femoris gains.

Step 3: Stand and Repeat This Process

After your knee lightly taps the ground, drive into the front leg and stand back up.

I like to cue, “Find the big toe and bring the glutes through,” as you stand back up. This will help you get more quads and glutes as you extend the front knee and the hips.

Hatfield Split Squat Ascent

Stand back up to your starting position, hold for a second, then begin your next rep. If you want to be a masochist you can do a soft lockout to promote even more time under tension during sets. This can be great for hypertrophy-focused sets.

Now, it’s time to make a decision.

Should You Rest Between Legs Or Go Back-to-Back?

If I’m performing these for any form of endurance stimulus, then I’ll go back-to-back. However, this is pretty rare.

For hypertrophy and strength goals where you’re pushing close to failure, I highly suggest taking a break between your left and right leg. I also give this advice for most split squat variations.

The goal is to get the most out of your sets, and there’s no need to rush through sets and not get the most out of them IF time isn’t a factor and constraint you’re working around.

If you’re short on time, then this advice obviously changes.

My Hatfield Split Squat Video

Visual learner? Same. Check out my video guide below for a detailed breakdown of this exercise along with some discussing of benefits and programming.

You can bias the quads and glutes with Hatfield split squats by changing your foot position and how you’re loading reps. More knee flexion, mo’ quad. More hip loading, mo’ glutes.

Hatfield Split Squat Benefits

  • Great for Hypertrophy. Hatfield split squats allow us to push sets close to failure while maintaining high levels of mechanical tension because the rack serves as a constraint. Our hands can help us hit more reps than traditional sets.
  • Awesome for Strength. Hatfield squat variations are fantastic because we can typically load them heavier than normal sets due to there not being as much of a balance component. If your goal is single-leg strength, and more specifically building your quads, adductors, and glutes, Hatfield split squats can be fantastic.
  • Useful for Mitigating Spinal Fatigue. Barbell back and front squats can produce higher levels of axial loading/spinal fatigue. Using Hatfield variations can be useful for limiting some of this if fatigue is limiting your training goals. For example, if I’m running a lot at faster paces I try to limit this factor more.
  • Beginner-friendly loading tool. If I have a beginner, or even an athlete, that I want to have train heavier with single-leg work but feel uncomfortable doing so, this variation can be a fantastic option. The rack is a great constraint for promoting good form in this variation while pushing sets hard.
Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly, CSCS, MS Sports Science

Jake Boly is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of That Fit Friend. He's often regarded to as a go-to resource in various performance shoe communities. He’s been formally reviewing shoes and training gear for over 7 years and has hand-tested over 400 pairs of shoes. Jake is known on the internet and YouTube for blending his review process with his educational, strength sports, and personal training background.

Jake has a Masters in Sports Science, a Bachelors in Exercise Science, a CSCS, and he's been personal training for over 10 years helping hundreds of clients get stronger, lose weight, and accomplish their goals. He uses his exercise science brain and personal training background to make curated and thoughtful review content on the fitness gear he's testing.

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