A recent study was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that investigated the effect of holding a dumbbell in either the contralateral (opposite side as raised knee) or ipsilateral (same side as raised knee) hand during a split squat and forward lunge. (Note: they called it a “walking lunge” but I am 99% certain it was a forward lunge, so I’m just going to say forward lunge in this article… probably just semantics.)
The study found that:
- Holding the dumbbell on the ipsilateral side had no effect on glute medius activity.
- Holding the dumbbell on the contralateral side resulted in a significant increase in glute medius activity, but only during the forward lunge, not the split squat.
I was a bit surprised that glute medius activity was not impacted during the split squat, but perhaps the static nature of the position inherently requires less transverse and frontal plane stability.
There was one other finding from this study that I thought was interesting. Kinematic differences during the forward lunge were found between a group of trained individuals in comparison to a group without training experience.
This makes sense as the forward lunge is a complex movement pattern that requires an understanding of how to control the pattern. It requires both mobility and stability, but also the ability to control the eccentric deceleration phase. However, there were no kinematic differences between training age during the split squat, meaning that both novice and experienced trainees performed the split squat in a similar fashion. This means split squats a great exercise to incorporate in the early phases of training for those with limited training experience, eventually progressing to forward lunge as they get better at moving and stabilizing the pattern.
I like simple studies like this. Having the rationale to make small tweaks to your program is what sets you apart. It’s the small things that may not be obvious at first but will produce better results over time.
Based on these results, I would recommend using the split squat with bilateral dumbbells to maximize strength gains since a unilateral load did not alter glute medius activity. The split squat is more of a basic exercise, so why not just use it to work on strength gains in the novice trainee. As the person progresses, you can add the forward lunge variation with a contralateral load to enhance triplanar stability.
Written and originally published by Mike Reinold, PT
May you squat and lunge towards health,
Dr. Phil Kotzan, DC