Want to improve your running…then read on

The rear foot elevated split squat (RFESS) is one of the best exercises for runners. It increases the strength of the gluteus (buttock) and hamstring (back of thigh) muscles that are essential for improved performance.

To perform the exercise:

  • Place one leg behind you on a bench/step with the toes taking the weight of the leg on the bench.
  • The other leg is placed in front of the body with the weight distributed evenly between the ball of the big toe, the ball of the little toe and the heel.
  • The body must remain upright DO NOT LEAN FORWARDS as any lean forward will result in the emphasis being placed more on the quadriceps muscles which is not what we want with this particular exercise.
  • You then bend the front knee and move the glutes muscle down as if to sit back into a chair until the knee is bent to 90 degrees or as far as you can go without leaning forward.
  • It is advised to squeeze the glutes of the back leg throughout to avoid arching the back or leaning forward.
  • You then stand back up by driving the mid-foot to heel into the ground. This ensures that the glutes and hamstring muscles are giving the best possible chance to work correctly.

Technique issues

It is very important to stay upright throughout the whole movement. If you cannot just perform a smaller movement until you become stronger.

The brain can also cheat and use too much quadriceps by allowing the knee to go past the toes on the way down. This is why you need to sit back into the glutes muscle as if sitting into a chair. The golden rule is that you should always be able to see your toes throughout the movement. If you cannot see your toes because the knee has gone past them then you are only getting 50% of the benefit of this exercise!

Other benefits of this exercise

It is essential that we strengthen movement patterns as opposed to just using machine weights or isolated techniques. This movement pattern not only strengthens the hamstrings and glutes but also works on extending the hip, lengthening hip flexor muscles and also helps to stretch the big toe muscles which are essential to keep mobile in order to perform an energy efficient stride. If the big toe is stiff and sore then a whole host of problems can arise.

Sets and Repetitions

This is a very demanding exercise with massive potential for strength development therefore 3 sets of 6 repetitions of good depth on each leg should suffice. Light dumb-bells can be held in the hands to progress the exercise, although ensure that the dumbbells don’t cause a forward lean.


This exercise gives you more power while sparing the lower back. The stronger we are at pushing force through the floor, the better we will be in any event.


Note: Remember to warm up and cool down with any exercise programme. If you feel pain during this exercise cease immediately and seek advice from a Doctor or Physiotherapist.


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One Response to Want to improve your running…then read on

  1. Kirsty Burge says:

    Great exercise but ouch feel the burn!
    I’m trying to make sure I include these in my strength training – desperately trying to get back into my running.

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